Innovation through research
Fighting Blindness has a long history of funding innovative research projects for blinding conditions. Many of these projects have also gone on to attract further funding and investment from other agencies and have contributed hugely both to developing therapies for blindness and to the Irish economy. Some key examples of this contribution are the following:
• Genable Technologies: Trinity College Dublin based genetics firm.
• Macular Pigment Research Group: Waterford I.T. based, multidisciplinary research group studying the role of eye nutrition for vision and the prevention of blindness.
• Retina Implant Technology: Tyndall Institute, University College Cork.
• Enterprise Ireland (EI) Funding: Commercialisation of research outputs.
Fighting Blindness has made a substantial investment in Genable Technologies Ltd, a company which is developing new gene medicines to treat dominant genetic diseases based on the pioneering work of Prof Jane Farrar, Dr Paul Kenna & Prof Pete Humphries. Genable’s first gene medicine – GT038 is an adeno-associated viral vector that uses a patented suppression and replacement therapy to “suppress” both copies of the gene (faulty and normal) and “replace” it with a “correct” version of the gene using GT083 will be used to treat patients with rhodopsin (RHO)-linked autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (adRP). This sub-type of adRP affects approximately 1 in 30,000 people. In December 2010 GT083 was granted orphan drug designation by the European Medicines Agency with the FDA following suit in April 2013. In November 2011 Genable received a €5million venture capital investment to help this work move to clinical trial stage. The GT083 product is currently undergoing formal pre-clinical assessments prior to commencing clinical studies in patients.
Macular Pigment Research Group
The Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) was established in 2002 by Mr Stephen Beatty with the support of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and substantial funding from Fighting Blindness. Dr John Nolan, deputy Director of MRPG has said: “We have been very lucky over the years to have been supported by Fighting Blindness. We have established ourselves not only as a national but global leader in what we do and a lot of that is credited to Fighting Blindness and the seed-funding the charity has provided us with. Our research group wouldn’t exist without Fighting Blindness so the charity really needs people’s support.”
The focus of the research group at WIT is to investigate macular pigment, and its potential role in preventing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The MPRG is the only one if it’s type in Ireland, and is one of the leading research centers studying macular pigment in the world.
The WIT team is currently studying how our diet could help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a loss of central vision which affects one in 10 people over 55 and is set to gain epidemic proportions as our population ages.
Retina Implant Technology
Our support of a retinal implant technology project in the Tyndall Institute at University College Cork has shown how we can contribute to a global effort. In 2006, Fighting Blindness invested in work being carried out by John Alderman involving the refining of the microchip that has resulted in an artificial retina, early versions of which have already restored vision in clinical trials conducted by Prof Eberhart Zrenner of Retina Implant AG in Germany. This therapy has the potential to enhance the quality of life of those affected by retinal damage caused by injury, aging and inherited disease.
Enterprise Ireland Funding
Enterprise Ireland (EI) is the state agency responsible for providing funding and support for university based researchers to assist in the development, protection and transfer of technologies into industry via licensing or spin-out companies. Many of our researchers including Prof Tom Cotter from UCC, Prof Pete Humphries from TCD and Dr Breandán Kennedy from UCD have secured funding from E.I. in order to further develop their technologies towards a clinical application.
Links mentioned in this article
Genable Technologies: http://www.genable.net
What are orphan drugs?: http://www.eurordis.org/about-orphan-drugs
Macular Pigment Research Group: http://www.mprg.ie
Retina Implant AG: http://retina-implant.de/en/default.aspx
Entreprise Ireland: http://www.enterprise-ireland.com/