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Gene therapy startup Vedere to close two years after launch

Vedere Bio II, a startup launched two years ago to develop gene therapies for the eye, is winding down.

In a message posted on LinkedIn over the weekend, two leaders of the privately held, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company said Vedere will close after receiving disappointing results from preclinical tests.

“We set a high bar for success, and a broad set of preclinical efficacy studies were performed to determine if we cleared that bar. Based on the results of those studies, we made the difficult decision to discontinue our efforts,” wrote Vedere chairman Kevin Bitterman, a partner with investor Atlas Venture, and CEO Cyrus Mozayeni.

The decision ends a short corporate life for Vedere, which launched in May 2021 with $77 million in funding from a wide range of investors including Atlas, Mission BioCapital and the venture arm of the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Vedere was formed by the leadership team and investors of a similarly named predecessor company. That startup, Vedere Bio, had the ambitious goal of making gene therapies that could treat many forms of blindness, regardless of whether they’re inherited or acquired.

Vedere aimed to do so by utilizing optogenetics, a field of research that uses light to examine the behaviors of neurons. Specifically, the company planned to use a gene therapy tool to deliver a type of light-sensitive protein into the eye, where it was meant to get into retinal cells and potentially restore vision.

The approach caught the attention of Novartis. The Swiss firm has invested heavily in gene therapy and viewed Vedere’s technology as a way to potentially treat inherited retinal dystrophies, which affect more than 2 million people globally. It agreed to pay as much as $280 million, including $150 million upfront, to buy the company in October 2020.

Novartis only acquired Vedere’s lead programs in the buyout, however. Some of Vedere’s technology was left out of the deal, and its leaders quickly regrouped and formed a successor company, claiming, at the time, that its approach applied to “underserved indications” and “exceed[ed] the limitations of traditional gene therapy.”

Yet Vedere revved up just as investment interest in biotech slowed. A market downturn caused the initial public offerings startups rely on to grind to a halt, and private financings have since become harder to complete — particularly for startups seeking a follow-on investment. Several startups have cut jobs in recent months, while once-buzzy startups like Faze Medicines and Ambys Medicines shut down before raising a Series B round. Vedere has now joined them.

“We could not have asked for a better team, all of whom believe deeply in making data-driven decisions that are in the interest of both patients and investors,” Bitterman and Mozayeni wrote. “If you are considering hiring any one of them, you can do so with confidence. They are all stellar.”

Novartis, meanwhile, is still developing the preclinical assets and technology it acquired from Vedere in 2020, a spokesperson said in an email to BioPharma Dive.