Ikarovec is a pioneering gene therapy start-up, based at Norwich Research Park, that is committed to the development of cutting-edge treatments to address the unmet clinical needs of individuals with chronic eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
- Next-generation medicines for patients with AMD
Established in 2020, Ikarovec designs gene therapies, which are modified viruses, that can be delivered on a single occasion into the eye to prevent sight loss from some of the world’s leading causes of blindness.
Ikarovec’s flagship products target AMD, one of the leading causes of sight loss in the UK. Current standards of care for AMD patients involve regular injections of drugs, known as anti-VEGF, directly into the eye. Whilst effective for some patients, they do not work well for everyone. This is partly because AMD is a highly complex disease and drugs like anti-VEGFs are only capable of targeting a single disease factor. In addition, patients require regular ‘top-up’ injections for the drugs’ to be effective, which is a huge burden on individuals, families, and healthcare providers.
Ikarovec’s unique gene therapies are capable of packaging multiple therapeutic components into one treatment that better address the complex nature of AMD, aiming to radically alter current standards of care and deliver meaningful, long-lasting improvements to the quality of patients’ lives.
- Making meaningful improvements to patients’ sight and quality of life
It’s estimated that around 700,000 people in the UK have their sight affected by AMD. With sight being regarded as the most important of our senses, visual loss can be highly detrimental to the quality of people’s lives and is a huge health burden for the NHS.
Dr Sarah Robinson, Director of Delivery at Health Innovation East, who has suffered from AMD from an early age says “Symptoms of macular degeneration are described as a painless loss of visual acuity especially with regards to central vision. But what does this bland description mean in real life? For me, a 41-year-old successful professional and mother of a 9-year-old boy, this description doesn’t even scratch the surface of the life-changing impact of vision loss.
I struggle to recognise the faces of my family and people I know which means, in reality, I cannot identify my child within a class of identically dressed children. This can be comical when it comes to school pick-up but presents real difficulties when trying to keep him safe in a park or at the beach.
People with AMD struggle with dim lighting and lack of contrast; again a bland description that does not highlight the complications of organising a busy work diary when not being able to drive at certain points of the day, or the constant difficulty in identifying the correct gender toilets in dimly lit public spaces.
Whilst I respond well to anti-VEGF injections – I have had five in 2022 alone, the treatment is unpleasant and not easily available through the NHS. The treatment also effectively requires you to lose vision before treatment is given, which means that with each episode my vision is reduced before the treatment stabilises at a new low. The opportunity to receive a treatment that does not require my vision to drop, reduces the need for painful injections and reduces my anxiety about the next episode occurring would be truly life changing.”
- Thriving at the Norwich Research Park
Norwich Research Park provides access to facilities and equipment across multiple institutions, helping foster collaboration and driving research forward. Dr Andrew Osborne, Head of Biology, said: “Norwich Research Park has fantastic facilities for emerging and growing companies. Our lab space is competitively priced, and the Park offers access to specialist equipment unaffordable to a start-up. We’re fortunate to have close links with the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Quadram Institute and clinicians at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.”
Close proximity to the University of East Anglia has enabled the exchange of knowledge and transfer of skills between institutions. It has also enabled the upskilling of graduates and retention of local talent. Dr Emily Warner, Principal Scientist, said: “Our work also allows the sharing of expertise. We’re currently taking part in a student recruitment exercise, whereby we can directly hire University graduates. It’s amazing having all this on our doorstep.”
Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP, the science park management company at Norwich Research Park, said: “Ikarovec is a great example of the type of start-up company that we are supporting here in Norwich. As one of the largest research clusters in Europe, with over 30,000 people providing specialist skills and facilities we are confident that Norwich Research Park is one of the best places, in the UK, to start and grow a business. The AIP team is building the ecosystem to meet the needs of high-growth companies including a regular programme of events and community building activity; a campus-wide enterprise strategy, and business development work to link our research community with businesses to help solve industry problems, and with 100,000 sq ft built and let and 1.6m sq ft of planning consent we have a wide variety of property options to meet a company’s needs now and in the future.”
For more about Norwich Research Park, visit the website.
- Looking ahead: the future is optimistic for patients with AMD
Ikarovec is progressing its treatments after encouraging non-clinical data that showed its therapy was superior to current and in-development disease modifying treatments. Designed as a one-off therapy that will be effective for a patient’s lifetime, the team at Ikarovec are aiming to help millions of people like Sarah, giving them relief and long-term visual improvement. They are hopeful of securing Series A funding that will enable clinical development of their gene therapy treatments so that they can be given to patients in desperate need of a sight-saving therapy.