‘Let’s Chat About …’ Webinar Offers LCA Overview and Updates on Clinical Trials
In the debut of Sofia Sees Hope’s ‘Let’s Chat About …’ monthly webinar series, Ben Shaberman of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, provided his Zoom audience with a plethora of information about Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), highlighting some of the more than 40 clinical trials underway to find treatments and cures for LCA and other rare inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) and giving updates on promising preclinical research.
The recorded webinar aired 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, and can be seen here. Elissa Bass, our marketing and communications director, moderated the session.
Shaberman, Senior Director, Scientific Outreach & Community Engagement, stumbled across a science writing position at the Foundation Fighting Blindness 16 years ago without a clue about retinas or blindness. He called his move to the Foundation serendipitous. He knew he made the right choice after hearing retinal researcher Dean Bok, PhD, tell attendees at a 2005 Foundation conference how he was drawn to the field by the seduction of the retina’s myriad complexities and inner workings.
Shaberman, too, felt pulled by the intriguing science of the retina.
As such, so are the 27 forms of LCA that cause varying kinds of visual impairment within each gene mutation and within each affected person. An estimated 8,000 people in the United States have LCA.
The path of retinal research
Shaberman took his audience from the beginnings of identifying the RPE65 gene in 1993 and learning shortly thereafter it could lead to LCA, to using mice models and later studying Briard dogs that had the same gene mutation that caused LCA in humans. A clinical trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia led to the 2017 FDA approval of the breakthrough gene therapy LUXTURNA®, developed by Spark Therapeutics. The drug successfully improved the vision of many of the LCA2-RPE65 patients who received the treatment through subretinal injections.
When children receive an LCA diagnosis, their families should find a good retinal specialist, get regular exams, and ultimately get a confirmed genetic diagnosis to be on the path to more specific information and research into that form of LCA, Shaberman said.
Families also should register with the Foundation’s My Retina Tracker®, a free and secure online registry that facilitates getting a confirmed genetic diagnosis by making registrants eligible for free genetic testing.
The registry becomes your personal retinal health record, updated by you. It employs state-of-the-art database technology to protect privacy and adheres to the highest standards of confidentiality and ethics.
It also notifies registrants of clinical trials and gives researchers access to their disease data – not their personal information – to advance research and therapy development associated with LCA and IRDs.
Reading research publications and attending events sponsored by the Foundation and by Sofia Sees Hope also provide opportunities for families to interact and learn the latest research. Shaberman and Bass encouraged people affected by LCA and their families to contact them, respectively, through the Foundation’s website and/or the Sofia Sees Hope website for specific information on clinical trials or other questions and concerns about living with LCA.
“Yes, it’s work,” Shaberman said. “You have to be your own advocate and your own child’s advocate, but more and more information is becoming available, and that’s the good news.”
More than 40 clinical trials underway
Shaberman also reviewed some of the more than 40 retinal clinical trials in the pipeline for LCA and other IRDs:
- ProQR Therapeutics is in a Phase 2/3 clinical trial for its RNA therapy – a kind of genetic tape that masks the LCA10-CEP290 mutation.
- Editas Medicine is in Phase 1/2 studies for CRISPR/Cas9 treatment that works like a pair of molecular scissors to cut out the LCA10-CEP290 mutation.
- Atsena Therapeutics launched a gene therapy clinical trial in 2020 for LCA1-GUCY2D.
- MeiraGTx offers LCA4-AIPL1 gene therapy through a compassionate use program, which means the therapy is unapproved but made available to patients with serious conditions. The company also is working on an RPE65 gene therapy in a clinical trial.
- A great deal of preclinical LCA research also is underway using various mice, cat, and dog models, and nanoparticles for myriad forms of the disease, including LCA5-Lebercillin, LCA7-CRX, LCA8-CRB1, LCA9-MNAT1, LCA10-CEP290, LCA13-RDH12, LCA15-TULP1, and LCA16-KCNJ13.
Join us Feb. 16
February’s “Lets Chat About …” webinar airs at 3 p.m. ET, Tuesday, Feb. 16. Our guest will be Wiley A. Chambers, MD, Supervisory Medical Officer for the Office of New Drugs, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Register here.