Ann Arbor, MI-based biopharmaceutical startup RetroSense Therapeutics announced Monday that it has raised $6 million in a Series B round. Participating investors include Blue Water Angels, RBV Capital, ExSight Capital, and Santen Pharmaceutical. RetroSense has raised a total of $13 million since it licensed its lead technology from Wayne State University in 2011.
Sean Ainsworth, RetroSense CEO, said the company will use the new funding to get clinical trials up and running for RST-001, an orphan drug that treats the progressive eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. RST-001 is gene therapy that delivers a photosensitivity gene called Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), which is found in blue-green algae.
RetroSense has demonstrated in tests involving mice and monkeys that ChR2 can be administered into a degenerated retina to restore vision, and the company is currently recruiting patients at the Retina Foundation of the Southwest to participate in Phase I/II clinical trials to prove the drug’s safety and efficacy in humans. Ainsworth said the initial clinical testing would likely finish by early 2017.
According to Ainsworth, RetroSense also plans to spend part of the Series B round investment on hiring additional staff, though he declined to say which positions the company is seeking to fill. As part of the Series B deal, RBV Capital’s Dmitry Kuzmin will join the RetroSense board. Ainsworth said Kuzman has a wealth of experience working in ocular gene therapy thanks to research he conducted while at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and the University College of London.
“This syndicate of investors is very strong in ophthalmology and optogenetics,” Ainsworth added. “Their support will enable us to move forward more quickly, with broader reach.”