Théa terminates ProQR eye asset purchase after biotech's staff refuse to move

In a reversal of fortunes, ProQR Therapeutics’ ophthalmology asset sale to Laboratoires Théa has been canceled after ProQR failed to meet the conditions of the deal. 

In August, Dutch biotech ProQR announced its plan to offload RNA therapies sepofarsen and ultevursen to eye care company Théa for 12.5 million euros ($13.7 million) upfront and up to 135 million euros ($141.9 million) in biobucks. ProQR had initially put the two eye disease candidates up for sale about a year ago.

Sepofarsen is designed to restore vision in people with the severe inherited retinal disease Leber congenital amaurosis 10. The candidate failed to improve vision in a phase 2/3 trial, and European regulators asked the biotech to run an additional pivotal study before seeking approval.

The regulatory feedback prompted ProQR to halt trials of sepofarsen and ultevursen, a therapy designed to treat vision loss in Usher syndrome type 2a and non-syndromic retinitis pigmentosa. A two-phase reorganization saw ProQR lay off 30% of staff and later pull back from genetic eye diseases to go all in on its RNA-editing tech.

However, Théa has now terminated its purchase of the eye disease candidates, according to a Sept. 27 release from ProQR. The deal had been expected to close this quarter.

The sale depended on Théa hiring several key ophthalmology personnel from ProQR to help build out a team specializing in inherited retinal disorders. However, some of the ProQR employees decided not to work at Théa, so the conditions weren’t met.

It’s unclear if ProQR will continue to try to sell the eye disease candidates, though the company’s focus is currently on targets for cholestatic and cardiovascular diseases, alongside its genetic medicine partnership with Eli Lilly, ProQR founder and CEO Daniel de Boer said in the release.