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Abu Dhabi Health Department, Opus Genetics Strike Gene Therapy Collaboration for Retinal Diseases

NEW YORK – The Abu Dhabi Department of Health on Wednesday announced a collaboration with Durham, North Carolina-based Opus Genetics to accelerate development of gene therapies for patients with inherited retinal diseases in the United Arab Emirates.

Asma Ibrahim Al Mannaei, the executive director of the research and innovation center at the department of health, and Opus Genetics CEO Ben Yerxa signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the collaboration at the 2024 BIO International Convention in San Diego this week. Financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

The organizations will study gene therapies leveraging the UAE's Emirati Genome Programme and explore opportunities to conduct preclinical testing and clinical trials in the region.

About 5 percent of the Arabian Gulf population are affected by inherited retinal diseases, according to the health department. "With our uniquely diverse population, established excellence in genomics, and a streamlined 30-day research approval process, Abu Dhabi is well suited to become a focal destination for gene therapy trials," Al Mannaei said in a statement.

Opus Genetics, a biotech firm developing gene therapies for rare inherited retinal diseases, currently has five candidates in its pipeline, including preclinical candidates for diseases related to mutations in the BEST1, RDH12, NMNAT1, and RHO genes. One program has reached clinical development, a candidate for Leber congenital amaurosis caused by LCA5 mutations.

"Combining UAE's Emirati Genome Programme with Opus' expertise in clinical-stage gene therapy development will enable us to explore and expedite the development of novel gene therapies," Yerxa said in a statement.