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Regeneron jumps into next-gen gene therapy tech with $640M eye drug deal

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Regeneron ($REGN) is turning to gene therapy research to look for a successor to its blockbuster wet AMD drug Eylea.

Tarrytown, NY-based Regeneron says it will work with Avalanche Biotechnologies on a slate of new ophthalmology programs, combining the biotech's vector technology with Regeneron's molecules. Just a few days ago Venrock led a $55 million round for Menlo Park, CA-based Avalanche, which was founded 7 years ago. Including an unspecified upfront payment, Avalanche stands to earn up to $640 million in the deal.

Regeneron is getting the right of first refusal for a deal on Avalanche's lead drug, the VEGF gene therapy AVA-101, now in a Phase IIa. Regeneron will also get worldwide rights on up to 8 therapeutic targets.

Dr. George Yancopoulos

In return, Avalanche also won some high praise from Regeneron's high-profile CSO, George D. Yancopoulos, who called the biotech a "leader in the field of next-generation gene therapy technologies."

Gene therapies have had a long history of ups and downs as safety scares periodically chilled the field. Most recently, though, with biotechs like bluebird bio ($BLUE) leading the way, the field has been moving up. Just a few weeks ago Third Rock bankrolled another gene therapy startup, Voyager. Regeneron, which has seen its share price swell as Eylea sales grew, also has a high-profile partnership with Sanofi ($SNY) underway for a new PCSK9 drug, as well as other drugs in the growing pipeline.

"The collaboration will bring together Avalanche's novel platform technology with Regeneron's proprietary molecules and research capabilities, with the goal of creating a new class of next-generation biologics in ophthalmology," said Avalanche CEO Thomas W. Chalberg in a statement. "Regeneron is a terrific partner for their scientific leadership, as well as their product development capabilities and commercialization track-record."

- here's the release

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