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Allergan Just Got Access to Groundbreaking Gene-Editing Treatments for Eye Diseases

Allergan (AGN) and gene-editing upstart Editas Medicine (EDIT) have struck a deal that gives the pharma giant access to up to five experimental serious eye disease treatments powered by Editas’ groundbreaking CRISPR gene-editing technology.

Allergan will pay Editas $90 million upfront for access to these developmental therapies, including Editas’ lead candidate to treat the rare genetic disorder LCA10 or Leber congenital amaurosis, as part of a research and development agreement. Future milestone payments are also possible if Editas’ therapies clear certain regulatory (and, eventually, sales) benchmarks.

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“The CRISPR genome editing platform holds the potential to transform the treatment of many genetic and non-genetically derived diseases, including diseases and conditions of the eye,” said Allergan chief R&D officer David Nicholson in a statement.

“The Allergan team is excited to work with colleagues at Editas Medicine to develop and potentially deliver game-changing treatment for retinal diseases like LCA10. This program is highly complementary to our ongoing eye care development programs where unmet medical need exists for patients.”

A variety of biopharma companies have been testing out the CRISPR gene-editing platform on diseases ranging from rare genetic disorders to sickle cell disease to cancer and HIV/AIDS. The eye disease focus is an ideal match for Allergan, whose portfolio includes several ocular treatments (it also continues CEO Brent Saunders’ preferred approach of in-sourcing innovation from smaller biotechs).

Editas has been on a roll since last month’s landmark patent ruling in favor of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which won a closely-watched scuffle with the University of California, Berkeley and others over the rights to CRISPR technologies in February, since the firm is allied with the Broad Institute. Editas shares closed up 4.5% on Tuesday and have spiked more than 38% since the patent decision.