2022-07-20| Partnerships

Roche Offers Up to $1 Billion for Avista to Develop Eye Disease Vectors

by Reed Slater
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Seeking more eye disease targets, Roche tapped Avista Therapeutics and its single-cell adeno-associated virus (AAV) engineering (scAAVengr) platform to develop intravitreal capsids matching the profile defined by the Swiss pharma giant. The partnership is one of many for Roche, which continues to search for better eye disease candidates for its ophthalmology program.


scAAVengr as an Innovative Platform


In the deal with Roche, Avista will use the scAAVengr platform to develop intravitreal AAV capsids. The intravitreal aspect of the name refers to the gel-like fluid in the eye where a potential therapy would be administered. A capsid is the protein shell of a virus. Suitable intravitreal AAV capsids could be used to develop new eye disease therapies. 

As part of the deal, Roche is paying Avista $7.5 million upfront for the right to evaluate and license capsids Avista identifies with its scAAVengr platform. Additionally, Roche will assume all preclinical, clinical, and commercialization costs. After which, Avista may be eligible for up to $1 billion based on milestone and royalty payments from developed products.

Avista designed its scAAVengr platform to identify, develop, and evaluate various viral vectors which may have therapeutic potential. scAAVengr focuses on AAVs because they can be easily engineered to deliver genetic material to induce a therapeutic response. During the process, the platform assigns genetic barcodes to individual AAVs so they can be identified after administration and ranked on how well they deliver useful genetic material. 

“Traditional therapies for retinal dystrophies address only symptoms and complications, neglecting the underlying biology of the diseases, and while current vector technologies hold promise, they have been greatly limited in their ability to target key cell types across the retina,” said Robert Lin, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Avista Therapeutics. “Avista was founded to solve this problem, and our innovative scAAVengr platform allows us to deliver gene therapy payloads through intravitreal injection to treat a full range of retinal diseases with reduced immunogenicity.”

Avista is a spinout of the University Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC), which supported the company’s founding. UPMC provided an initial $10 million in funding and foundational support. 

Related Article: Adverum Advances Wet AMD Gene Therapy After Cutting Jobs


Roche’s Continued Interest in Eye Disease Solutions


Of all the cookie jars Roche has its hands in, ophthalmology seems to be of particular interest to Roche as it continues to build relationships around eye disease treatments. 

In December 2021, Roche’s subsidiary, Genentech, paid $50 million for licensing rights to Lineage’s OpRegen, a retinal pigment epithelium cell replacement therapy. In that deal, Roche provided the potential for $670 million in milestones and royalties upon commercialization of the drug. 

Five years ago, Roche acquired ForSight Vision4 for an undisclosed amount for its refillable drug port delivery system (PDS). The unique delivery system is a long-term treatment solution that consists of an intravitreal implant in the eye that can be filled with treatments for various eye diseases. The product was renamed Susvimo and received FDA approval in October last year.

The eye disease treatment market is growing every year as the technology around it advances, like Avista’s scAAVengr platform. With support from Roche, the two have the potential to make waves in an area of high unmet need.

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