Vision is a gift possible due to the complex circuitry that exists between the eye and the brain. The retina is a complex, cellular biosensor of the eye composed of cells capable of converting the incoming light into electrical impulses that are perceived as visual images when conveyed to the brain via the optic nerve. The sub-retinal implant designed and developed by LambdaVision Incorporated is an innovative approach to effectively replace the damaged photoreceptors in the degenerate retina.
It is vision that is exactly on the mind of Dr. Nicole Wagner CEO of LambdaVision Incorporated. This biotech startup is dedicated to treating impaired vision primarily due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Founded in May 2009 by Dr. Robert Birge, a chemistry professor at UConn (Go Huskies!), the company can trace its roots to the PhD thesis of Dr. Nicole Wagner, a 2015 graduate from Dr. Birge’s lab. After 35 years of research on bacteriorhodopsin, a molecule functionally similar to the photoreceptor retinal cells, Dr. Birge’s lab set forward to meet the market need in RP therapeutics by creating a biosensor implant that would enhance vision resolution in RP patients.
RP is an inherited, progressive, degenerative disease occurring in 100,000 people in the U.S. and 1.5 million people globally. RP damages the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina resulting in decreased vision in poor light conditions, and compromised peripheral and central vision as the disease progresses.
In a recent forum organized by CURE, LambdaVision’s CEO Dr. Wagner explains that their sub-retinal implant consists of a very thin, flexible, cationic film coated with molecules of the dipole mutant form of bacteriorhodopsin in a tight molecular packing pattern. The mutant bacteriorhodopsin is 35% similar to the native protein and is patented in the U.S. The complete sub-retinal implant is patented in the U.S., EU, Australia and China.
LambdaVision’s sub-retinal implant offers many advantages over the current RP therapeutics in the market:
- The biosensor is a sub-retinal implant offering better filtering capabilities, and the surgical procedures employed for inserting the implant are well-known amongst retinal surgeons.
- The molecular packing of the bacteriorhodopsin molecules on the film allow for improved resolution like that of an HD T.V. Her words, not mine!
Completing their pilot studies in rodent and porcine RP model systems has guaranteed the stable integration of the implant for at least two years. LambdaVision’s RP therapeutic is less cumbersome than the existing Argus II RP technology. The successful implantation of this biosensor in animal studies has been assessed using extracellular recordings in the field of the retinal photoreceptor cells at the cellular level, and by assessing the retinal thickness and health of the optic nerve at the anatomical level.
With such powerful technology in their hands, LambdaVision is a rising star of Connecticut, with CROs at Wake Forest University, and electrophysiology expertise provided by the Boston VA. Receiving more than two million dollars in federal and state funding, LambdaVision is building teams, creating opportunities for people with regulatory, manufacturing and surgical expertise. Locally at UConn, this means, more employment opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, once LamdbaVision establishes itself in the RP therapeutics market.
CEO, Dr. Wagner reaches out saying, “LambdaVision is now looking for more capital to refine their biosensor with additional animal studies before we begin the human clinical trials, which will take at least 3 to 5 years from now”. The current RP therapeutics market dictates that retinal technology sales can achieve up to ~$100 million, which should give venture capitalists’ confidence in funding LambdaVisions venture.