The new gene therapy target, GJB2 coding for the Connexin 26 protein, has been added to Sensorion’s development portfolio: with the target the third candidate to emerge from the R&D collaboration with Institut Pasteur. It represents the largest gene therapy opportunity for the French biotech to date.
The GJB2 program will focus on major new markets with an estimated patient population of 300,000 children and adults in Europe and the US alone.
Sensorion: 'This collaboration marks significant potential expansion of our pipeline'
Sensorion, a French clinical-stage biotech based in Montpellier, was founded in 2009 to develop novel therapies to restore, treat and prevent hearing loss disorders.
The GJB2 program draws on new research from Institut Pasteur which shows that the same genes that underly congenital deafness are also involved in severe forms of presbycusis (age-related hearing loss). These forms of presbycusis appearing to be monogenic types of hearing loss that can be potentially treated by gene therapy.
Although the types of GJB2 mutations in children and adults may differ, Sensorion says gene therapy could potentially provide a solution to both.
Mutations in GJB2 are believed to alter a gap junction protein widely expressed in the inner ear, disturbing intercellular exchanges of molecules and leading to hearing loss that is severe-to-profound in a majority of cases.
Institut Pasteur research now shows three pathologies related to GJB2 mutations: congenital deafness; age-related hearing loss in adults; and progressive forms of hearing loss in children. Sensorion will prioritize the latter two forms, saying it is the first company to address these needs and offering the potential of large market opportunities.
“The emergence of a new gene therapy target candidate validates our conviction that long-term solutions for restoring hereditary hearing loss will arise from an in-depth analysis of the "genetic landscape" of hearing loss," said Nawal Ouzren, CEO of Sensorion.
"It was clear that mutations in the GJB2 gene are important in severe to profound childhood hearing loss. However, the new discovery made by our collaborators at Institut Pasteur shows that alteration of this gene in adults offers new opportunities for Sensorion. It marks significant potential expansion of our pipeline and supports our goal of becoming a global leader in the field of gene therapies for hearing loss disorders.”
Sensorion’s collaboration with Institut Pasteur initiated in 2019 has already led to gene therapy candidate programs in two other indications. Its USHER-CT gene therapy development program aims to restore inner ear function for patients suffering from Usher Syndrome Type 1 by providing a healthy copy of the USH1G gene coding for the SANS protein.
Meanwhile, the OTOF-GT gene therapy development program seeks to restore hearing in people with Otoferlin deficiency, one of the most common forms of congenital deafness.
Both of these have been proved in concept in preclinical studies.