Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical will work with Seattle startup Shape Therapeutics to develop gene therapies for the eye, announcing Thursday a research collaboration centered on Shape’s viral engineering technology.
With Shape’s help, Otsuka aims to develop adeno-associated virus-based gene therapies that can deliver into eye cells the genetic code for molecules and antibodies it’s identified to treat “chronic ocular diseases.”
Shape uses high throughput screening to parse a vast array of possible adeno-associated viruses, or AAVs, that could work as a delivery chassis for payloads like those Otsuka has in mind. It then applies machine learning to select the AAVs best-targeted to specific tissues and less likely to stray from their cellular destination.
Francois Vigneault, Shape’s CEO and co-founder, compares how his company applies machine learning to generative AI tools like Midjourney and DALLE-2, which can create digital images from written descriptions.
“By incorporating diffusion models, our platform is designing novel medicines that transcend the boundaries of what is possible experimentally,” Vigneault said in a Sept. 7 statement.
Otsuka will pay Shape an undisclosed amount upfront and has promised more than $1.5 billion more if certain development, regulatory and sales milestones are met.
The partnership with Otsuka is Shape’s second with a large pharmaceutical company. Two years ago, on the heels of raising $112 million in Series B venture financing, the biotechnology firm struck a deal with Roche focused on applying RNA editing technology to neurological diseases.