Biogen, one of the oldest independent biotech companies worldwide, marks its entry in the field of ophthalmology with its announcement on Thursday that it has struck a deal with Applied Genetic Technologies Corp (AGTC) to develop gene based therapies for a number of eye diseases.

Biogen, a giant in the field of multiple sclerosis treatment, said that under the deal, it would pay AGTC $124 million upfront and this includes a $30 million investment in the shares of AGTC.

AGTC, on its part, would remain entitled to royalties and milestone payments in the percentage of the annual net sales of any of the approved products as a result of the collaboration of the two companies.

Initial work focuses on rare diseases that affect the retina, which can lead to blindness; this includes one drug that is currently already been tested on humans and another that is still in preclinical development.

The treatment that now undergoes human trials is targeted for a disease known as X-linked Retinoschisis, a condition that primarily affects young men starting their teenage years and which can cause serious complications such as retinal detachment and vitreous hemorrhage.

The drug undergoing preclinical development, on the other hand, is for X-Linked Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition that generally causes night blindness by the time a person reaches ten years of age. The condition can progress to legal blindness.

"Biogen's significant commitment to advancing gene therapies and demonstrated success in developing innovative therapies to treat complex diseases, combined with our proprietary manufacturing technology and extensive gene therapy experience, makes this an ideal partnership," said AGTC CEO and president Sue Washer.

Washer said that the collaboration will support the development of new treatments that could pave way for transformative treatment for rare inherited diseases.

Following the deal, Biogen will get the commercials rights for the programs that involve replacing the problematic gene that causes each of these conditions.

Gene therapy is an emerging and evolving field in medicine. Genes are crucial for controlling heredity and provides the biological code needed to determine the specific functions of cells. The most common form of gene therapy involves the use of DNA that encodes a gene to replace the problematic gene.

Biogen also pursues collaborative work on other gene therapy programs that target non-ophthalmic conditions such as sickle cell disease, blood disorders and beta thalassemia.

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