The Swiss medicines company Novartis has acquired the start-up Arctos Medical, expanding optogenetics portfolio to bring gene therapies to patients with severe vision loss. The Arctos technology was based on discoveries by its scientific co-founders Drs. Sonja Kleinlogel and Michiel van Wyk of University of Bern (Switzerland). The start-up was originally incubated by +ND Capital and later supported by Novartis Venture Fund through a Series A financing round led by +ND Capital.

Arctos developed its technology as a potential method for treating inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs) and other diseases that involve photoreceptor loss, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Existing gene therapy treatments aim to correct a specific gene, so only a small subset of patients can benefit. The Arctos technology is not limited to a specific gene, and thus can potentially address many forms of IRDs regardless of the underlying mutation. Arctos’ proprietary, light-sensitive optogene is delivered to specific retinal cells using gene therapy, thus turning the targeted cells into replacement photoreceptor-like cells. If successful, a therapeutic based on such a technology could be used to treat any disease that causes blindness due to photoreceptor death.