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Ray Therapeutics, an optogenetics start-up founded in 2021, has announced a $100M Series A financing round led by Novo Holdings A/S. The funding will advance multiple programs targeting blinding diseases of the eye through clinical development. Ray’s lead candidate is RTx-015 in retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retinal disease. It is expected to be tested in clinical trials shortly.

“RTx-015 has shown impressive results in preclinical studies and offers hope to patients who currently have limited to no treatment options with retinitis pigmentosa and other inherited retinal degenerations. These novel therapies could significantly improve the lives of individuals with blinding disorders, by potentially restoring vision with the power of optogenetics,” said Jeffrey Heier, MD, the Director of the Vitreoretinal Service and Director of Retina Research at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston.

The funding series was joined by Deerfield Management, Norwest Venture Partners, Platanus, MRL Ventures Fund, the therapeutics-focused corporate venture fund of Merck & Co., Inc., and existing investor 4BIO Capital.

The co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Ray Therapeutics is Paul Bresge. Prior to co-founding Ray, he founded and served as Chief Executive Officer at jCyte, which is gearing up to launch a Phase III cell therapy trials for the same disease—retinitis pigmentosa. One of Bresge’s daughters has this disease.

“Ray Therapeutics is developing the world’s first bioengineered optogenetic therapies optimized for human vision, with the potential to restore both higher visual function and quality of life to blind patients, without the need for light enhancing devices,” said Ray Camahort, PhD, Partner in the Venture Investments group at Novo Holdings.

“The company’s next-generation technology platform, strong preclinical data, and world-class genetic medicines team, position them as leaders in developing potential best-in-class vision restorative therapeutics, which aligns with Novo Holdings purpose to improve people’s health.”

Optogenetics uses gene therapy to deliver a light-sensitive protein to retinal cells that were previously light insensitive sensitive. This allows these cells to produce a visual signal that is sent to the brain, thus restoring vision.

Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease in which the photoreceptors gradually degenerate resulting in complete, or nearly complete blindness for most patients.

The symptoms include night blindness, reduced visual fields, and eventual loss of visual acuity. Patients are typically diagnosed in the first decades of life. More than half a million people are probably affected by retinitis pigmentosa worldwide. At present, no effective treatment is available for the disease.

“This Series A financing marks a significant milestone in our mission to address the urgent unmet medical need of patients with blinding diseases,” said Bresge.

“We have been convinced of the significant potential of Ray Therapeutics’ groundbreaking optogenetic approach right from the start, and in the short period of time following our seed investment in 2021, they have made remarkable progress,” said Dima Kuzmin, PhD, Managing Partner at 4BIO Capital.

She added that, “With the team’s proven track record in developing regenerative medicines for ophthalmology indications and the mutation-independent nature of their approach, these novel gene therapies have the potential to reach more patients with a one-time intravitreal injection that could last a lifetime.”

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