Wayne State University

Wayne State start-up receives prestigious Luis Villalobos Award

Zhuo-Hua Pan, Ph.D. and

Sean Ainsworth, CEO, RetroSense Therapeutics

DETROIT – RetroSense Therapeutics, LLC, a Wayne State University start-up biotechnology company, has received the Luis Villalobos Award from the Angel Capital Association (ACA), the world's leading professional association for angel investors. The award was announced in a special awards ceremony held on April 15 at the 2015 ACA Summit in San Diego, the world’s largest gathering of angel investors. The award honoring the most innovative ACA angel invested company is named in memory of Luis Villalobos, who angel investors nationwide admired for actively investing in and mentoring ingenious, creative and innovative startups.

Zhuo-Hua Pan, Ph.D., scientific director of the Ligon Research Center of Vision at the Kresge Eye Institute, the Edward T. and Ellen K. Dryer Endowed Professor in Vision and Blindness Research in the Department of Ophthalmology, and professor of anatomy and cell biology in Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, along with colleagues at Salus University in Pennsylvania, developed the breakthrough optogenetic approaches to restore vision through the use of a light-sensitive protein from green algae to confer new light sensitivity in the retinas in which rod and cone photoreceptors have degenerated.  As one of the advantages, the optogenetic approaches have the potential to treat all forms of blindness due to the death of photoceptors, independent of causative gene or mutation.

“This is a very unique and significant discovery developed right here in Detroit, and it will be a major step forward in the lives of patients with vision challenges,” said Kresge Eye Institute Director and Department of Ophthalmology Chair Mark Juzych, M.D. ’89.  “This honor will help RetroSense and Dr. Pan find additional funding to move the technology forward in to the clinical setting. They are most deserving of this outstanding award.”

RetroSense Therapeutics, LLC licensed the patented technology and is to develop the optogenetic gene therapies designed to restore vision in patients suffering from blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and advanced dry age-related macular degeneration (advanced dry-AMD). There are currently no FDA-approved drugs to improve or restore vision in patients with these retinal degenerative conditions.  In 2014, the company was granted Orphan Drug designation for the treatment of RP by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In an angel-led round, RetroSense Therapeutics recently secured an angel-backed $7 million Series A financing which should enable the company to complete studies needed to enter clinical trials and fund early clinical development.

“Advanced gene therapy is a difficult field to obtain investment in, and the work that RetroSense Therapeutics is doing was recognized because of their vigilent efforts,” said Stephen M. Lanier, Ph.D., vice president for Research at Wayne State University. “The founders of RetroSense and Dr. Pan have stayed focused on their extraordinary work to restore sight, a field that has a long and costly clinical process. They are most deserving of this prestigious recognition.”

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About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

About RetroSense Therapeutics

RetroSense Therapeutics is a privately-held biotechnology company developing life-enhancing gene therapies designed to restore vision in patients suffering from blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa and advanced dry age-related macular degeneration.  RetroSense is led by a team of seasoned veterans with deep experience in taking products from the discovery stage to the clinic. For more information about RetroSense, visit http://retro-sense.com.