BioMarin's gene therapy lead jumps ship to rival biotech Vedere Bio II

Vedere Bio II is fresh off a $77 million raise, and the follow-up act to the original Vedere Bio now has a big-name chief scientific officer in Gabor Veres, Ph.D.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech is at work on next-gen eye disease gene therapies, aiming to restore sight, or help those keep it, with patients suffering from vision loss due to photoreceptor death.

To help in that mission, the company has poached Veres from rival biotech BioMarin, where he was vice president and head of gene therapy research focusing on AAV platform discovery and seeking out new indications. He also served stints at bluebird bio and Applied Genetic Technologies.

At VB II, he will “provide strategic leadership to Vedere's research organization and will be responsible for driving and expanding the company's pipeline of ocular gene therapies,” the biotech said in a statement.

The biotech has a history that while short, is very dense: Cyrus Mozayeni, M.D.’s first go at vision-restoring gene therapies got snapped up as it was just getting started. Lots of suitors came knocking even when that company, Vedere Bio, was working under the radar, and Novartis eventually ponied up $150 million upfront to buy it last fall, with a promise of $130 million more.

Buoyed by that success but clearly still hungry for more, Mozayeni, its CEO and Atlas Venture entrepreneur in residence and his team last month nabbed $77 million to bankroll their second chapter: Vedere Bio II.

Although it’s technically a new entity, it’s working on gene therapies for vision loss with the same founders, management team and employees as its predecessor. Vedere’s focus is vision loss caused by the death of photoreceptors or light-sensing cells in the retina rather than blindness stemming from damage to the brain or optic nerve. With Veres, that team just got a little more diversified.

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"Gabor has over 15 years of experience leading preclinical research and development for international pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and holds 20 years of experience in the development of cell and gene therapy products,” said Mozayeni.

“His extensive track record designing and executing gene therapy research programs for a range of diseases, including conditions of the eye, will be an incredible asset to our team as we continue our work to restore vision to patients with both genetic and non-genetic causes of vision loss.”

Gene therapies have long held much promise, but safety issues and manufacturing complexities have always dampened companies’ capacity to deliver. Gene therapies for eye disorders have been among the few to see R&D success translate into the market, most recently with Roche/Spark’s Luxturna, though sales forecasts are fairly modest, and it requires specialist centers for administration.

“Vedere's approach to vision restoration holds great potential to treat vision loss regardless of underlying genetic cause or disease stage, and I'm looking forward to helping build out and progress the company's unique platform and product pipeline,” added Veres.