Foundation Fighting Blindness and ProQR Therapeutics N.V. (NASDAQ:PRQR), today announced that they have entered into a partnership to develop QR-421a for Usher syndrome 2A caused by an exon 13 mutation of the causative USH2A gene. Under the agreement, Foundation Fighting Blindness will provide up to $7.5 million in funding to ProQR for the preclinical and clinical development of QR-421a, which is expected to advance towards the clinic in 2018, and safety and efficacy results from the Phase 1/2 trial in Usher syndrome patients are expected in 2019.
Usher syndrome is a devastating genetic disease in which patients first develop hearing loss and then progressive vision loss, thereby threatening their independence and quality of life. Currently there is no treatment for the ophthalmic manifestation of Usher syndrome type 2A. QR-421a is a first-in-class RNA oligonucleotide that is being developed for the treatment of vision loss associated with the disease. QR-421a is designed to modify the RNA such that functional usherin protein is produced in the retina with the goal of stopping the progression of the disease and potentially gaining peripheral vision. ProQR in-licensed the technology underlying QR-421a from Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, where it was invented by lead investigator Dr. Erwin van Wyck.
Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Clinical Research Institute (FFB-CRI) has also launched a natural history study in 120 people with USH2A mutations. The study — known as RUSH2A (“R” stands for “rate of progression”) — was launched in 2017 and is being conducted at about 20 clinical sites around the world. RUSH2A investigators will use a variety of technologies to monitor changes in vision and retinal structure to document and analyze disease progression. Knowledge and data obtained from this trial are intended to provide a better understanding of how USH2A mutations affect the severity and progression of vision loss and help to inform the development of QR-421a.
“Teaming with corporate partners to help promising therapies move through preclinical and clinical development is central to FFB’s strategy so we are very pleased to enter into this partnership with ProQR,” said Benjamin R. Yerxa, PhD, CEO at Foundation Fighting Blindness. “The fact that there are currently no available treatments for Usher syndrome type 2A makes this work that much more exciting and critical.”
QR-421a for Usher syndrome is the second program in ProQR’s growing ophthalmology pipeline scheduled to enter clinical trials. The lead program in the ophthalmology pipeline, QR-110, is currently in a Phase 1/2 safety and efficacy trial in adult and pediatric patients with Leber’s congenital amaurosis 10, due to the p.Cys998X mutation in the CEP290 gene. This pipeline also contains several other molecules for genetic eye diseases, including QR-411 for Usher syndrome type 2A due to the PE-40 mutation, QRX-1011 for Stargardt’s disease and QRX-504 for Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy.
“We are excited to team up with the Foundation Fighting Blindness to develop QR-421a for patients that suffer from Usher syndrome due to exon 13 mutations," said Daniel A. de Boer, CEO of ProQR. “They are the leading private funder of retinal disease research with a very patient centric approach which is a core pillar of our strategy. Through this partnership with the Foundation we plan to gain access to important know-how to develop programs in retinal diseases. We expect that the additional funding will allow us to rapidly advance this novel therapy for this orphan disease with a severe unmet need.”