BioPharma, Pharma

Startup Tenpoint Lands $70M to Bring Vision-Restoring Cell Therapy to the Eye

Tenpoint Therapeutics’ name refers to the time it takes for an image to hit the retina and be processed by the brain. The regenerative medicine startup is developing cell therapies it hopes restore that vision capability for patients with degenerative eye disorders.

For some degenerative vision disorders, the therapies available don’t restore sight, they mainly slow its decline. To realize this benefit, a patient must receive an eye injection as frequently as once a month. The scientists at Tenpoint Therapeutics are trying to improve on the efficacy and the patient experience with cell therapies that restore vision with a single treatment.

The research of London-based Tenpoint is still preclinical, and the startup isn’t offering any timelines for reaching human testing. But the new company emerged from stealth this past week backed by $70 million in financing and two technology platforms, each taking different approaches to getting the eye to repair itself.

“We think the next step in the evolution of therapy is to replace the cells that are missing in order to restore vision,” CEO Eddy Anglade said. “We want to get to the place to restore sight.”

In vision diseases such as age-related macular degeneration and a more advanced form of the disorder called geographic atrophy, the treatment options are therapies that block proteins associated with disease progression. Using an analogy that might be lost on young digital natives, Anglade compared Tenpoint’s approach to a camera and film. If the film is defective, the camera can’t take pictures. The solution is to replace the film. Tenpoint aims to do the same, replacing defective cells with functioning ones. Those cells can be engineered ex vivo in a lab, and then delivered to the eye. But the startup is also researching in vivo therapies that create those cells inside the eye.

For the ex vivo approach, Tenpoint works with stem cells, which have the capacity to become almost any cell type in the body. In a lab, those cells are directed to become a cell type of interest. That cell type could be a retinal pigmented epithelial cell or a photoreceptor, depending on the disease. The startup isn’t naming the cells types or disease targets for its research just yet.

The in vivo approach will use transcription factors to coax cells already in the eye to become other cell types. Anglade said this change will happen in a controlled fashion, but it will create a new population of cells to replace the ones lost to disease or genetic problems.

Gene therapies for vision disorders, such as Spark Therapeutics’ Luxturna, reach their destination in the eye carried aboard an engineered virus. Anglade said Tenpoint is assessing both viral and non-viral approaches, adding that the delivery method will depend on the disease, the cell type, and that cell type’s location in the eye.

Tenpoint represents an assembly of cell therapy technologies from various places. The startup’s scientific founders hail from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London; University College London Institute of Ophthalmology; Institut de la Vision in Paris; and the University of Washington. Tenpoint’s cell therapy toolbox also includes ex vivo technology acquired from SparingVision, a Paris-based company developing gene therapies for inherited eye disorders.

Some of Tenpoint’s technologies have achieved preclinical proof of concept. But Anglade said more preclinical proof of concept work still needs to be done. Furthermore, the startup needs to be able to show it can manufacture these cells at scale.

Tenpoint’s launch comes as other biotechs emerge with financing and clinical trial plans for vison-restoring therapies. In May, San Francisco-based Ray Therapeutics raised $100 million for clinical development of a gene therapy for the inherited disorder retinitis pigmentosa. Beacon Therapeutics launched last month with a $70 million Series A financing. Like Tenpoint, this London-based startup is also developing both ex vivo and in vivo cell therapies intended to restore vision.

Anglade’s experience includes serving as the chief medical officer of Ocata Therapeutics, a biotech that was developing cell therapies for the eye until it was acquired by Astellas Pharma in 2015 in a $379 million deal. Anglade stayed on in executive roles at Astellas. Most recently, he was president and clinical lead, retina, at Janssen Research and Development.

F-Prime Capital and Sofinnova Partners are Tenpoint’s founding investors. New investor British Patient Capital joined both founding investors to lead the startup’s Series A financing. All of Tenpoint’s seed investors participated in the latest round, including Qiming Venture Partners USA, Eight Roads, and the UCL Technology Fund.

Regarding the startup’s name, Anglade said Tenpoint refers to 10 microseconds—the time it takes for an image to hit the retina and be processed by the brain.

“The origin of the name is in the spirit of restoring that level of vision to the patient,” Anglade said.

Photo: Getty Images