SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from to
Commission file number:
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
(State or other jurisdiction of
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of exchange on which registered
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ☐
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act. Yes ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer
Smaller reporting company
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes ☐ ☒
As of June 30, 2021, the last business day of the registrant's most recently completed second fiscal quarter, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s ordinary shares held by non-affiliates of the registrant was approximately $
As of March 8, 2022, the registrant had
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the registrant’s definitive Proxy Statement relating to its 2022 annual shareholder meeting to be filed with the SEC within 120 days after the end of the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021 are incorporated herein by reference in Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This Annual Report on Form 10-K (the “Form 10-K”) contains forward-looking statements that can involve substantial risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of historical facts contained in this Form 10-K, including statements regarding our future results of operations and financial position, business strategy, prospective products, product approvals, research and development costs, future revenue, timing and likelihood of success, plans and objectives of management for future operations, future results of anticipated products and prospects, plans and objectives of management are forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other important factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by terms such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “expect,” “plan,” “anticipate,” “could,” “intend,” “target,” “project,” “contemplate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “potential,” “would” or “continue” or the negative of these terms or other similar expressions. The forward-looking statements in this Form 10-K are only predictions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this Form 10-K and are subject to a number of risks, uncertainties and assumptions described under the sections in this Form 10-K entitled “Item 1A. Risk Factors” and “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and elsewhere in this Form 10-K. Because forward-looking statements are inherently subject to risks and uncertainties, some of which cannot be predicted or quantified and some of which are beyond our control, you should not rely on these forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The events and circumstances reflected in our forward-looking statements may not be achieved or occur and actual results could differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties may emerge from time to time, and it is not possible for management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties. Except as required by applicable law, we do not plan to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements contained herein, whether as a result of any new information, future events, changed circumstances or otherwise. Thus, one should not assume that our silence over time means that actual events are bearing out as expressed or implied in such forward-looking statements.
You should read this Form 10-K and the documents that we reference in this Form 10-K and have filed as exhibits to this Form 10-K, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
In addition, statements that “we believe” and similar statements reflect our beliefs and opinions on the relevant subject. These statements are based upon information available to us as of the date of this Form 10-K, and while we believe such information forms a reasonable basis for such statements, such information may be limited or incomplete, and our statements should not be read to indicate that we have conducted an exhaustive inquiry into, or review of, all relevant information. These statements are inherently uncertain and investors are cautioned not to unduly rely upon these statements. These statements should not be relied upon as representing our views as of any date subsequent to the date of this Form 10-K.
RISK FACTOR SUMMARY
We are providing the following summary of the principal risk factors contained in this Form 10-K to enhance the readability and accessibility of our risk factor disclosures. We encourage you to carefully review in their entirety the full risk factors set forth in the section of this Form 10-K captioned “Item 1A. Risk Factors” for additional information regarding the material factors that make an investment in our ordinary shares speculative or risky. These risks and uncertainties include, among others, the following:
|•||We have incurred significant losses since inception and anticipate that we will incur continued losses for the foreseeable future, and may never achieve or maintain profitability.|
|•||We will require additional capital to fund our operations, which may not be available on acceptable terms, if at all.|
|•||We are heavily dependent on the success of our Most Advanced Product Candidates (as defined in “Item 1A. Risk Factors”), which are still in development, and if none of them receive regulatory approval or are successfully commercialized, our business may be harmed.|
|•||The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, or other pandemic, epidemic or outbreak of an infectious disease may materially and adversely impact our business, including our preclinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing capabilities and regulatory approvals.|
|•||It is difficult to predict the time and cost of product candidate development on our novel gene therapy platform. Very few gene therapies have been approved in the United States or in Europe.|
|•||Because gene therapy is novel and the regulatory landscape that governs any product candidates we may develop is uncertain and may change, we cannot predict the time and cost of obtaining regulatory approval, if we receive it at all, for any product candidates we may develop.|
|•||Clinical trials are expensive, time-consuming, difficult to design and implement, and involve an uncertain outcome. Further, we may encounter substantial delays in our clinical trials.|
|•||The affected populations for our product candidates may be smaller than we or third parties currently project, which may affect the addressable markets for our product candidates.|
|•||We and our contract manufacturers for plasmid are subject to significant regulation with respect to manufacturing our products. Our manufacturing facilities and the third-party manufacturing facilities which we rely on may not continue to meet regulatory requirements and have limited capacity.|
|•||Enacted and future healthcare legislation may increase the difficulty and cost for us to obtain marketing approval of and commercialize our product candidates and may affect the prices we may set.|
|•||We are subject to government laws, regulations, standards and other legal obligations relating to data privacy and security. Compliance with these requirements is complex and costly and our actual or perceived failures to comply could materially harm our business.|
|•||We face significant competition in an environment of rapid technological change, and there is a possibility that our competitors may achieve regulatory approval before us or develop therapies that are safer or more advanced or effective than ours, which may harm our financial condition and our ability to successfully market or commercialize any product candidates we may develop.|
|•||We depend on proprietary technology licensed from others. If we lose our existing licenses or are unable to acquire or license additional proprietary rights from third parties, we may not be able to continue developing our product candidates.|
|•||If we are unable to obtain and maintain patent protection for our technology and product candidates or if the scope of the patent protection obtained is not sufficiently broad, we may not be able to compete effectively in our markets.|
|•||We will need to expand our organization, and we may experience difficulties in managing this growth, which could disrupt our operations.|
|•||Our future success depends on our ability to retain our key personnel and to attract, retain and motivate qualified personnel.|
BASIS OF PRESENTATION
Unless the context otherwise requires, references in this Form 10-K to “Meira,” “MeiraGTx,” “we,” “us”, “our” or “the Company” refer to MeiraGTx Holdings plc and its subsidiaries.
We have proprietary rights to trademarks, trade names and service marks appearing in this Form 10-K that are important to our business. Solely for convenience, the trademarks, trade names and service marks may appear in this Form 10-K without the ® and TM symbols, but any such references are not intended to indicate, in any way, that we forgo or will not assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our rights or the rights of the applicable licensors to these trademarks, trade names and service marks. All trademarks, trade names and service marks appearing in this Form 10-K are the property of their respective owners.
INDUSTRY AND OTHER DATA
We obtained the industry, market and competitive position data in this Form 10-K from our own internal estimates and research as well as from industry and general publications and research, surveys and studies conducted by third parties. Industry publications, studies and surveys generally state that they have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, although they do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information. While we believe that each of these studies and publications is reliable, we have not independently verified market and industry data from third-party sources. While we believe our internal company research as to such matters is reliable and the market definitions are appropriate, neither such research nor these definitions have been verified by any independent source.
ITEM 1. BUSINESS
We are a vertically integrated, clinical stage gene therapy company with six programs in clinical development and a broad pipeline of preclinical and research programs. We have core capabilities in viral vector design and optimization and gene therapy manufacturing, as well as a potentially transformative gene regulation technology. Led by an experienced management team, we have taken a portfolio approach by licensing, acquiring and developing technologies that give us depth across both product candidates and indications. The Company’s initial focus is on three distinct areas of unmet medical need: ocular, including inherited retinal diseases and large degenerative ocular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and severe forms of xerostomia. Though initially focusing on the eye, central nervous system and salivary gland, we intend to expand our focus in the future to develop additional gene therapy treatments for patients suffering from a range of serious diseases.
We own and operate a flexible and scalable viral vector manufacturing facility in London, United Kingdom that we expect can supply our current ophthalmology, neurodegenerative disease and salivary gland clinical and preclinical programs through regulatory approval and, should they be approved, provide sufficient capacity for commercial production. Completed in early 2018 and designed to meet global regulatory requirements, including the current good manufacturing practices, or cGMP, required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, our 29,000 square foot facility has two cell production suites, three independent viral vector production suites providing multi-product and multi-viral vector manufacturing capabilities and an integrated, flexible fill-and-finish suite. In May 2018, we were granted a license to manufacture gene therapy product candidates in our cGMP compliant manufacturing facility by the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA. The MHRA re-certified the facility in the second quarter of 2020.
We have expanded our manufacturing capabilities by acquiring the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility in Shannon, Ireland. We completed the acquisitions in January 2021. The campus encompasses 150,000 square feet and will include a high capacity cGMP manufacturing hub for clinical through commercial supply, clinical supply storage, quality control laboratories for global release, up to twelve viral vector production suites, fully scalable automated fill and finish facilities, an extensive warehouse and a separate cGMP plasmid and DNA manufacturing facility. We believe building our second viral vector manufacturing facility and bringing cGMP plasmid and DNA production in-house will provide greater flexibility and efficiency as we advance our product candidates through development, and should they be approved, commercial production.
We have also established a comprehensive platform for the efficient clinical development of the next generation of gene therapies and manufacturing in accordance with cGMP. Our deep understanding of disease models informs our development of potency assays for the cGMP production of our product candidates, and our teams experienced in viral vector design and optimization work closely with our process development team to design viral vectors and develop proprietary production cell lines for efficient scaling of manufacturing processes.
We are also developing a potentially transformative technology to precisely and specifically control gene therapy expression levels via dose-response to orally delivered small molecules. The aim of this gene regulation platform is to transform gene therapy into a generalizable delivery mechanism for biologic drugs using a small molecule “switch” for temporal control. We believe the capacity for temporal control of gene therapy products has the potential to transform the gene therapy landscape by opening up new treatment possibilities.
Our initial focus is on three distinct areas of unmet medical need: ocular diseases, including inherited retinal diseases, or IRDs, as well as large degenerative ocular diseases, severe forms of xerostomia and neurodegenerative diseases. Utilizing our product development platform, we have assembled a pipeline of gene therapies to treat these serious diseases. Our criteria for selecting our initial product candidates included:
|●||unmet medical need;|
|●||high potential for meaningful clinical benefit;|
|●||promising preclinical data using multiple animal models as well as human stem cell derived organoids;|
|●||compartmentalized anatomy of target tissue and the partially immune protected nature of target tissue; and|
|●||understanding of the disease state from natural history studies and detailed long-term characterization of patients prior to entry into gene therapy treatment studies.|
A summary of our product candidates and the status of such product candidates as of March 1, 2022 is described below. We retain worldwide development and commercialization rights to all of our product candidates, with the exception of AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3 and botaretigene sparoparvovec, formerly referred to as AAV-RPGR, which are subject to a strategic Collaboration, Option and License Agreement (the “Collaboration Agreement”) that we executed with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Janssen”), one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson on January 30, 2019.
In addition to these clinical and preclinical programs, we have preclinical and research programs in other indications and novel molecular technologies that we aim to advance into clinical development, including:
|●||geographic atrophy age related macular degeneration, or dry AMD—use of gene therapy technology to introduce light sensitive molecules into rod photoreceptors in order to restore some aspects of vision lost in this disease;|
|●||other ocular conditions—glaucoma and uveitis;|
|●||amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS—targeting dysregulation of neuronal RNA processing, which we believe may lead to the degeneration of motor neurons that occurs in ALS;|
|●||Alzheimer’s disease—targeting endosomal trafficking, which is a central mechanism that we believe underlies Alzheimer’s disease;|
|●||central nervous systems/peripheral nervous system diseases—brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene therapy for treatment of genetic obesity disorders, as well as the development of gene therapy product candidates for other central nervous system diseases;|
|●||gene regulation—use of our proprietary RNA shape regulation cassette to switch gene therapy expression on and off with small molecules, potentially transforming gene therapy technology into a delivery mechanism for a broad array of biologic drugs; and|
|●||inflammatory/autoimmune diseases—use of gene therapy technology for the local delivery of immunomodulatory therapeutics, including osteoarthritis, gout and certain rare inflammatory disorders.|
Our Ophthalmology Programs
Eye diseases are our first area of clinical focus and we aim to provide treatments with durable, long-term clinical benefit that will halt vision loss in patients. We currently have three Phase 1/2 clinical programs targeting IRDs, including AAV-CNGB3 and AAV-CNGA3 for the treatment of achromatopsia, or ACHM, related to mutations in CNGB3 and CNGA3 genes, respectively, and AAV-RPE65 for retinal dystrophy related to mutations in the RPE65 gene, or RPE65 deficiency. We have completed enrollment and dosing in all three of these programs. We also have a Phase 3 clinical program for botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa related to mutations in the RPGR gene, or XLRP-RPGR. In addition to these four programs, AAV-AIPL1 was manufactured and released for compassionate use under an MHRA specials license in the United Kingdom, or UK, to treat patients with Leber congenital amaurosis 4, or LCA4, caused by mutations in the AIPL1 gene. In addition to these clinical programs in IRDs, we have preclinical programs that apply novel approaches to both wet and dry AMD, glaucoma and uveitis, as well as several other IRDs including retinol dehydrogenase 12, or RDH12, mutation-associated retinal dystrophy.
We chose diseases of the eye as our first area of clinical focus because we believe the eye is ideally suited for gene therapy for the following reasons.
|●||The eye is easily accessible and has highly compartmentalized anatomy, which allows for accurate delivery of vectors to specific tissues using direct visualization and microsurgical techniques.|
|●||The structure of the eye allows for efficient delivery to specific cell subtypes with small volumes of vector, making the dose per patient much lower than is needed for systemic treatment.|
|●||Anatomical barriers and unique structure of the eye make the immune response to the intraocular administration of vectors more attenuated than systemic administration.|
|●||Largely non-dividing cell populations in the eye make good targets for potentially stable, long-term gene delivery and expression.|
|●||The retina, a structure in the back of the eye, is visible and there are many well validated structural and functional readouts allowing the detailed assessment of the therapeutic impact of the gene therapy treatment.|
Our strategy for developing gene therapies targeting eye diseases is to begin with a number of monogenic IRDs that are good candidates for gene replacement therapies and expand to more common eye diseases over time. We have taken a portfolio approach to the development of IRDs because, while some of these genetic defects are rare, IRDs as a class are one of the most common causes of blindness in working age adults and there are multiple synergies at the clinical, regulatory and commercial levels between many of these diseases caused by different gene mutations.
The deep scientific and clinical understanding of IRDs driving our approach to gene therapy development helps us to optimize our product candidates for each specific genetic mutation and phenotype. We develop our viral vectors by selecting and modifying proprietary cell specific promoters, selecting appropriate capsids for transfection of target cells and refining the vector for efficient production and scalable manufacturing. Not only does this allow us to synergistically target a portfolio of inherited eye conditions, we also believe it has potential to be applied to the development of gene therapies for other diseases.
Our longstanding relationships with leading institutions in retinal disease treatment, including the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the Medical College of Wisconsin & Froedtert Hospital and the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University, provide us with access to experts whose guidance and insight informs our development strategy, as well potential patients for our clinical trials.
We intend to leverage our platform to take advantage of the many synergies across our ophthalmology programs, including identification, diagnosis and characterization of patients, specialized surgical techniques, clinical and regulatory process, vector production and cGMP manufacturing.
Botaretigene Sparoparvovec for the Treatment of X-Linked Retinitis Pigmentosa Associated with Mutations in the RPGR Gene
Retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, is a group of IRDs which represent the most common genetic cause of blindness. The condition is characterized by progressive retinal degeneration and vision loss that ends in complete blindness. RP initially presents as nighttime blindness during childhood or early adulthood, progressing to peripheral visual field loss and “tunnel vision,” central visual impairment, reduced visual acuity and, ultimately, complete blindness.
RP may be caused by mutations in any of over 100 different genes. The most severe forms of RP are X-linked, or XLRP, with onset in early childhood and rapid progression to blindness generally by the time patients reach 30 to 40 years old. The most frequent mutation causing XLRP is in the retinitis pigmentosa GTPase regulator gene, or RPGR. XLRP associated with a mutation in RPGR, or XLRP-RPGR, accounts for more than 70% of cases of XLRP. There are estimated to be approximately 20,000 XLRP-RPGR patients in the United States (U.S.), Japan and Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the UK, or the EU5, with a little less than 50% of those patients being under the age of 40 and approximately 200 new cases being diagnosed annually. We believe the availability of a therapeutic option may increase patient identification and the estimated prevalence of XLRP-RPGR.
There are currently no approved treatments for XLRP.
Clinical Development of Botaretigene Sparoparvovec
We have an ongoing natural history study in XLRP-RPGR including approximately 100 patients, which allows us to collect structural and functional data for up to five years on prospectively defined endpoints, including functional tests, retinal imaging and electrophysiological assessments. We believe access to this large population of XLRP-RPGR patients has enabled us to efficiently enroll appropriate patients into our XLRP clinical development program.
Since XLRP-RPGR is a progressive disease in which the retina gradually degenerates starting in the outer, or peripheral, regions of the retina and initially causing “tunnel vision” with final degeneration of the central retina resulting in the complete loss of visual acuity and blindness that generally occurs by the time patients are 30 to 40 years old, we believe that the central region of the retina, including the macula and fovea, must be preserved to prevent the ultimate degeneration to blindness and to retain visual acuity. To this end, we aim to deliver botaretigene sparoparvovec to this central region of the retina.
We conducted a Phase 1/2 clinical trial of botaretigene sparoparvovec in XLRP patients. Botaretigene sparoparvovec was delivered via subretinal injection of up to 1mL with the potential for the surgeon to use multiple retinotomies targeting the region of the central retina, including the macula and fovea.
In the dose escalation portion of the Phase 1/2 trial, we enrolled 13 patients, including 10 young adults and 3 children. After we completed dosing patients in the dose escalation portion of the study, we enrolled patients in the randomized, controlled, extension portion of the Phase 1/2 trial. We disclosed six-month data from the dose escalation portion of the study as a late-breaker at the American Society of Retina Specialists 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting in July 2020, nine-month data at EURETINA 2020 Virtual Congress in October 2020 and twelve-month data at the American Academy of Ophthalmology 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting in November 2020. Data from each time point revealed that patients treated with low (n=3) and intermediate (n=4) dose botaretigene sparoparvovec experienced statistically significant improvement in retinal sensitivity. Nine-month data also indicated significant improvement in vision-guided mobility, and at 12-months, six of seven patients continued to show improved or stable vision in the treated eye. Each patient was treated with subretinal delivery of botaretigene sparoparvovec in one eye and the patient’s other eye served as an untreated control. The primary endpoint of the trial is safety, with secondary endpoints assessing changes in visual function at pre-specified timepoints post-treatment. Baseline values were determined in triplicate. Additionally, based on the safety and efficacy profile, the low and intermediate doses are being evaluated in the ongoing randomized, controlled, extension portion of the Phase 1/2 study, which completed enrollment in the first half of 2020.
We disclosed additional twelve-month clinical data from the dose escalation portion of the Phase 1/2 trial as part of an oral presentation at the EURETINA 2021 Virtual Congress in September 2021. The retinal function of ten adult males aged 18-30 years with RPGR-associated XLRP was assessed twelve months post-treatment. For the intermediate dose-escalation dose cohort (n=4), intervention with botaretigene sparoparvovec in the poorer-seeing eye altered the course of natural disease progression. At twelve months post-intervention, mean retinal sensitivity (MS) and volumetric analysis of the central 30 degrees of the retinal field (V30) in the treated eye were similar to levels observed twenty-four months pre-intervention, while the untreated eye showed a continued downward trajectory.
We recently initiated our Phase 3 Lumeos clinical trial, a randomized, controlled study of botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of XLRP associated with variants in the RPGR gene. We have begun actively dosing patients and additional patients are being screened and enrolled at multiple sites across North America and Europe.
The FDA has granted Fast Track and orphan drug designations to botaretigene sparoparvovec. Competent authorities in the European Union, or EU, have granted Priority Medicines, or PRIME, advanced therapy medicinal product, or ATMP, and orphan drug designations to botaretigene sparoparvovec.
AAV-RPE65 for the Treatment of RPE65-Associated Retinal Dystrophy
We are developing AAV-RPE65 for the treatment of retinal dystrophy associated with mutations in the RPE65 gene. RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy causes rod photoreceptor dysfunction and impaired vision from birth. Absence of RPE65 results in severe dysfunction of rods and causes impaired vision in dim lighting conditions. Although cone photoreceptors are generally preserved during childhood in RPE65-deficient patients, the lack of function and degeneration of the rods eventually results in the loss of cones and degeneration of the whole retina over time. Consequently, most RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy patients experience central vision loss progressing to complete blindness by early adulthood.
Based on an estimated prevalence of approximately one in 500,000 people in the United States suffering from Leber congenital amaurosis, or LCA, related to mutations in the RPE65 gene, and approximately one in 70,000 people in the United States having RP due to mutations in the RPE65 gene, RPE65-deficiency occurs in approximately one in 125,000 people in the United States. There are estimated to be approximately 6,000 RPE65-deficiency patients in the United States, Japan and EU5, with almost 30% of those patients being under the age of 30 and approximately 50 new cases being diagnosed annually. We have developed a gene therapy candidate optimized for safety and potency for the treatment of RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy, AAV-RPE65. AAV-RPE65 is an AAV2/5 viral vector, in which a codon optimized RPE65 gene is driven by a novel synthetic retinal pigment epithelium cell specific promoter.
The FDA has approved the first gene treatment for RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy, Luxturna, a commercially available product developed by Spark Therapeutics, Inc., which was purchased by Roche. While RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy primarily causes a loss of rod function initially leading to impaired vision in dim light, these patients ultimately experience complete blindness because of degeneration of the cone rich fovea. To prevent blindness, therefore, we believe it is critical to treat the central retina in order to maintain structural integrity in this region and save central vision. We aim to treat as extensive an area of the central retina as possible, including the cone rich fovea. Thus, in addition to improving rod function, we aim to provide sufficient RPE65 protein to the cells in the central retina to prevent the degeneration of both rods and cones in this region, and thereby prevent the progression to complete blindness.
Clinical Development of AAV-RPE65
We have an ongoing natural history study in patients with RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy with approximately 30 patients enrolled that allows us to collect structural and functional data on prospectively defined endpoints, including functional tests, retinal imaging, and electrophysiological assessments.
Our Phase 1/2 clinical trial enrolled RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy patients in the UK and U.S. Dosing in the Phase 1/2 clinical trial was completed in June 2018. The primary endpoint of this open-label, dose-escalation clinical trial is safety. Secondary endpoints include the outcomes of a range of functional tests, detailed structural analysis of the retina and quality of life measures. A total of 15 patients were treated in this clinical trial, including nine adult patients in three dose escalation cohorts and six pediatric patients in the pediatric extension arm of the trial.
In May 2019, we announced positive topline safety and efficacy data from the Phase 1/2 trial of AAV-RPE65. Additional data from this study were presented at the Retina Subspecialty Day of the American Academy of Ophthalmology Annual Meeting in October 2019.
AAV-RPE65 met the study’s primary endpoint of safety and tolerability. Additionally, AAV-RPE65 demonstrated statistically significant improvement across several secondary endpoints assessing clinical activity. Significant improvement in vision was demonstrated at six months after AAV-RPE65 treatment, as measured by assessments of vision-guided mobility, retinal sensitivity, visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. Larger improvements from baseline in functional vision were observed between treated and control eyes at lower light levels. We believe these outcomes address the core functional manifestation of RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy, which typically causes vision
impairment beginning in early childhood that is most pronounced in low-light conditions, and is consistent with the proposed mechanism of action of AAV-RPE65.
We expect to initiate a Phase 3 clinical trial for AAV-RPE65 in 2022.
The FDA and European Medicines Agency, or EMA, each granted orphan status to AAV-RPE65 for the treatment of LCA caused by mutations in the RPE65 gene. The FDA also granted AAV-RPE65 rare pediatric disease designation for the treatment of inherited retinal dystrophy due to biallelic RPE65 mutations.
AAV-CNGB3 and AAV-CNGA3 for the Treatment of Achromatopsia
Achromatopsia, or ACHM, is an IRD that specifically prevents cone photoreceptors from functioning. ACHM patients are legally blind from birth and usually suffer from severely reduced visual acuity of 20/200 or worse, a disabling sensitivity to light, or photoaversion, total color blindness and involuntary back and forth eye movements, or nystagmus. ACHM patients suffer significant vision loss due to the complete lack of cone function. ACHM occurs in approximately one in 30,000 people in the United States. The CNGB3 and CNGA3 genes are the two most common genes that have been identified as causing ACHM, together accounting for up to 92% of ACHM cases, with CNGB3 slightly more common than CNGA3 in most geographic territories.
There are estimated to be approximately 12,000 patients with ACHM caused by mutations in CNGB3 in the United States, Japan, and the EU5, with about 25% of those patients being under the age of 18 and approximately 125 new cases being diagnosed annually. We believe the availability of a therapeutic option may increase patient identification and the estimated prevalence of ACHM.
ACHM is predominantly a stationary disease, which means that ACHM patients’ retinas contain non-functioning cones that survive intact for many decades. This is in contrast to many IRDs in which the entire retina slowly degenerates over a patient’s life. This extended survival of cones with their potential for light sensitivity presents a wide window of opportunity to introduce a normal copy of the mutated gene via a gene therapy product candidate and thereby restore cone function. While the stationary nature of ACHM means that cones remain present for decades, the functional connections between active cones and the visual cortex in the brain are thought to become fixed in teenage years. Therefore, we believe that younger individuals are likely to benefit most from gene therapy treatment for ACHM because of their greater visual plasticity. Another debilitating symptom of ACHM, which lasts throughout life, is photoaversion. A disabling and ubiquitous symptom of ACHM, photoaversion is the avoidance of light due to discomfort in the presence of levels of light equivalent to a normally lit room or daylight. ACHM patients often avoid light and wear dark glasses, which further diminishes their already very poor vision. We believe it is possible that restoration of cone function in adult patients might have an impact on photoaversion even if brain plasticity is limited.
We believe that gene therapy treatment for ACHM in which we aim to restore cone function via a gene replacement strategy may offer benefits across a range of ages, which we aim to define in our clinical development programs.
We have designed specifically optimized gene therapy viral vector candidates to treat ACHM caused by mutations in each of CNGB3 and CNGA3, with which we aim to address the majority of patients suffering from ACHM. Our product candidates are delivered via subretinal injection covering the central macula region of the eye, where most of the cones in the retina are located.
We have an ongoing natural history study in ACHM including over 90 patients that allows us to collect structural and functional data for up to five years on prospectively defined endpoints, including functional tests, retinal imaging and electrophysiological assessments. We believe access to these ACHM patients has enabled us to efficiently enroll the most appropriate patients into our CNGB3 and CNGA3 Phase 1/2 clinical trials. In addition to giving us access to patients and potentially accelerated enrollment in our treatment studies, we believe the prospective natural
history data on each treated patient allow us to gather robust data from our Phase 1/2 clinical trials in a condensed timeframe. We plan to initiate, together with Janssen, later stage clinical studies for AAV-CNGB3 and AAV-CNGA3 for the treatment of ACHM in 2022.
Clinical Development of AAV-CNGB3 for the Treatment of ACHM Caused by Mutations in the CNGB3 Gene
We have developed a product candidate, AAV-CNGB3, to treat ACHM caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene. Mutations in the CNGB3 gene prevent cone photoreceptors from functioning because CNGB3’s gene product is integral to the formation of a specific membrane channel that enables cones’ electrical response to light. CNGB3 is a gene exclusively expressed in cones and our aim is to replace the absent function of the mutant CNGB3 gene with a normal copy of the gene in cones of IRD patients and thereby restore cone function. In order to drive expression of the functional CNGB3 gene specifically in cones and not in other cells of the retina, we use the cone specific human cone arrestin, or CAR, promoter to drive the expression of a codon optimized CNGB3 cDNA. Codon optimization improves protein expression by increasing translation efficiency. To transfect cone photoreceptors, we use the AAV8 capsid, which enables the efficient delivery of the CNGB3 gene cargo to those photoreceptors. As the vast majority of the cones in the eye are located centrally and concentrated in the macula, we treat this central region of the retina through subretinal injection to deliver the viral vector product candidate to the photoreceptors in which its activity is required.
We have completed enrollment and dosing of the Phase 1/2 clinical trial of AAV-CNGB3 in both adult and pediatric patients. In this trial, AAV-CNGB3 was delivered via subretinal injection of up to 0.5mL targeting the central region of the retina, including the macula and fovea, where most of the cones are located. One eye is treated in each patient. The primary endpoint of this open-label, dose-escalation clinical trial is safety. Secondary endpoints include the outcomes of a range of functional and structural assessments.
Dosing was completed in this clinical trial in May 2019. In the dose escalation portion of the trial, we treated 11 adults. We also treated 12 children in the pediatric expansion cohorts. Six months following treatment, patients can move onto a long term follow up study in which they are followed for safety and indication of benefit for an additional four and a half years.
Our gene therapy product candidate AAV-CNGB3 was granted orphan drug designation by the FDA and the European Commission for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene, rare pediatric disease designation by the FDA for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene, and Fast Track designation by the FDA for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by CNGB3 mutations. We were granted PRIME designation by the EMA in October 2018 based on data from the first adult treatment cohort along with preclinical data.
Clinical Development of AAV-CNGA3 for the Treatment of ACHM Caused by Mutations in the CNGA3 Gene
We are also developing AAV-CNGA3 to treat ACHM caused by mutations in the CNGA3 gene. We have designed a synthetic promoter to drive high levels of CNGA3 expression specifically in cones because we believe a larger amount of CNGA3 protein is required to restore cone function as compared to CNGB3. AAV-CNGA3 utilizes this proprietary pan cone promoter to drive a codon optimized CNGA3 gene sequence. We believe this novel promoter can drive sufficient expression of CNGA3 in cones to restore light sensitivity to these cones in CNGA3 deficient patients. We use the AAV8 capsid to transfect cone photoreceptors in the back of the eye and we target the cones concentrated in the central region of the retina via a subretinal injection that covers the macula.
We have completed enrollment and dosing of the open-label, dose-escalation Phase 1/2 clinical trial of AAV-CNGA3 in patients with ACHM due to mutations in the CNGA3 gene.
Our gene therapy product candidate AAV-CNGA3 was granted orphan drug designation by the FDA and EMA, rare pediatric disease designation by the FDA, and in January 2021, was granted Fast Track designation by the FDA for the treatment of ACHM caused by CNGA3 mutations.
AAV-AIPL1 for the Treatment of LCA4
LCA4 is an IRD that causes complete blindness before age five. AIPL1 is a central protein for the maintenance of photoreceptor structure and function. Deletion of the AIPL1 gene causes the most severe form of early retinal dystrophy, LCA4, in which the retinal structure is destroyed with complete vision loss. LCA4 is rare, representing approximately 8% of all LCA cases.
There are currently no approved treatments for LCA4, and we believe an effective intervention will require introducing a normal functional copy of the AIPL1 gene into rod and cone photoreceptors early in a patient’s life while some retinal structure remains in order to activate function and survival of the photoreceptors that are still present. We believe gene therapy has the potential to be the only effective way to address the disease’s root cause.
LCA4’s extremely rapid progression, rarity and early age of onset make the standard process of seeking regulatory approval through clinical development challenging because adult safety trials would not yield meaningful data given the early onset of the disease. We believe we are well placed to initiate the first clinical intervention in this indication through our relationships with the University College of London, or UCL, and Moorfields Eye Hospital, whose expertise and large IRD patient population enables such an aggressive and uncommon IRD to be treated.
To address LCA4, we developed a viral vector to replace the AIPL1 gene in all photoreceptors by using the AIPL1 cDNA driven by the rhodopsin kinase promoter, which is active in both rods and cones.
We have manufactured and released AAV-AIPL1 for compassionate use under an MHRA specials license in the UK to treat LCA4 patients. A specials license allows physicians to prescribe a treatment of AAV-AIPL1 for LCA4 patients they deem appropriate. We play no role in the physician’s treatment decision. We intend to use any data produced by the compassionate use treatment to inform any potential clinical development plan as well as any interactions with the regulatory agencies that would enable us to make this intervention more widely available to the LCA4 patient population.
As the manufacturer of AAV-AIPL1 under a specials license, we have a record retention requirement and a continuing obligation to inform the MHRA of any suspected adverse reaction to our medicinal product which is a serious adverse reaction.
The UK’s Human Medicines Regulations 2012 allow for the manufacture and supply of medicinal products not authorized for marketing to patients with special needs at the request of the healthcare professional responsible for the patient’s care (these products are referred to as “specials”). A special may only be supplied in: (i) response to an unsolicited order from a healthcare professional responsible for the care of the patient, (ii) if the product is manufactured and assembled in accordance with the specifications of that healthcare professional to fulfil the special needs of the individual patient that cannot be met by products already authorized for marketing and (iii) if the product is manufactured under a specials license granted by the MHRA.
Manufacturing a special also imposes a five year record retention requirement subject to review by the MHRA, including details of any suspected adverse reaction to the product so sold or supplied of which the person is aware or subsequently becomes aware, as well as a continuing obligation to notify the MHRA of any suspected adverse reaction to the medicinal product which is a serious adverse reaction.
The FDA and European Commission granted orphan designation to AAV-AIPL1 for treatment of inherited retina dystrophy due to defects in AIPL1 gene.
Ophthalmology Preclinical Development Pipeline
We also have a preclinical IRD development pipeline focused on diseases caused by mutations in additional genes. In order to expand our gene therapy pipeline for retinal diseases, we are also developing treatments for certain multifactorial eye diseases, which are diseases caused by multiple genetic or environmental factors.
AAV-RDH12 for the Treatment of RDH12 Mutation-Associated Retinal Dystrophy
Disease-causing sequence variants in RDH12 cause severe retinal dystrophy most often resulting in the clinical diagnosis of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) and early onset severe retinal dystrophy (EOSRD); although RDH12 variants have also been associated with a clinical diagnosis of RP. Sequence variants in RDH12 account for 3.4%–10.5% of LCA/EOSRD. Individuals with RDH12 deficiency exhibit widespread retinal degeneration impacting both rods and cones, with early macular involvement. Most people with RDH12–LCA/EOSRD experience marked central visual loss by their late teens to twenties. AAV-RDH12 is an AAV based gene therapy designed to deliver a functional copy of the RDH12 gene to the retina of patients with genetically defined RDH12 deficiency.
We recently received orphan drug designation from the FDA as well as orphan medicinal product designation from the European Commission for AAV-RDH12 for the treatment of RDH12-associated retinal dystrophy.
Wet and Dry Neovascular Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
We are developing pre-clinical programs relating to neovascular age related macular degeneration, or wet AMD. We use a gene therapy product to deliver an antibody targeting the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2, or anti-VEGFR2, with the aim of blocking disease related vascular formation in the eye.
Additionally, we are developing a novel approach to treat advanced dry AMD patients who have lost central vision through our innovative “rod-to-cone” technology. By genetically engineering rods with molecules that will improve their speed of response to light, we aim to effectively transform a patch of rod photoreceptors in the outer part of the retina to behave more like cone photoreceptors, thus improving vision. There is no currently approved therapy that impacts disease progression of dry AMD. The best available treatment for patients after they lose central vision and acuity is support and rehabilitation services to help them better utilize the remaining peripheral part of their retina.
Our Salivary Gland Programs
Our second area of clinical focus is xerostomia, a chronic and debilitating disorder of the salivary glands in which saliva production is impaired. Xerostomia may be caused by a number of different insults to the salivary glands, including radiation therapy for head and neck cancer and certain autoimmune diseases.
AAV-hAQP1 for the Treatment of Radiation-Induced Grade 2/3 Xerostomia
Radiation induced xerostomia, or RIX, is a severe and debilitating long-term side effect of radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. Chronic RIX results in severe side effects, including difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, oral discomfort, malnutrition, oral mucositis, changes in taste, increased oral infections and dental cavities, resulting in a significant negative impact on patient quality of life. Current treatment options for RIX are few and are of limited benefit. The sialogogues pilocarpine (approved for RIX) and cevimeline (used off-label) are minimally effective in patients with grade 2/3 RIX where the gland structure and function have been significantly impaired. No new medications for RIX have been approved in over 20 years.
Worldwide, there are approximately 650,000 new cases of head and neck cancer diagnosed each year, with approximately 54,000 cases in the U.S. alone, making it the fifth most common malignancy. Approximately 85% of patients who receive radiation treatment for head and neck cancer experience reduced saliva production during
treatment, and approximately 50% of those patients who remain cancer free for two or more years after treatment continue to suffer from grade 2 or 3 RIX. There are approximately 170,000 such patients in the U.S., with approximately 5,000 to 10,000 new cases each year in the U.S.
Salivary glands are an attractive target organ for gene therapy treatments because they are self-contained, partially immune protected and easily accessible, allowing for non-invasive delivery of small vector doses.
We are developing AAV-hAQP1 to treat RIX by increasing water conduction in the chronically damaged salivary glands by introducing a water conducting channel into the remaining epithelial cells of these damaged glands. Adequate water secretion by surviving epithelial cells has the potential to deliver the protective exocrine proteins produced by remaining gland cells into the mouth.
The key to our approach is that, unlike the water conducting acinar cells, the water impermeable duct cells of the glands appear to be resilient to infrared radiation exposure. As a consequence of this relative resilience to radiation treatment, salivary glands damaged by radiation treatment tend to contain mostly water impermeable ductal epithelial cells. To make these duct cells permeable to water, AAV-hAQP1 introduces the gene for the human aquaporin water channel, or hAQP1. We have demonstrated that this has the potential to convey water permeability and causes ductal cells to generate an osmotic gradient, which causes them to secrete fluid into the lumen of the duct.
The proof of concept for this mechanism and its ability to increase the volume of saliva secreted by damaged salivary glands was observed in a Phase 1 clinical trial conducted by the NIH in patients with chronic grade 2 or 3 RIX. The trial was designed as a short-term dose escalation trial of a gene therapy using adenovirus as the vector to deliver the hAQP1 to the remaining epithelial cells in the parotid gland of 11 patients suffering from chronic RIX. There were no reported severe adverse events among the patients treated, two out of three patients in each of the first three cohorts in this clinical trial were observed to have objective increases in saliva volume produced by the treated parotid gland, with increases in parotid flow ranging from 60% to 540%, and all but one of these patients showed a decrease in symptoms of dry mouth as measured by subjective visual analog scales, validated in other forms of xerostomia. The results of this study were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012.
We are currently conducting a Phase 1 dose escalation clinical trial of AAV-hAQP1 at the NIH in patients with grade 2 or 3 RIX who remain cancer free for at least five years after receiving radiation treatment. In this trial we are using AAV2 to deliver the hAQP1 gene, as we believe AAV2 efficiently transfects the salivary gland cells and does not spread beyond the target cells. The aim of the trial is to determine the safety of inserting hAQP1 locally into the salivary glands of RIX patients, as well as to measure changes in salivary flow resulting from the introduction of this channel. We have completed dosing in the first four cohorts and are enrolling patients into the fifth and final dose escalation cohort. This clinical trial is being conducted in conjunction with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the United States National Institutes of Health, or the NIH, Dental Clinic.
In the third quarter of 2019, we also initiated an open-label, multi-center Phase 1 dose escalation clinical trial of a single administration of our product candidate AAV-hAQP1 to one or both parotid glands in patients with grade 2 or 3 RIX. In December 2021, we announced preliminary data from this Phase 1 clinical trial. The announcement included data from seven patients treated in cohorts 1, 2 and 3 of the unilateral dose escalation phase of the clinical trial. Six of the seven patients who reached 90 days following treatment reported their symptoms of dry mouth as better following treatment pursuant to a validated patient reported assessment of xerostomia symptoms, constituting clinically meaningful improvement. One patient who reported the maximum response evaluable at 12-months had reached the 24-month time point and reported the same level of response. In March 2022, we completed enrollment of the study. A total of 24 patients received either unilateral (n=12) or bilateral (n=12) treatment in one of eight escalating dose cohorts of three patients each. The investigational gene therapy AAV-hAQP1 has been well tolerated with no dose limiting toxicity and no treatment-related serious adverse events reported. All subjects are to be followed for one year post-treatment in the present study and for an additional four years in the long-term follow-up study, per FDA guidelines.
Based on the safety and efficacy profile of AAV-hAQP1 in the Phase 1 clinical trial and regulatory precedent, we intend to initiate a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Phase 2 study evaluating two active doses of AAV-hAQP1 for the treatment of grade 2 or 3 RIX in the second half of 2022.
The FDA granted orphan drug designation to AAV-hAQP1 for the treatment of symptoms of grade 2 and grade 3 late xerostomia from parotid gland hypofunction caused by radiotherapy for cancer of the oral cavity.
AAV-hAQP1 for the Treatment of Sjogren’s Syndrome
The destruction of salivary tissue resulting in chronic xerostomia may also be caused by chronic autoimmune disease. Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which a patient’s immune system may target the salivary glands. Chronic inflammation of the salivary glands results in long term damage and chronic xerostomia in many Sjogren’s patients. Data from preclinical studies in animal models of Sjogren’s syndrome and data from explants of minor salivary glands of Sjogren’s patients suggest that Sjogren’s syndrome may also be treatable with our AAV-hAQP1 vector. Supported by data from our preclinical studies and our ongoing RIX clinical trials, we are currently conducting IND-enabling studies of AAV-hAQP1 for xerostomia caused by Sjogren’s syndrome.
Our Neurodegenerative Disease Programs
Neurodegenerative diseases are our third area of focus. Relying on our expertise in viral vector design, delivery, production and manufacturing, we are aiming to develop and optimize vectors to effectively treat both genetic and sporadic forms of these diseases.
AAV-GAD for the Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
Our first target indication is Parkinson’s disease, where we have Phase 2 clinical data from a successful randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial.
Affecting nearly one million Americans and 10 million worldwide, Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease and is the 14th-leading cause of death in the United States. It is associated with a progressive loss of motor control (e.g., shaking or tremor at rest and lack of facial expression), as well as non-motor symptoms (e.g., depression and anxiety). There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone.
Our product candidate targeting Parkinson’s disease, AAV-GAD, is designed to deliver the glutamic acid decarboxylase, or GAD, gene to the subthalamic nucleus in order to increase production of GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain. GAD is the rate-limiting enzyme in the synthesis of GABA, therefore we believe that increasing subthalamic nucleus GAD expression through gene therapy has the potential to address the dysregulation of motor circuits and improve symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients without affecting other brain regions, which can be responsible for complications of existing therapies.
Clinical Development of AAV-GAD
In a blinded Phase 2 clinical trial of AAV-GAD in patients with medically refractory Parkinson’s disease, 45 patients were randomized 1:1 to receive either AAV-GAD gene therapy delivered by injection into the subthalamic nucleus on both sides of the brain or bilateral sham surgery. Subjects were followed for one year and all results remained blinded until the final treated patient reached the 6-month primary endpoint. The trial met the primary endpoint, of six-month change from baseline in double-blind assessment of off-medication motor scores of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, or UPDRS. At the six-month endpoint, UPDRS score for the AAV-GAD group decreased by 8.1 points (SD 1.7, 23.1%; p<0.0001) and by 4.7 points in the sham group (1.5, 12.7%; p=0.003). The AAV-GAD group showed a significantly greater improvement from baseline in UPDRS scores compared with the sham
group over the six-month course of the study (RMANOVA, p=0.04). An improvement in complications of medical therapy as measured by the UPDRS part 4 was observed in the AAV-GAD group at both six and 12 months. A significant decline in duration of disabling dyskinesia was observed only in the AAV-GAD treated patients.
AAV-GAD was reported to be well-tolerated, with no significant adverse events related to the therapy and no speech or cognitive complications observed. The results of the trial were published in the March 2011 issue of The Lancet Neurology, the August 2014 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation and the April 2017 issue of JCI Insight, building upon publications of the Phase 1 trial data in The Lancet and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, in research published in the November 28, 2018 issue of Science Translational Medicine, fifteen patients treated with AAV-GAD gene therapy were observed to have expressed a treatment-related reorganization of functional brain connectivity that was related to disease symptom improvement. These flurodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography analyses provided objective biological evidence of improvements in abnormal brain networks associated with Parkinson’s disease following AAV-GAD gene therapy.
These results were observed in patients treated in both Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies. Blinded analyses showed significant improvements in abnormal thalamic metabolism, a key node in the movement circuitry, in the AAV-GAD treated patients. This pattern of brain network activity was not seen in untreated hemispheres or patients in the sham arm. Furthermore, a specific pattern of brain network activity was identified in those subjects with clinical improvements in the sham arm, which was different from the pattern observed in AAV-GAD responders.
We anticipate filing an Investigational New Drug application (IND) for AAV-GAD during the first half of 2022, with material that has been manufactured with our in-house proprietary manufacturing process at our cGMP manufacturing facility in London.
Neurodegenerative Disease Preclinical Development Pipeline
In addition to our clinical stage Parkinson’s disease program, we continue to conduct research to develop our preclinical pipeline of gene therapy product candidates for the treatment of other serious diseases of the central nervous system, including AAV-UPF1 to address motor neuron death in ALS, and an Alzheimer’s disease program focused on endosomal trafficking dysfunction. Each of these programs are directed towards the underlying cell biology that may be driving neurogeneration in these diseases.
ALS is a devastating, progressive, neurodegenerative disease leading to the loss of motor neurons, which are the neurons that control the ability to move, speak, swallow and ultimately to breathe. The gradual paralysis in ALS invariably leads to death. While 10% of ALS cases are caused by inherited genetic mutations, most ALS occurs sporadically, with no known genetic cause. Mutations in over 20 genes have been identified that cause the inherited ALS cases. Characterization of these disease-causing genes have implicated several cellular pathways in the disease, with a prominent role emerging for genes involved in the cellular control of RNA. Many new regulatory roles are being discovered for RNA, particularly in neurons.
We have designed a viral vector product candidate, AAV-UPF1, with the aim of increasing UPF1 expression in the motor neurons of ALS patients. In preclinical studies, we observed that administration of AAV-UPF1 reduced motor neuron death thought to be driven by the toxic effects of several different genetic causes of ALS including, TDP-43, FUS and C9orf72. Improvements in ALS-like symptoms related to limb strength and mobility in rodent models of ALS have also been observed following administration of AAV-UPF1.
We believe that gene therapy using AAV-UPF1 may increase UPF1 levels in cells affected by ALS, and we intend to deliver our viral vector product candidate to the central nervous system via intrathecal injection, or injection into the spinal canal.
With the world population aging, Alzheimer’s disease has emerged as an extremely common and costly disease. While some treatments that have temporary effects on Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are available, there is currently no approved treatment that halts the progression of the disease.
Our Alzheimer’s disease program focuses on the endosomal trafficking pathway. In preclinical studies, we observed that increasing levels of key retromer proteins may reverse endosomal trafficking defects. We are identifying suitable retromer targets for gene augmentation in pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s patients.
There are several reasons why gene therapy is, in principle, well suited for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. The first relates to the pathophysiology, time course, and anatomical spread of these disorders. Neurodegenerative diseases generally begin locally in selectively vulnerable regions with “cell sickness” years before rampant cell death and wide-spread anatomical distribution. To be most effective, we believe interventions should be administrated early and will benefit from local delivery. Even then, however, an intervention must maintain its efficacy for years because, unlike other cells in the body, neurons do not typically divide over the course of their life. We believe AAV-delivered gene therapy products may have a durable effect. In the best case scenario, one delivery successfully taken up by targeted neurons would be sufficient for years of efficacy.
An important component of our approach is the development and validation of surrogate markers of endosomal dysfunction and predictive markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, several well studied biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease, such as amyloid-beta and tau, have also been shown to be biomarkers of endosomal trafficking dysfunction in neurons. Such biomarkers could potentially be used to identify patients with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as demonstrate potential product efficacy in the absence of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. By targeting endosomal trafficking dysregulation we aim to address the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease as well as other neurodegenerative diseases, such as certain forms of Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to our three core therapeutic areas of focus, our six ongoing clinical development programs, and our broad pipeline of preclinical programs, we have core capabilities in viral vector design and optimization, gene therapy manufacturing and a potentially transformative gene regulation technology. Utilizing the following key strengths, we aim to develop, commercialize and expand our portfolio of product candidates.
|●||Deep Expertise in Gene Therapy Development: We believe our expertise in viral vector design, optimization and process development allows us to efficiently advance gene therapy products candidates from preclinical development to cGMP manufacturing and clinical development through commercialization.|
|●||Potentially Transformative Gene Regulation Technology Platform: We are developing proprietary technology to enable innovative gene therapy treatments whose expression can be turned on and off with an easily administered small molecule. We believe the capacity for temporal control of gene therapy products has the potential to transform the gene therapy landscape by opening up new treatment possibilities.|
|●||Manufacturing Capabilities and Capacity: We have a flexible and scalable cGMP manufacturing facility and production process in London, which we expect can supply our current clinical and preclinical programs through regulatory approval and, should they be approved, provide sufficient capacity for their commercial production. We have also expanded our manufacturing capabilities by acquiring the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production|
|facility in Shannon, Ireland. The plasmid and DNA production facility is complete and we expect the viral vector manufacturing facility to be completed during 2022.|
|●||Robust and Diverse Clinical and Preclinical Pipeline: Applying our portfolio approach to gene therapy product development, our initial focus is on treatments for ocular disorders, including IRDs and large degenerative ocular diseases, as well as salivary gland disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. We have six programs in clinical development, one program under a compassionate use specials license and a broad preclinical development pipeline.|
|●||Relationships with Leading Institutions: Our longstanding relationships with leading institutions and experts provides us with guidance on development strategy and access to potential patients for our clinical trials.|
|●||Natural History Study Data: We sponsor ongoing prospective long-term natural history studies in IRDs that facilitate our ability to efficiently enroll our treatment studies, potentially reducing clinical trial timelines and providing insight into the appropriate endpoints for regulatory approval.|
Our goal is to develop and commercialize innovative gene therapy products to treat serious disorders and broaden the scope of indications that may be treatable by our gene therapies. Our strategy to achieve this goal is to:
|●||successfully complete clinical development, obtain regulatory approval and commercialize our pipeline of gene therapy product candidates;|
|●||continue to advance the development of our preclinical pipeline product candidates;|
|●||utilize our viral vector design and optimization capabilities to identify and develop new gene therapies for serious diseases;|
|●||advance the development of our potentially transformative proprietary technology for regulating the activity of gene therapy products using small molecules and initiate clinical trials of new regulatable product candidates; and|
|●||continue to pursue and evaluate further strategic collaborations with additional biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to leverage our capabilities, manufacturing capacity and proprietary gene regulation technology.|
Gene Therapy Overview
Gene therapy uses a delivery vehicle, referred to as a vector, to insert a functionally active gene into cells in the body. The gene encodes a therapeutic protein that may block disease pathways or may enhance a deficient pathway. Gene therapy has been studied for over 50 years, with a variety of different viral vectors employed to deliver therapeutic genes. Since the first clinical study of therapeutic gene transfer in humans in 1990, thousands of gene therapy studies covering a broad range of disease targets have been initiated. In recent years, the first gene therapies have received regulatory approval, including approval by the FDA of Luxturna, marketed by Spark Therapeutics, Inc. which was purchased by Roche, for treatment of RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy, and Zolgensma, marketed by AveXis, Inc., a Novartis company, for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy, resulting in a growing acceptance of gene therapy technology as a potentially safe and effective therapeutic approach.
Our current programs use adeno-associated virus, or AAV, as the vector for delivering gene sequences into a patient’s cells. The key components of an AAV vector include: (i) the capsid, or the outer viral protein shell that encloses the target DNA, which is responsible for binding to the cell surface and allowing the therapeutic gene that it is carrying to enter the cell; (ii) the therapeutic gene, or transgene, that encodes the therapeutic protein; and (iii) the promoter, or the DNA sequence that drives the expression of the transgene. AAV is a good vector for gene therapy delivery because of its relative safety and broad applicability. AAV is less immunogenic, or less prone to causing an immune reaction, than previous generations of gene therapy vectors, such as adenoviral vectors and AAV does not readily integrate into the genome of the target cell, reducing the potential for oncogenesis, or the induction of cancer. AAV vectors can transfer a therapeutic gene into, or transduce, numerous cell types. Slight differences in capsid proteins can modulate the efficiency with which different capsids deliver genes to different cells, thus allowing different AAV capsids to be selected to most effectively target particular cell types.
The therapeutic gene sequence that enters the targeted cell includes both the protein coding region and an engineered promoter sequence that is used to drive functional gene expression. These engineered promoters may be designed to drive different levels of gene expression or to limit gene expression to specific cell types. Additional aspects of the transgene sequence may be engineered for optimal gene expression, such as codon usage and synthetic introns, which may enhance levels of therapeutic protein expression.
Gene therapy can be used to address monogenic diseases, which result in mutations in a single gene in a patient’s genome. In such cases, the viral vector is used to deliver a normal copy of the gene to the cells that are defective due to the lack of the gene function. The normal gene then drives production of the missing protein and offers a therapeutic benefit in patients with the disease. This gene replacement approach underlies all of our IRD programs.
In addition to replacing a gene that is defective or missing in a monogenic disease, gene therapy can also provide a therapeutic impact by adding a particular new gene function to cells and thereby change cell behavior and function in other types of diseases. This is the aim of our salivary gland programs, where our treatment is designed to promote water to flow through otherwise impermeable cells in damaged salivary glands and increase saliva flow into the mouth. Additionally, gene therapy may be used to deliver a therapeutic protein that may block a disease pathway or enhance a deficient cellular pathway in multifactorial diseases such as wet AMD and neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS and Alzheimer’s disease.
Importantly, AAV vectors enable targeting of therapeutic genes to non-dividing cells, in which they are thought to remain for the rest of the cell’s life. This means that a single treatment may offer patients a durable effect and long-term benefit. The specific cells of the eye, salivary gland and the neurons that we target in our current gene therapy programs are largely non-dividing cells and preclinical evidence has shown that they can be effectively targeted by the specific AAV capsids that we use, enabling us to potentially achieve a durable impact on each of the diseases that we treat.
Our Competitive Advantage in IRDs: Vector Engineering, Natural History Studies and Relationships with Leading Institutions
IRDs as a class are the most common cause of blindness in the working age population worldwide and a leading cause of impaired vision in children in developed countries. There are approximately 200,000 people in each of the U.S., EU and UK affected by IRDs. However, IRDs may be caused by mutations in over 300 identified genes, and in many cases each genetically defined IRD may be a small patient population. Meaningful clinical trials for these sorts of rare indications are especially challenging because they require access to sufficient patients and baseline data on each patient in order to secure clear indicators of efficacy as a result of intervention. We seek to address this problem by sponsoring prospectively designed natural history studies in each of the indications that we are treating in our Phase 1/2 trials.
For each of the natural history studies, baseline assessments are made upon enrollment, with follow up assessments at later time points. A broad range of assessments are used, including functional tests, retinal imaging and electrophysiological assessments. The same assessments used for each natural history study are used in our corresponding clinical trial targeting the same indication, allowing us to compare the impact of our product candidates on the progression of these diseases on a population, as well as individual patient basis.
We expect the natural history studies will enhance our understanding of disease progression for each indication that we are targeting and allow us to identify optimal windows for intervention, provide specific functional and structural parameters to quantify treatment effects and define clinical endpoints. These studies also provide us with a source of potential patients for our treatment studies and have facilitated efficient enrollment of these studies. These patients are not only genotyped, but also have up to five years of detailed functional and structural assessment data prior to enrollment into an appropriate treatment study.
We also have longstanding active relationships and clinical site agreements with leading institutions in retinal disorder treatments, including, among others, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the Medical College of Wisconsin & Froedtert Hospital and the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University. These institutions and others where we have active relationships are among the premier treatment centers for the indications that we are pursuing and provide us with access to potential patients for our clinical trials and experts in IRDs who offer strategic guidance and expertise for our development strategy. They provide services with respect to our preclinical and clinical studies. Participants enrolled at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital may travel to the Medical College of Wisconsin & Froedtert Hospital for adaptive optic assessments. The Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University provides certain reading center and other clinical services with respect to our clinical trials.
Our Gene Regulation Platform
We are developing a potentially transformative technology designed to precisely and specifically control gene therapy expression levels via dose-response to orally delivered small molecules. The aim of this gene regulation platform is to transform gene therapy into a generalizable mechanism for the delivery of biologic drugs. The idea is that the gene encoding a particular biologic drug or a therapeutic antibody would be delivered to target cells in the body, but these genes would only be activated in the presence of a specific, proprietary small molecule. The therapeutic protein would be manufactured by the body only in the presence of the small molecule so that intermittent production of the therapeutic protein would be achieved by dosing with the small molecule drug.
This temporal regulation of gene therapy products by exogenous small molecules has long been a goal of gene therapy researchers. The ability to regulate transgenes by introducing temporal control has the potential to transform the gene therapy landscape and the biologics industry as a whole. Our approach focuses on riboswitches to regulate gene expression rather than on the modulation of transcription factor activity.
Riboswitches are pieces of RNA that fold into alternative shapes depending on the binding of a specific small molecule to that RNA sequence. One RNA shape allows the gene containing the riboswitch to be active, while the alternative shape inactivates the gene. Riboswitches are used extensively by bacteria, but none have been identified in mammalian cells to date.
We designed de-novo mammalian riboswitches that we have observed respond to small molecules to switch genes on and off in mammalian cells and in vivo in mice. Our riboswitch contains a stretch of RNA sequence, called an aptamer, that binds to a specific small molecule. The riboswitch is inserted into the therapeutic transgene cDNA. In the absence of the specific small molecule, the unbound riboswitch folds into the shape that drives the destruction of the RNA message and no therapeutic protein is produced in the absence of the small molecule. However, when the small molecule is present and binds to the riboswitch it adopts the alternative RNA shape, causing stable messages to be formed and the therapeutic protein to be produced.
One of the features of our mammalian riboswitch is its unprecedented dynamic range of greater than 5,000-fold. We believe this technology is viable for a therapeutic product and is also the first instance of a proprietary system for screening randomized aptamers and small molecules within mammalian cells for functional interactions.
Using our proprietary technology, we have demonstrated the ability to regulate multiple genes in vitro and in vivo in multiple tissue types using multiple small molecules.
Our Manufacturing Capabilities
We own and operate a cGMP manufacturing facility situated in London, United Kingdom. Supporting our global approach to clinical development and market supply, we designed the 29,000 square foot facility to meet multiple regulatory standards, including the MHRA, EMA and FDA standards.
We believe our facility can supply our current clinical and preclinical programs through regulatory approval and, should they be approved, provide sufficient capacity, for commercial production. Strategically, we believe our facility will minimize our dependence on third-party CMOs, which we believe provides a significant strategic, clinical and commercial advantage.
Our London facility is flexible and scalable, with eleven independent air handling units, two cell culture suites and three separate viral vector production suites, which allows us to produce multiple product candidates in parallel, as well as sequentially at different scales. This allows us to accommodate up to three independent parallel manufacturing streams of viral vector products that are isolated within dedicated production areas.
Our London manufacturing facility includes an integrated analytical department and in-house analytical tool kit that allows for in-house release of clinical and commercial manufactured products. It is also equipped with dedicated areas for microbiology, molecular biology, and cell-based analytics. Our analytical department can perform product related assays, allowing us to retain and gain expertise that is normally lost to third parties. The close integration allows for rapid turnaround and flexibility in scheduling of key assays, reducing lead times for product candidate releases. Further, our dedicated product fill and finish suite allows us to manufacture a full range of clinical and commercial products under one roof and in our control.
We have more than 185 highly trained multidisciplinary staff on our manufacturing team with backgrounds in a diverse array of manufacturing sciences, technologies, analytics and production working together to expedite delivery of gene therapy products.
We have identified and licensed a proprietary HEK-293 cell line that is well characterized and that we have banked in hundreds of vials. The specific cell line, size of the bank, culture media, and cryopreservation agents have been selected to facilitate bridging between process development platforms and targets. Our HEK-293 cells are suitable for both the adherent culture platform and the bioreactor process. We believe the ability to use the same cell line throughout the product and process development lifecycle will allow us to use a bracketed approach to process validation and comparability, which we believe may reduce the time and costs related to their implementation.
We have expanded our manufacturing capabilities by acquiring the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility in Shannon, Ireland. We completed the acquisitions in January 2021. The campus encompasses 150,000 square feet and will include a high capacity cGMP manufacturing hub for clinical through commercial supply, clinical supply storage, quality control laboratories for global release, up to twelve viral vector production suites, fully scalable automated fill and finish facilities, an extensive warehouse and a separate cGMP plasmid and DNA manufacturing facility.
We currently rely on third-party manufacturers for the plasmid used in the production of our product candidates. We believe that building a second viral vector manufacturing facility and bringing cGMP plasmid and DNA
production in-house will provide greater flexibility and efficiency as we advance our product candidates through development, and should they be approved, commercial production. The plasmid and DNA production facility has been completed and we expect the viral vector facility to be completed in 2022.
Our significant investment in the development of our internal manufacturing capacity and expertise to allow for better control over our process development timelines, costs, product quality and intellectual property provides us with a key competitive advantage.
The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are characterized by rapidly changing technologies, significant competition and a strong emphasis on intellectual property. This is true in the field of gene therapy generally, and in the treatments for our key disease areas. While we believe that the strength of our team, gene therapy expertise, scientific knowledge and intellectual property provide us with competitive advantages, we face competition from several sources, including large and small biopharmaceutical companies, academic research institutions, government agencies and public and private research institutions. Not only must we compete with other companies that are focused on gene therapy, but any product candidates that we successfully develop and commercialize will compete with existing therapies and new therapies that may become available in the future.
Many of our competitors have significantly greater financial resources and expertise in research and development, manufacturing, preclinical testing, clinical trials, regulatory approvals and product marketing than we do. These competitors also compete with us in recruiting and retaining qualified scientific and management personnel, establishing clinical trial sites and patient registration for clinical trials and acquiring technologies complementary to, or necessary for, clinical programs. Mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries may result in even more resources being concentrated among a smaller number of our competitors. Smaller or early stage companies may also prove to be significant competitors, particularly through collaborative arrangements with large and established companies.
There are other organizations working to improve existing therapies or to develop new therapies for our initially selected disease indications. Depending on how successful these efforts are, it is possible they may increase the barriers to adoption and success for our product candidates, if approved. These efforts include two product candidates Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, or AGTC, have in Phase 1/2 clinical trials to treat ACHM related to CNGB3 and CNGA3, respectively, a product candidate in Phase 1/2 clinical trials by each of Biogen Inc. and 4D Molecular Therapeutics, Inc. and a program AGTC is running to treat XLRP, as well as Luxturna, marketed by Spark Therapeutics, Inc. which was purchased by Roche, and has been approved to treat RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy. We are not aware of any other gene therapy product candidates in clinical development targeting xerostomia. We are aware of other ALS gene therapies utilizing different treatment mechanisms to treat different genetically defined subsets of ALS patients, as well as gene therapy product candidates being developed for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, including those being developed by Voyager Therapeutics, Inc., Prevail Therapeutics, Inc. and Axovant Sciences Ltd.
We anticipate that we will face intense and increasing competition as new drugs enter the market and advanced technologies become available. We expect any treatments that we develop and commercialize to compete on the basis of, among other things, efficacy, safety, convenience of administration and delivery, price, the level of generic competition and the availability of reimbursement from government and other third-party payors.
Our success depends in large part upon our ability to secure and maintain proprietary protection for our technologies and products and to operate without infringing the proprietary rights of others. Our policy is to protect our proprietary position by, among other methods, filing or collaborating with our licensors to file U.S. and foreign patent applications related to our proprietary technology, inventions and improvements that are important to the development
and implementation of our business. We also use other forms of protection, such as confidential information and trademark protection, particularly where we do not believe patent protection is appropriate or obtainable. Our patent portfolio consists of a combination of issued patents and pending patent applications that are owned or licensed from third parties.
As of December 31, 2021, we own, co-own, have an exclusive license, or an exclusive option to license 261 United States and foreign issued or allowed patents and 342 patent applications, pending in the United States and internationally. For any individual patent, the term depends on the applicable law in the country in which the patent is granted. In most countries where we have filed patent applications or in-licensed patents and patent applications, patents have a term of 20 years from the application filing date or earliest claimed non-provisional priority date. In the United States, the patent term is 20 years but may be shortened if a patent is terminally disclaimed over another patent that expires earlier. The term of a U.S. patent may also be lengthened by a patent term adjustment, in order to address administrative delays by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in granting a patent. In the United States, the term of a patent that covers an FDA-approved drug or biologic may be eligible for patent term extension in order to restore the period of a patent term lost during the premarket FDA regulatory review process. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, or the Hatch-Waxman Act, permits a patent term extension of up to five years beyond the natural expiration of the patent. The patent term restoration period is generally equal to the regulatory review period for the approved product which period occurs after the date the patent is issued, subject to certain exceptions. Only one patent may be extended for a regulatory review period for any product, and the application for the extension must be submitted prior to the expiration of the patent. In the future, we may decide to apply for restoration of patent term for one of our currently owned or licensed patents to extend its current expiration date, depending on the expected length of the clinical trials and other factors involved in the filing of the relevant Biologics License Application.
Company-Owned Intellectual Property
We own seven patent families relating to gene regulation platform technologies developed by us. The first patent family includes 43 issued patents in the United States, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech, Denmark, Estonia, Eurasian Patent Organization, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland/Liechtenstein, Turkey and the United Kingdom and 23 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian Patent Organization, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand (two applications), Philippines (two applications), Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire February 2, 2036, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The second patent family includes 23 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian Patent Organization, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia (two applications), Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire February 2, 2037, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The third patent family includes 22 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian Patent Organization, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire February 2, 2037, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The fourth patent family includes 22 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Industrial Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian Patent Organization, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire August 3, 2037, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The fifth patent family includes 22 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Industrial Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Eurasian Patent Organization, Egypt, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire on March 2, 2038, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The sixth patent family includes 22 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use in the United States, Europe, African Regional Industrial Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Eurasian Patent Organization, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire on February 21, 2038, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The seventh patent family includes one pending Patent Cooperation Treaty patent application with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire on March 24, 2041, not including any patent term adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
Licensed Intellectual Property
Certain of our issued patents and pending patent applications are exclusively licensed to us from UCL Business, Plc (“UCLB”), Brandeis University (“Brandeis”) and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (“NIDCR”).
The UCLB portfolio includes three licensed patent families relating to our RPE65, CNGA3, and RPGR gene therapy programs and one optioned patent family relating to our dry AMD gene therapy program with a combined 80 United States and foreign issued patents and 68 pending patent applications.
The first patent family, with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our RPE65 program, and the AAV-RPE65 product candidate includes 43 issued patents in the United States, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Moreno, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland/Liechtenstein, Turkey and the United Kingdom and 17 pending patent applications in the United States, Europe, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, Israel (two applications), Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand (two applications), Nigeria, Philippines and Thailand. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire February 8, 2036, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The second patent family includes 22 pending patent applications with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our achromatopsia program and the AAV-CNGA3 product candidate in the United States, Europe, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian
Patent Convention, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire January 14, 2039, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The third patent family, with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our retinitis pigmentosa program and the botaretigene sparoparvovec product candidate, includes 41 issued patents in the United States (two patents), Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan (two patents), Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Moreno, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland/Liechtenstein, Turkey and the United Kingdom and five pending applications in Europe, Canada, China, Hong Kong and Japan. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire July 17, 2035, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The fourth patent family which we have optioned, with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our dry AMD gene therapy program, includes five issued patents in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Republic of Korea and South Africa and 21 pending applications in the United States, Europe, African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Eurasian Patent Organization, Hong Kong (two applications), India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire February 19, 2036, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
The licensed Brandeis portfolio includes one patent family with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our ALS gene therapy program and the AAV-UPF1 product candidate.
This patent family includes 16 issued patents in the United States, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland/Liechtenstein and the United Kingdom and four pending patent applications in the United States, Europe, Canada and Hong Kong. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire October 8, 2033, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
The exclusively licensed NIDCR portfolio includes one patent family with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our Sjogren’s Syndrome gene therapy program. This patent family includes 16 issued patents in the United States, Canada, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Patents issued from this family are expected to expire August 30, 2033, not including any patent term extensions or adjustments that may extend the patent term in certain jurisdictions.
License Agreements with UCLB
We previously entered into several license agreements with UCLB, covering the following inherited retinal disease programs: (a) ACHM caused by mutations in CNGB3; (b) ACHM caused by mutations in CNGA3; (c) XLRP; and (d) RPE65-mediated IRD (together, the “Licensed Gene Therapy Programs”). The terms of these license agreements were set forth in (i) the license agreement, dated February 4, 2015, as amended, between Athena Vision Ltd.
and UCLB (the “First UCLB License Agreement”); (ii) the license agreements, dated July 29, 2017, as amended, between MeiraGTx UK II Limited and UCL Business, Plc (the “Second UCLB License Agreement”); and (iii) the license agreement, dated March 15, 2018, among MeiraGTx Limited, MeiraGTx UK II Limited and UCL Business Plc (the “Third UCLB License Agreement” and, collectively, the “prior UCLB license agreements”). In January and February 2019, we amended and restated the prior UCLB license agreements to establish a new standalone license agreement (each, a “Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement”) for each of the Licensed Gene Therapy Programs. We have removed from each of the Stand-Alone Agreements our obligation to pay UCLB a share of certain sublicensing revenues as was provided under the First UCLB License Agreement and have aligned the material terms of the Stand-Alone Agreements to track those under the Third UCLB License Agreement as previously disclosed and a summary of which is set forth below as is now reflected in each of the Stand-Alone Agreements.
Under the terms of the Third UCLB License Agreement, we paid an initial upfront payment of £6,994, and issued to UCLB £100,000 of our ordinary shares.
Under each of the Stand-Alone UCLB Agreements, UCLB granted us an exclusive, worldwide, and sublicensable license under certain intellectual property rights controlled by UCLB relating to one of the Licensed Gene Therapy Programs to develop and commercialize licensed products in a relevant field of gene therapy. We must use diligent efforts to develop and commercialize the licensed products.
Under the terms of each Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement, we are required to pay UCLB sales milestone payments of up to a total of £39.8 million in the aggregate and an annual management fee of £50 thousand until certain royalty payments have been paid. Additionally, pursuant to the Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement related to CNGB3, we paid UCLB an upfront payment of £1.5 million and issued £1.5 million of the Company’s ordinary shares.
Commencing on the first commercial sale of licensed products under each Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement, we must make low single-digit percentage royalty payments to UCLB on net sales of such products. Our royalty obligations under each agreement continue on a licensed product-by-licensed product and country-by-country basis until the latest to occur of the expiration of the last valid claim of a patent claiming such licensed product in such country, the expiration of any regulatory exclusivity for all licensed products in such country, or the tenth anniversary of first commercial sale of such licensed product in such country.
Each Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement will remain in effect on a country-by-country basis until the expiration of the last payment obligation in such country. Each Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement may be terminated: (a) by either party in the event of the other party’s material breach that remains uncured for 30 days (or for 14 days in the case of breaches related to payment obligations), (b) by either party for the other party’s insolvency, (c) immediately by UCLB if we are in persistent breach of the agreement and the parties fail to agree upon a mechanism to remedy such persistent breach (or we do not comply with such agreed upon mechanism), or (d) immediately by UCLB if we undergo certain change of control events or if we enter into a sublicense with certain prohibited persons, which may adversely affect UCL’s and/or UCLB’s reputation. Each Stand-Alone UCLB Agreement may also be terminated or converted to a non-exclusive license by UCLB upon three months’ notice if we, based on an independent expert determination, fail to use diligent efforts to develop and commercially exploit licensed products and do not cure such failure within a certain cure period.
License Agreement between BRI-Alzan Inc. and Brandeis
In May 2013, BRI-Alzan Inc., or BRI-Alzan, entered into a license agreement with Brandeis, or the Brandeis Agreement. On December 31, 2015, we entered into an Agreement and Plan of Merger, or the BRI-Alzan Merger Agreement, with BRI-Alzan, and the Brandeis Agreement was assigned to us as a result of such merger. Pursuant to the terms of the BRI-Alzan Merger Agreement, we agreed to make cash payments to the sellers of BRI-Alzan upon the achievement of certain milestones, subject to an aggregate cap of $4,500,000. In addition, we agreed to make low single-digit percentage royalty payments to the sellers of BRI-Alzan on net sales of any product for the therapeutic or prophylactic treatment of ALS that is covered by a valid claim of the patent rights licensed under the Brandeis
Agreement. The BRI-Alzan Merger Agreement includes customary confidentiality, indemnification, non-competition and non-solicitation provisions.
Pursuant to the Brandeis Agreement, Brandeis granted us an exclusive, worldwide license under certain patent rights with claims directed to compositions of matter and methods of use relating to our ALS gene therapy program and the AAV-UPF1 product candidate to develop and commercialize licensed products.
We must use commercially reasonable efforts to develop and commercialize licensed products. We also acquired non-exclusive, worldwide licenses to certain know-how controlled by Brandeis to exploit licensed products. We are required to pay Brandeis developmental and regulatory milestone payments of up to a total of $1.0 million in the aggregate. We are also required to pay Brandeis annual license maintenance fees ranging from $15,000 to $100,000 depending on the development stage of the licensed product. Commencing on the first commercial sale of licensed products, we must make low single-digit percentage royalty payments to Brandeis on net sales of such products. In addition, we must pay Brandeis mid-teen percentages of sublicensing revenues.
The Brandeis Agreement will remain in effect on a country-by-country basis until the earlier of: (a) 1 year after the date that we, our affiliates or sublicensees last sell any licensed product in such country or (b) until the expiration of the last–to-expire of the licensed patent rights in such country. The Brandeis Agreement may be terminated by Brandeis for our insolvency or for our material breach that remains uncured for 60 days (or for 30 days in the case of breaches related to payment obligations). Such material breach may be cured only once in any 12-month period. Brandeis may also terminate any license granted under the Brandeis Agreement if we fail to timely achieve certain regulatory milestone events.
We also rely on trade secrets, technical know-how and continuing innovation to develop and maintain our competitive advantage. We require inventors who are identified on any company-owned patent applications to assign rights to us. We also rely on confidentiality agreements with our employees, consultants and other advisors to protect our proprietary information. Our policy is to require third parties that receive material confidential information to enter into confidentiality agreements with us.
Our trademark MeiraGTx has been registered in the U.S. and EU.
Government Regulation and Product Approval
Governmental authorities in the U.S., at the federal, state and local level, and other countries extensively regulate, among other things, the research, development, testing, manufacture, labeling, packaging, promotion, storage, advertising, distribution, marketing, post-approval monitoring and reporting and export and import of products such as those we are developing. The processes for obtaining regulatory approvals in the United States and in foreign countries and jurisdictions, along with subsequent compliance with applicable statutes and regulations and other regulatory authorities, are extensive and require the expenditure of substantial time and financial resources.
FDA Approval Process
We expect our product candidates to be regulated as biologics. Biological products, including gene therapy products, are subject to extensive regulation by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, or FDCA, and the Public Health Service Act, or PHSA, and other federal, state, local and foreign statutes and regulations. Both the FDCA and the PHSA and their corresponding regulations govern, among other things, the research, development, safety,
testing, packaging, manufacture, storage, recordkeeping, approval, labeling, promotion and marketing, distribution, post-approval monitoring and reporting, sampling, and import and export of biological products.
U.S. Biological Products Development Process
Our products must be approved by the FDA through the Biologics License Application, or BLA, process before they may be legally marketed in the United States. The process required by the FDA before a biologic may be marketed in the United States generally involves the following:
|●||completion of extensive nonclinical studies, sometimes referred to as preclinical laboratory tests, and preclinical studies and applicable requirements for the humane use of laboratory animals and formulation studies in accordance with applicable regulations, including good laboratory practices, or GLPs;|
|●||submission to the FDA of an IND which must become effective before clinical trials may begin;|
|●||approval by an independent Institutional Review Board, or IRB, or ethics committee at each clinical site before the trial is commenced;|
|●||performance of adequate and well controlled human clinical trials according to the FDA’s regulations commonly referred to as good clinical practices, or GCPs, and any additional requirements for the protection of human research subjects and their health information, to establish the safety and efficacy of the proposed biological product for its intended use;|
|●||submission to the FDA of a BLA for marketing approval that includes substantive evidence of safety, purity, potency and efficacy from results of nonclinical testing and clinical trials;|
|●||satisfactory completion of an FDA inspection of the manufacturing facility or facilities where the biological product is produced to assess compliance with cGMP to assure that the facilities, methods and controls are adequate to preserve the biological product’s identity, strength, quality and purity;|
|●||potential FDA audit of the nonclinical and clinical study sites that generated the data in support of the BLA; and|
|●||FDA review and approval, or licensure, of the BLA.|
Before testing any biological product candidate, including a gene therapy product, in humans, the product candidate enters the preclinical testing stage. Preclinical tests, also referred to as nonclinical studies, include laboratory evaluations of product chemistry, toxicity and formulation, as well as animal studies to assess the potential safety and activity of the product candidate. The conduct of the preclinical tests must comply with federal regulations and requirements, including GLPs. The clinical trial sponsor must submit the results of the preclinical tests, together with manufacturing and controls, information about product chemistry, analytical data, any available clinical data or literature and a proposed clinical protocol, to the FDA as part of the IND. Some preclinical testing, such as reproductive toxicity tests and carcinogenicity in animals, may continue even after the IND is submitted. The IND automatically becomes effective 30 days after receipt by the FDA, after which human clinical trials may begin unless the FDA places the clinical trial on a clinical hold within that 30-day time period. In such a case, the IND sponsor and the FDA must resolve any outstanding concerns before the clinical trial can begin. The FDA may also impose clinical holds on a biological product candidate at any time before or during clinical trials due to safety concerns or non-compliance. If the FDA imposes a clinical hold, trials may not recommence without FDA authorization and then only under terms authorized by the FDA.
In addition to the IND submission process, sponsors of certain human clinical trials of cells containing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules, including human gene transfer studies, are subject to evaluation and assessment by an institutional biosafety committee, or IBC, a local institutional committee that reviews and oversees research utilizing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules at that institution, pursuant to the National Institutes of Health’s Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules, or NIH Guidelines. The IBC assesses the safety of the research and identifies any potential risk to the public health or the environment, and such review may result in some delay before initiation of a clinical trial. While the NIH Guidelines are not mandatory unless the research in question is being conducted at or sponsored by institutions receiving NIH funding of recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecule research, many companies and other institutions not otherwise subject to the NIH Guidelines voluntarily follow them.
Clinical trials involve the administration of the biological product candidate to healthy volunteers or patients under the supervision of qualified investigators, generally physicians not employed by or under the study sponsor’s control. Clinical trials are conducted under protocols detailing, among other things, the objectives of the clinical trial, dosing procedures, subject selection and exclusion criteria, the efficacy measurements to be evaluated and the parameters to be used to monitor subject safety, including stopping rules that assure a clinical trial will be stopped if certain adverse events should occur. Each protocol and any amendments to the protocol must be submitted to the FDA as part of the IND. Clinical trials must be conducted and monitored in accordance with the FDA’s regulations comprising the GCP requirements, including the requirement that all research subjects provide informed consent. Further, each clinical trial must be reviewed and approved by an independent institutional review board, or IRB, at or servicing each institution at which the clinical trial will be conducted. An IRB is charged with protecting the welfare and rights of study participants and considers such items as whether the risks to individuals participating in the clinical trials are minimized and are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits. The IRB also approves the form and content of the informed consent that must be signed by each clinical trial subject or his or her legal representative and must monitor the clinical trial until completed.
Human clinical trials are typically conducted in three sequential phases that may overlap or be combined:
|●||Phase 1. The biological product candidate is initially introduced into healthy human subjects and tested for safety. In the case of some products for severe or life-threatening diseases, especially when the product may be too inherently toxic to ethically administer to healthy volunteers, the initial human testing is often conducted in patients.|
|●||Phase 2. The biological product candidate is evaluated in a limited patient population to identify possible adverse effects and safety risks, to preliminarily evaluate the efficacy of the product for specific targeted diseases and to determine dosage tolerance, optimal dosage and dosing schedule.|
|●||Phase 3. Clinical trials are undertaken to further evaluate dosage, clinical efficacy, potency, and safety in an expanded patient population at geographically dispersed clinical trial sites. These clinical trials are intended to establish the overall risk/benefit ratio of the product and provide an adequate basis for product labeling.|
In most cases, the FDA requires two adequate and well controlled Phase 3 clinical trials to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a biological product. In some instances, a single Phase 3 trial, together with other confirmatory evidence may be sufficient to support a BLA submission. Post-approval clinical trials, sometimes referred to as Phase 4 clinical trials, may be conducted after initial marketing approval. These clinical trials are used to gain additional experience from the treatment of patients in the intended therapeutic indication, particularly for long-term safety follow-up. The FDA recommends that sponsors observe subjects for potential gene therapy-related delayed adverse events for a 15-year period, including a minimum of five years of annual examinations followed by ten years of annual queries, either in person or by questionnaire.
During all phases of clinical development, regulatory agencies require extensive monitoring and auditing of all clinical activities, clinical data, and clinical trial investigators. Annual progress reports detailing the results of the clinical trials must be submitted to the FDA. Written IND safety reports must be promptly submitted to the FDA, the NIH and the investigators for serious and unexpected adverse events, any findings from other trials, tests in laboratory animals or in vitro testing that suggest a significant risk for human subjects, or any clinically important increase in the rate of a serious suspected adverse reaction over that listed in the protocol or investigator brochure. The sponsor must submit an IND safety report within 15 calendar days after the sponsor determines that the information qualifies for reporting. The sponsor also must notify the FDA of any unexpected fatal or life-threatening suspected adverse reaction within seven calendar days after the sponsor’s initial receipt of the information. Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 clinical trials may not be completed successfully within any specified period, if at all. The FDA or the sponsor or its data safety monitoring board may suspend or permanently discontinue a clinical trial at any time on various grounds, including a finding that the research subjects or patients are being exposed to an unacceptable health risk or the clinical trial is not being conducted in accordance with FDA regulations. Similarly, an IRB can suspend or terminate approval of a clinical study at its institution if the clinical trial is not being conducted in accordance with the IRB’s requirements or if the biological product candidate has been associated with unexpected serious harm to patients. The FDA and the IRB may also halt, terminate or impose other conditions if either believes the patients are subject to unacceptable risk.
There are also requirements governing the reporting of ongoing clinical trials and completed clinical trial results to public registries. Sponsors of clinical trials of FDA-regulated products, including biologics, are required to register and disclose certain clinical trial information, which is publicly available at www.clinicaltrials.gov. Information related to the product, patient population, phase of investigation, study sites and investigators, and other aspects of the clinical trial is then made public as part of the registration. Sponsors are also obligated to discuss the results of their clinical trials after completion. Disclosure of the results of these trials can be delayed until the new product or new indication being studied has been approved.
Concurrent with clinical trials, companies usually complete additional animal trials and must also develop additional information about the physical characteristics of the biological product candidate as well as finalize a process for manufacturing the product in commercial quantities in accordance with cGMP requirements. To help reduce the risk of the introduction of adventitious agents with use of biological products, the PHSA emphasizes the importance of manufacturing control for products whose attributes cannot be precisely defined. The manufacturing process must be capable of consistently producing quality batches of the product candidate and, among other things, the sponsor must develop methods for testing the identity, strength, quality, potency and purity of the final biological product. Additionally, appropriate packaging must be selected and tested and stability studies must be conducted to demonstrate that the biological product candidate does not undergo unacceptable deterioration over its shelf life.
U.S. Review and Approval Processes
After the completion of clinical trials of a biological product candidate, FDA approval of a BLA must be obtained before commercial marketing and distribution of the biological product. The BLA must include results of product development, laboratory and animal trials, human trials, information on the manufacture, pharmacology, chemistry and controls of the product, proposed labeling and other relevant information. In addition, under the Pediatric Research Equity Act, or PREA, a BLA or supplement to a BLA must contain data to assess the safety and effectiveness of the biological product candidate for the claimed indications in all relevant pediatric subpopulations and to support dosing and administration for each pediatric subpopulation for which the product is safe and effective.
A sponsor who is planning to submit a marketing application for a drug or biological product that includes a new active ingredient, new indication, new dosage form, new dosing regimen or new route of administration must submit an initial Pediatric Study Plan, or PSP, within sixty days after an end-of-Phase 2 meeting or as may be agreed between the sponsor and FDA. The initial PSP must include, among other things, an outline of the pediatric study or studies that the sponsor plans to conduct, including to the extent practicable study objectives and design, age groups, relevant endpoints and statistical approach, or a justification for not including such detailed information, and any request
for a deferral of pediatric assessments or a full or partial waiver of the requirement to provide data from pediatric studies along with supporting information, along with any other information specified in FDA regulations. The FDA and the sponsor must reach agreement on the PSP. A sponsor can submit amendments to an agreed-upon initial PSP at any time if changes to the pediatric plan need to be considered based on data collected from nonclinical studies, early phase clinical trials, and/or other clinical development programs. The FDA may grant deferrals for submission of data or full or partial waivers. Unless otherwise required by regulation, PREA does not apply to any biological product for an indication for which orphan designation has been granted.
Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, or PDUFA, as amended, each BLA must be accompanied by a user fee. The FDA adjusts the PDUFA user fees on an annual basis. PDUFA also imposes an annual program fee for products. Fee waivers or reductions are available in certain circumstances, including a waiver of the application fee for the first human drug application filed by a small business. Additionally, no user fees are assessed on BLAs for products designated as orphan drugs, unless the product also includes a non-orphan indication.
Within 60 days following submission of the application, the FDA reviews a BLA submitted to determine if it is substantially complete before the agency accepts it for filing. The FDA may refuse to file any BLA that it deems incomplete or not properly reviewable at the time of submission and may request additional information. In this event, the BLA must be resubmitted with the additional information. The resubmitted application is also subject to an initial review before the FDA accepts it for filing. Once the submission is accepted for filing, the FDA begins an in-depth substantive review of the BLA. The FDA’s goal is to complete the review of standard BLAs within ten months after it accepts an application for filing, or, if the application qualifies for priority review, six months after the FDA accepts the application for filing. In both standard and priority reviews, the review process is often significantly extended by FDA requests for additional information or clarification.
The FDA reviews the BLA to determine, among other things, whether the proposed product is safe and potent, or effective, for its intended use, and has an acceptable purity profile, and whether the product is being manufactured in accordance with cGMP requirements to assure and preserve the product’s identity, safety, strength, quality, potency and purity. The FDA may refer applications for novel biological products or biological products that present difficult questions of safety or efficacy to an advisory committee, typically a panel that includes clinicians and other experts, for review, evaluation and a recommendation as to whether the application should be approved and under what conditions. The FDA is not bound by the recommendations of an advisory committee, but it considers such recommendations carefully when making decisions. During the biological product approval process, the FDA also will determine whether a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS, is necessary to assure the safe use of the biological product candidate. If the FDA concludes a REMS is needed, the sponsor of the BLA must submit a proposed REMS; the FDA will not approve the BLA without a REMS, if required.
Before approving a BLA, the FDA will inspect the facilities at which the product is manufactured. The FDA will not approve the product unless it determines that the manufacturing processes and facilities are in compliance with cGMP requirements and adequate to assure consistent production of the product within required specifications. Additionally, before approving a BLA, the FDA will typically inspect one or more clinical sites to assure that the clinical trials were conducted in compliance with IND study requirements and GCP requirements. To assure cGMP and GCP compliance, an applicant must incur significant expenditure of time, money and effort in the areas of training, record keeping, production, and quality control.
Notwithstanding the submission of relevant data and information, the FDA may ultimately decide that the BLA does not satisfy its regulatory criteria for approval and deny approval. If the agency decides not to approve the BLA in its present form, the FDA will issue a complete response letter that usually describes all of the specific deficiencies in the BLA identified by the FDA. The deficiencies identified may be minor, for example, requiring labeling changes, or major, for example, requiring additional clinical trials. Additionally, the complete response letter may include recommended actions that the applicant might take to place the application in a condition for approval. If a complete response letter is issued, the applicant may either resubmit the BLA, addressing all of the deficiencies identified in the
letter, or withdraw the application. If, or when, those deficiencies have been addressed to the FDA’s satisfaction in a resubmission of the BLA, the FDA will issue an approval letter. Under the current PDUFA guidelines, the FDA has committed to reviewing such resubmissions in two or six months of receipt depending on the type of information included.
If regulatory approval of a product is granted, such approval will be granted for particular indications and may entail limitations on the indicated uses for which such product may be marketed. For example, the FDA may approve the BLA with a REMS, to ensure the benefits of the product outweigh its potential risks. A REMS is a safety strategy to manage a known or potential serious risk associated with a medicine and to enable patients to have continued access to such medicines by managing their safe use, and could include medication guides, physician communication plans, or elements to assure safe use, such as restricted distribution methods, patient registries and other risk minimization tools. The FDA also may condition approval on, among other things, changes to proposed labeling or the development of adequate controls and specifications. The requirement for a REMS can materially affect the potential market and profitability of the product.
Once approved, the FDA may withdraw the product approval if compliance with pre- and post-marketing requirements is not maintained or if problems occur after the product reaches the marketplace. Changes to some of the conditions established in an approved BLA, including changes in indications, product labeling, manufacturing processes or facilities, require submission and FDA approval of a new BLA or BLA supplement before the change can be implemented. A BLA supplement for a new indication typically requires clinical data similar to that in the original application, and the FDA uses the same procedures and actions in reviewing BLA supplements as it does in reviewing BLAs. The FDA may require one or more Phase 4 post-market studies or surveillance to further assess and monitor the product’s safety and effectiveness after commercialization, and may limit further marketing of the product based on the results of these post-marketing studies.
Orphan Drug Designation
The FDA may grant orphan drug designation to drugs or biologics intended to treat a rare disease or condition that affects fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, or if it affects more than 200,000 individuals in the United States, there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing and marketing the drug or biologic for this type of disease or condition will be recovered from its sales in the United States. Orphan drug designation must be requested before submitting a BLA. After the FDA grants orphan product designation, the identity of the therapeutic agent and its potential orphan use are disclosed publicly by the FDA. Orphan drug designation does not convey any advantage in or shorten the duration of the regulatory review and approval process.
In the United States, orphan drug designation entitles a party to financial incentives such as opportunities for grant funding towards clinical trial costs, tax advantages and BLA user-fee waivers. In addition, if a product receives the first FDA approval for the indication for which it has orphan designation, the product is entitled to orphan drug exclusivity, which means the FDA may not approve any other application, including a full BLA, to market the same drug or biologic for the same disease or condition for a period of seven years, except in limited circumstances, such as a showing of clinical superiority over the product with orphan exclusivity or where the manufacturer with orphan exclusivity is unable to assure sufficient quantities of the approved orphan-designated product. Competitors, however, may receive approval of different products for the indication for which the orphan product has exclusivity or obtain approval for the same product but for a different indication for which the orphan product has exclusivity. Orphan product exclusivity also could block the approval of one of our products for seven years if a competitor obtains approval of the same biological product as defined by the FDA or if our product candidate is determined to be contained within the competitor’s product for the same indication or disease. If a drug or biological product designated as an orphan product receives marketing approval for an indication broader than what is designated, it may not be entitled to orphan product exclusivity. In addition, exclusive marketing rights in the United States may be lost if the FDA later determines that the request for designation was materially defective or if the manufacturer is unable to assure sufficient quantities of the product to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition.
Expedited Development and Review Programs
The FDA has a Fast Track program that is intended to expedite or facilitate the process for reviewing new biological products that meet certain criteria. Specifically, new biological products are eligible for Fast Track designation if they are intended to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition and demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs for the disease or condition. Fast Track designation applies to the combination of the product and the specific indication for which it is being studied. The sponsor of a new biologic may request that the FDA designate the biologic as a Fast Track product at any time during clinical development of the product. The FDA must determine if the biologic product candidate qualifies for Fast Track designation within 60 days of receipt of the sponsor’s request. Unique to a Fast Track product, the FDA may consider for review sections of the marketing application on a rolling basis before the complete application is submitted, if the sponsor provides a schedule for the submission of the sections of the application, the FDA agrees to accept sections of the application and determines that the schedule is acceptable, and the sponsor pays any required user fees upon submission of the first section of the application. In addition, a Fast Track designated product is eligible for more frequent meetings with the FDA to discuss the biologic product's development plan and ensure collection of appropriate data needed to support approval, and may result in more frequent written communication from the FDA about such things as the design of the proposed clinical trials and use of biomarkers.
In addition, the FDA established a Breakthrough Therapy designation which is intended to expedite the development and review of products that are intended to treat serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions. A Breakthrough Therapy-designated product candidate is defined as a drug or biologic that is intended, alone or in combination with one or more other drugs or biologics, to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition, and preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the product may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies on one or more clinically significant endpoints, such as substantial treatment effects observed early in clinical development. The designation includes all of the features of Fast Track designation, as well as more intensive FDA interaction and guidance.
Any product submitted to the FDA for marketing, including a product that has received a Fast Track or Breakthrough Therapy designation, may be eligible for other types of FDA programs intended to expedite development and review, such as priority review and accelerated approval. An application seeking marketing approval for a biologic product is eligible for priority review if the biologic has the potential to provide safe and effective therapy where no satisfactory alternative therapy exists or there is potential for a significant improvement in the treatment, diagnosis or prevention of a disease compared to marketed products. The FDA will attempt to direct additional resources to the evaluation of an application for a new biological product designated for priority review in an effort to facilitate the review. Priority review means the FDA’s goal is to take action on an application within six months (compared to 10 months under standard review).
Additionally, a product may be eligible for accelerated approval. Biological products studied for their safety and effectiveness in treating serious or life-threatening illnesses and that provide meaningful therapeutic benefit over existing treatments may be eligible for accelerated approval, which means that they may be approved on the basis of adequate and well controlled clinical trials establishing that the product has an effect on a surrogate endpoint that is reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit, or on the basis of an effect on a clinical endpoint other than survival or irreversible morbidity or mortality or other clinical benefit, taking into account the severity, rarity, or prevalence of the condition and the availability or lack of alternative treatments. As a condition of approval, the FDA may require that a sponsor of a biological product subject to accelerated approval perform adequate and well-controlled post-marketing Phase 4 clinical trials. Failure to conduct required post-approval trials, or to confirm a clinical benefit during post-marketing trials, will allow the FDA to withdraw the approved biologic product from the market on an expedited basis. In addition, the FDA currently requires as a condition for accelerated approval pre-approval of promotional materials, which could adversely impact the timing of the commercial launch of the product. Fast Track designation, priority review and accelerated approval do not change the standards for approval but may expedite the development or approval process.
Furthermore, as part of its implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act, the FDA established the Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy, or RMAT, designation, to facilitate an efficient development program for, and expedite review of, certain drugs and biological products. A biological product is eligible for RMAT designation if it qualifies as a RMAT, which is defined as a cell therapy, therapeutic tissue engineering product, human cell and tissue product, or any combination product using such therapies or products, with limited exceptions, and is intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious or life-threatening disease or condition and for which preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the biological product has the potential to address unmet medical needs for such a disease or condition. Like Breakthrough Therapy designation, RMAT designation provides potential benefits that include more frequent meetings with FDA to discuss the development plan for the product candidate, and eligibility for rolling review and priority review. Products granted RMAT designation may also be eligible for accelerated approval on the basis of a surrogate or intermediate endpoint reasonably likely to predict long-term clinical benefit, or reliance upon data obtained from a meaningful number of sites, including through expansion to additional sites. RMAT-designated products that receive accelerated approval may, as appropriate, fulfill their post-approval requirements through the submission of clinical evidence, clinical trials, patient registries, or other sources of real world evidence (such as electronic health records); through the collection of larger confirmatory data sets; or via post-approval monitoring of all patients treated with such therapy prior to approval of the therapy.
Fast Track designation, priority review, accelerated approval, Breakthrough Therapy designation and RMAT designation do not change the standards for approval but may expedite the development or approval process. Even if these designations are received, the FDA may later decide that a product candidate no longer meets the conditions for qualification.
Rigorous and extensive FDA regulation of biological products continues after approval, particularly with respect to cGMP requirements. Manufacturers of our products are required to comply with applicable requirements in the cGMP regulations, including quality control and quality assurance and maintenance of records and documentation. Other post-approval requirements applicable to biological products, include reporting of cGMP deviations that may affect the identity, potency, purity and overall safety of a distributed product, record-keeping requirements, reporting of adverse effects, reporting updated safety and efficacy information, and complying with electronic record and signature requirements.
After a BLA is approved, the product also may be subject to official lot release. As part of the manufacturing process, the manufacturer is required to perform certain tests on each lot of the product before it is released for distribution. If the product is subject to official release by the FDA, the manufacturer submits samples of each lot of product to the FDA together with a release protocol showing a summary of the history of manufacture of the lot and the results of all of the manufacturer’s tests performed on the lot. The FDA also may perform certain confirmatory tests on lots of some products, such as viral vaccines, before releasing the lots for distribution by the manufacturer. In addition, the FDA conducts laboratory research related to the regulatory standards on the safety, purity, potency, and effectiveness of biological products.
The FDA may require one or more Phase 4 post-market trials or surveillance to further assess and monitor the product’s safety and effectiveness after commercialization, and may limit further marketing of the product based on the results of these post-marketing studies. We also must comply with the FDA’s advertising and promotion requirements, such as those related to direct-to-consumer advertising, the prohibition on promoting products for uses or in patient populations that are not described in the product’s approved labeling (known as “off-label use”), industry-sponsored scientific and educational activities, and promotional activities involving the Internet. Biologics may be marketed only for the approved indications and in accordance with the provisions of the approved labeling.
Discovery of previously unknown problems or the failure to comply with the applicable regulatory requirements may result in restrictions on the marketing of a product or withdrawal of the product from the market as
well as possible civil or criminal sanctions. Failure to comply with the applicable U.S. requirements at any time during the product development process, approval process or after approval, may subject an applicant or manufacturer to administrative or judicial civil or criminal sanctions and adverse publicity. FDA sanctions could include refusal to approve pending applications, withdrawal of an approval, clinical hold, warning or untitled letters, product recalls, product seizures, total or partial suspension of production or distribution, injunctions, fines, refusals of government contracts, mandated corrective advertising or communications with doctors, debarment, restitution, disgorgement of profits, or civil or criminal penalties.
Biological product manufacturers and other entities involved in the manufacture and distribution of approved biological products are required to register their establishments with the FDA and certain state agencies, and are subject to periodic unannounced inspections by the FDA and certain state agencies for compliance with cGMP requirements and other laws. Accordingly, manufacturers must continue to expend time, money, and effort in the area of production and quality control to maintain cGMP compliance. Discovery of problems with a product after approval may result in restrictions on a product, manufacturer, or holder of an approved BLA, including withdrawal of the product from the market. In addition, changes to the manufacturing process or facility generally require prior FDA approval before being implemented and other types of changes to the approved product, such as adding new indications and additional labeling claims, are also subject to further FDA review and approval.
Biosimilars and Exclusivity
The Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, or BPCIA, created an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products that are biosimilar to or interchangeable with an FDA-licensed reference biological product. Biosimilarity, which requires that there be no clinically meaningful differences between the biological product and the reference product in terms of safety, purity, and potency, can be shown through analytical studies, animal studies, and a clinical trial or trials. Interchangeability requires that a product is biosimilar to the reference product and the product must demonstrate that it can be expected to produce the same clinical results as the reference product in any given patient and, for products that are administered multiple times to an individual, the biologic and the reference biologic may be alternated or switched after one has been previously administered without increasing safety risks or risks of diminished efficacy relative to exclusive use of the reference biologic. However, complexities associated with the larger, and often more complex, structures of biological products, as well as the processes by which such products are manufactured, pose significant hurdles to implementation of the abbreviated approval pathway that are still being worked out by the FDA.
Under the BPCIA, an application for a biosimilar product may not be submitted to the FDA until four years following the date that the reference product was first licensed by the FDA. In addition, the approval of a biosimilar product may not be made effective by the FDA until 12 years from the date on which the reference product was first licensed. During this 12-year period of exclusivity, another company may still market a competing version of the reference product if the FDA approves a full BLA for the competing product containing the sponsor’s own preclinical data and data from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials to demonstrate the safety, purity and potency of their product. The BPCIA also created certain exclusivity periods for biosimilars approved as interchangeable products.
A biological product can also obtain pediatric market exclusivity in the United States. Pediatric exclusivity, if granted, adds six months to existing exclusivity periods and patent terms. This six-month exclusivity, which runs from the end of other exclusivity protection or patent term, may be granted based on the voluntary completion of a pediatric study in accordance with an FDA-issued “Written Request” for such a study.
Other Healthcare Laws and Compliance Requirements
Pharmaceutical companies are subject to additional healthcare regulation and enforcement by the federal government and by authorities in the states and foreign jurisdictions in which they conduct their business, which may constrain the financial arrangements and relationships through which we conduct our research, as well as, sell, market
and distribute any products for which we obtain marketing approval. Such laws include, without limitation, federal and state anti-kickback, fraud and abuse, false claims and transparency laws and regulations regarding drug pricing and payments or other transfers of value made to physicians and other licensed healthcare professionals. If their operations are found to be in violation of any of such laws or any other governmental regulations that apply, they may be subject to penalties, including, without limitation, administrative, civil and criminal penalties, damages, fines, disgorgement, the curtailment or restructuring of operations, exclusion from participation in federal and state healthcare programs, integrity oversight and reporting obligations to resolve allegations of non-compliance and imprisonment.
Coverage and Reimbursement
Significant uncertainty exists as to the coverage and reimbursement status of any pharmaceutical or biological product for which we obtain regulatory approval. Sales of any product depend, in part, on the extent to which such product will be covered by third-party payors, such as federal, state, and foreign government healthcare programs, commercial insurance and managed healthcare organizations, and the level of reimbursement for such product by third-party payors. Decisions regarding the extent of coverage and amount of reimbursement to be provided are made on a plan-by-plan basis. For products administered under the supervision of a physician, obtaining coverage and adequate reimbursement may be particularly difficult because of the higher prices often associated with such drugs. Additionally, separate reimbursement for the product itself or the treatment or procedure in which the product is used may not be available, which may impact physician utilization.
In addition, the U.S. government, state legislatures and foreign governments have continued implementing cost-containment programs, including price controls, restrictions on coverage and reimbursement and requirements for substitution of generic products. Third party payors are increasingly challenging the prices charged for medical products and services, examining the medical necessity and reviewing the cost effectiveness of pharmaceutical or biological products, medical devices and medical services, in addition to questioning safety and efficacy. Adoption of price controls and cost-containment measures, and adoption of more restrictive policies in jurisdictions with existing controls and measures, could further limit sales of any product. Decreases in third-party reimbursement for any product or a decision by a third-party payor not to cover a product could reduce physician usage and patient demand for the product.
The United States and some foreign jurisdictions are considering or have enacted a number of reform proposals to change the healthcare system. There is significant interest in promoting changes in healthcare systems with the stated goals of containing healthcare costs, improving quality or expanding access. In the United States, the pharmaceutical industry has been a particular focus of these efforts and has been significantly affected by federal and state legislative initiatives, including those designed to limit the pricing, coverage, and reimbursement of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products, especially under government-funded health care programs, and increased governmental control of drug pricing.
In March 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or the ACA, was signed into law, which substantially changed the way healthcare is financed by both governmental and private insurers in the United States, and significantly affected the pharmaceutical industry. The ACA contained a number of provisions of particular import to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, including, but not limited to, those governing enrollment in federal healthcare programs, a new methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program are calculated for drugs that are inhaled, infused, instilled, implanted or injected, and annual fees based on pharmaceutical companies’ share of sales to federal health care programs.
Since its enactment, there have been judicial, Congressional and executive branch challenges to certain aspects of the ACA. On June 17, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the most recent judicial challenge to the ACA brought by several states without specifically ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Biden issued an executive order to initiate a special enrollment period for purposes of obtaining
health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace from February 15, 2021 through August 15, 2021. The executive order also instructed certain governmental agencies to review and reconsider their existing policies and rules that limit access to healthcare, including among others, reexamining Medicaid demonstration projects and waiver programs that include work requirements, and policies that create unnecessary barriers to obtaining access to health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the ACA.
Other legislative changes have been proposed and adopted since the ACA was enacted, including aggregate reductions of Medicare payments to providers of 2% per fiscal year, which was temporarily suspended from May 1, 2020 through March 31, 2022, and reduced payments to several types of Medicare providers. Moreover, there has recently been heightened governmental scrutiny over the manner in which manufacturers set prices for their marketed products, which has resulted in several Congressional inquiries and proposed and enacted federal and state legislation designed to, among other things, bring more transparency to product pricing, review the relationship between pricing and manufacturer patient programs, and reform government program reimbursement methodologies for drug products. At the state level, legislatures have increasingly passed legislation and implemented regulations designed to control pharmaceutical product pricing, including price or patient reimbursement constraints, discounts, restrictions on certain product access and marketing cost disclosure and transparency measures, and, in some cases, designed to encourage importation from other countries and bulk purchasing.
Additionally, on May 30, 2018, the Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan McLinn, and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act of 2017, or the Right to Try Act, was signed into law. The law, among other things, provides a federal framework for certain patients to access certain investigational new drug products that have completed a Phase 1 clinical trial and that are undergoing investigation for FDA approval. Under certain circumstances, eligible patients can seek treatment without enrolling in clinical trials and without obtaining FDA permission under the FDA expanded access program. There is no obligation for a pharmaceutical manufacturer to make its drug products available to eligible patients as a result of the Right to Try Act.
U.S. Data Privacy and Security Laws
In the United States, numerous federal and state laws and regulations, including data breach notification laws, health information privacy and security laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, and regulations promulgated thereunder, or collectively, HIPAA, and federal and state consumer protection laws and regulations (e.g., Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act), that govern the collection, use, disclosure, and protection of health-related and other personal information could apply to our operations or the operations of our partners. In addition, certain state laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA, the California Privacy Rights Act, or CPRA, govern the privacy and security of personal information, including health-related information in certain circumstances, some of which are more stringent than HIPAA and many of which differ from each other in significant ways and may not have the same effect, thus complicating compliance efforts. Failure to comply with these laws, where applicable, can result in the imposition of significant civil and/or criminal penalties and private litigation. Privacy and security laws, regulations, and other obligations are constantly evolving, may conflict with each other to make compliance efforts more challenging, and can result in investigations, proceedings, or actions that lead to significant penalties and restrictions on data processing.
U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, or FCPA, prohibits U.S. corporations and individuals from engaging in certain activities to obtain or retain business or secure any improper advantage, or to influence a person working in an official capacity. It is illegal to pay, offer to pay or authorize the payment of anything of value to any employee or official of a foreign government or public international organization, or political party, political party official, or political candidate in an attempt to obtain or retain business or to otherwise influence a person working in an official capacity. The scope of the FCPA also includes employees and officials of state-owned or controlled enterprises,
which may include healthcare professionals in many countries. Equivalent laws have been adopted in other foreign countries that impose similar obligations.
Government Regulation Outside of the United States
In addition to regulations in the United States, we may be subject to a variety of regulations in other jurisdictions, for instance in the UK or EU, governing, among other things, clinical trials, marketing authorizations, post-marketing authorization requirements and any commercial sales and distribution of our products. Because biologically sourced raw materials are subject to unique contamination risks, their use may be restricted in some countries. In addition, ethical, social and legal concerns about gene therapy, genetic testing, genetic research and gene-editing technology, could result in additional regulations restricting or prohibiting the processes we may use.
Whether or not we obtain FDA approval of a product, we must obtain the requisite approvals from regulatory authorities in foreign countries prior to the commencement of clinical trials or marketing of the product in those countries. The requirements and process governing the conduct of clinical trials, product licensing, pricing and reimbursement vary from country to country. If we fail to comply with applicable foreign regulatory requirements, we may be subject to, among other things, fines, suspension or withdrawal of regulatory approvals, product recalls, seizure of products, operating restrictions and criminal prosecution.
Non-Clinical Studies and Clinical Trials
Similar to the United States, the various phases of non-clinical and clinical research abroad are subject to significant regulatory controls.
Non-clinical studies are performed to demonstrate the health or environmental safety of new chemical or biological substances. Non-clinical studies must be conducted in compliance with the principles of GLP, as set forth in EU Directive 2004/10/EC. In particular, non-clinical studies, both in vitro and in vivo, must be planned, performed, monitored, recorded, reported and archived in accordance with the GLP principles, which define a set of rules and criteria for a quality system for the organizational process and the conditions for non-clinical studies. These GLP standards reflect the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development requirements.
Clinical trials of medicinal products in the EU must be conducted in accordance with EU and national regulations and the International Conference on Harmonization, or ICH, guidelines on GCPs, as well as the applicable regulatory requirements and the ethical principles that have their origin in the Declaration of Helsinki. Additional GCP guidelines from the European Commission, focusing in particular on traceability, apply to clinical trials of ATMPs. If the sponsor of the clinical trial is not established within the EU, it must appoint an entity within the EU to act as its legal representative. The sponsor must take out a clinical trial insurance policy, and in most EU member states, the sponsor is liable to provide ‘no fault’ compensation to any study subject injured in the clinical trial.
The regulatory landscape related to clinical trials in the EU has been subject to recent changes. The EU Clinical Trials Regulation, or CTR, which was adopted in April 2014 and repeals the EU Clinical Trials Directive, became applicable on January 31, 2022. Unlike directives, the CTR is directly applicable in all EU member states without the need for member states to further implement it into national law. The CTR notably harmonizes the assessment and supervision processes for clinical trials throughout the EU via a Clinical Trials Information System, which contains a centralized EU portal and database.
While the Clinical Trials Directive required a separate clinical trial application, or CTA, to be submitted in each member state, to both the competent national health authority and an independent ethics committee, much like the FDA and IRB respectively, the CTR introduces a centralized process and only requires the submission of a single application to all member states concerned. The CTR allows sponsors to make a single submission to both the competent authority and an ethics committee in each member state, leading to a single decision per member state. The CTA must include,
among other things, a copy of the trial protocol and an investigational medicinal product dossier containing information about the manufacture and quality of the medicinal product under investigation. The assessment procedure of the CTA has been harmonized as well, including a joint assessment by all member states concerned, and a separate assessment by each member state with respect to specific requirements related to its own territory, including ethics rules. Each member state’s decision is communicated to the sponsor via the centralized EU portal. Once the CTA is approved, clinical study development may proceed.
The CTR foresees a three-year transition period. The extent to which ongoing and new clinical trials will be governed by the CTR varies. For clinical trials whose CTA was made under the Clinical Trials Directive before January 31, 2022, the Clinical Trials Directive will continue to apply on a transitional basis for three years. Additionally, sponsors may still choose to submit a CTA under either the Clinical Trials Directive or the CTR until January 31, 2023 and, if authorized, those will be governed by the Clinical Trials Directive until January 31, 2025. By that date, all ongoing trials will become subject to the provisions of the CTR.
Medicines used in clinical trials must be manufactured in accordance with good manufacturing practices, or GMP. Other national and EU-wide regulatory requirements may also apply.
During the development of a medicinal product, the EMA and national regulators within the EU provide the opportunity for dialogue and guidance on the development program. At the EMA level, this is usually done in the form of scientific advice, which is given by the Scientific Advice Working Party of the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use, or CHMP. A fee is incurred with each scientific advice procedure. Advice from the EMA is typically provided based on questions concerning, for example, quality (chemistry, manufacturing and controls testing), nonclinical testing and clinical trials, and pharmacovigilance plans and risk-management programs. Advice is not legally binding with regard to any future marketing authorization application of the product concerned.
In the EU, medicinal products can only be placed on the market after obtaining a marketing authorization, or MA. To obtain regulatory approval of an investigational chemical or biological product in the EU, we must submit a marketing authorization application, or MAA. The process for doing this depends, among other things, on the nature of the medicinal product.
“Centralized MAs” issued by the European Commission, based on the opinion of the EMA, are valid across the entire territory of the EU. The centralized procedure is compulsory for certain types of product candidates, such as: (i) medicinal products derived from biotechnology processes, such as genetic engineering, (ii) medicinal products containing a new active substance indicated for the treatment of certain diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune and other immune dysfunctions and viral diseases, (iii) designated orphan medicines and (iv) ATMPs, such as gene therapy, somatic cell therapy or tissue-engineered medicines. The centralized procedure is optional for product candidates containing a new active substance not yet authorized in the EU, or for product candidates that constitute a significant therapeutic, scientific or technical innovation or which are in the interest of public health in the EU.
The Committee for Advanced Therapies, or CAT, is responsible in conjunction with the CHMP for the evaluation of advanced therapy medicinal products, or ATMPs. The CAT is primarily responsible for the scientific evaluation of ATMPs and prepares a draft opinion on the quality, safety and efficacy of each ATMP for which an MAA is submitted. The CAT’s opinion is then taken into account by the CHMP when giving its final recommendation regarding the authorization of a product in view of the balance of benefits and risks identified. Although the CAT’s draft opinion is submitted to the CHMP for final approval, the CHMP may depart from the draft opinion, if it provides detailed scientific justification. The CHMP and CAT are also responsible for providing guidelines on ATMPs and have published numerous guidelines, including specific guidelines on gene therapies and cell therapies. These guidelines provide additional guidance on the factors that the EMA will consider in relation to the development and evaluation of
ATMPs and include, among other things, the preclinical studies required to characterize ATMPs; the manufacturing and control information that should be submitted in an MAA; and post-approval measures required to monitor patients and evaluate the long term efficacy and potential adverse reactions of ATMPs. Although these guidelines are not legally binding, we believe that our compliance with them is likely necessary to gain and maintain approval for any of our product candidates.
Under the centralized procedure, the maximum timeframe for the evaluation of an MAA by the EMA is 210 days. This excludes so-called clock stops, during which additional written or oral information is to be provided by the applicant in response to questions asked by the CHMP. At the end of the review period, the CHMP provides an opinion to the European Commission. If this opinion is favorable, the Commission may then adopt a decision to grant an MA.
“National MAs” are issued by the competent authorities of the EU member states, only cover their respective territory, and are available for product candidates not falling within the mandatory scope of the centralized procedure. Where a product has already been authorized for marketing in an EU member state, this national MA can be recognized in another member state through the mutual recognition procedure. If the product has not received a national MA in any member state at the time of application, it can be approved simultaneously in various member states through the decentralized procedure. Under the decentralized procedure an identical dossier is submitted to the competent authorities of each of the member states in which the MA is sought, one of which is selected by the applicant as the reference member state.
MAs have an initial duration of five years. After these five years, the authorization may be renewed on the basis of a reevaluation of the risk-benefit balance. Once renewed, the MA is valid for an unlimited period unless the European Commission or the national competent authority decides, on justified grounds relating to pharmacovigilance, to proceed with one additional five-year renewal
In exceptional cases, the CHMP might perform an accelerated review of an MAA in no more than 150 days (not including clock stops). Innovative products that target an unmet medical need and are expected to be of major public health interest may be eligible for a number of expedited development and review programs, such as the PRIME scheme, which provides incentives similar to the Breakthrough Therapy designation in the U.S. PRIME is a voluntary scheme aimed at enhancing the EMA’s support for the development of medicines that target unmet medical needs. It is based on increased interaction and early dialogue with companies developing promising medicines, to optimize their product development plans and speed up their evaluation to help them reach patients earlier. Product developers that benefit from PRIME designation can expect to be eligible for accelerated assessment but this is not guaranteed. Many benefits accrue to sponsors of product candidates with PRIME designation, including but not limited to, early and proactive regulatory dialogue with the EMA, frequent discussions on clinical trial designs and other development program elements, and accelerated MAA assessment once a dossier has been submitted. Importantly, a dedicated contact and rapporteur from the CHMP is appointed early in the PRIME scheme facilitating increased understanding of the product at EMA’s committee level. An initial meeting initiates these relationships and includes a team of multidisciplinary experts at the EMA to provide guidance on the overall development and regulatory strategies.
Moreover, in the EU, the European Commission may grant a so-called “conditional MA” prior to obtaining the comprehensive clinical data required for an application for a full MA. Such conditional MAs may be granted for product candidates (including medicines designated as orphan medicinal products), if (i) the risk-benefit balance of the product candidate is positive, (ii) it is likely that the applicant will be in a position to provide the required comprehensive clinical trial data, (iii) the product fulfills an unmet medical need and (iv) the benefit to public health of the immediate availability on the market of the medicinal product concerned outweighs the risk inherent in the fact that additional data are still required. A conditional MA may contain specific obligations to be fulfilled by the MA holder, including obligations with respect to the completion of ongoing or new studies, and with respect to the collection of pharmacovigilance data. Conditional MAs are valid for one year, and may be renewed annually, if the risk-benefit balance remains positive, and after an assessment of the need for additional or modified conditions and/or specific obligations. The MA can be converted into a standard MA once the MA holder fulfils the obligations that were imposed
and the complete data confirm that the medicine's benefits continue to outweigh its risks. The timelines for the centralized procedure described above also apply with respect to the review by the CHMP of applications for a conditional MA.
The European Commission may also grant a so-called “marketing authorization under exceptional circumstances”. Such MA is intended for products for which the applicant can demonstrate that it is unable to provide comprehensive data on the efficacy and safety under normal conditions of use even after the product has been authorized, because the indications for which the product in question is intended are encountered so rarely that the applicant cannot reasonably be expected to provide comprehensive evidence, or in the present state of scientific knowledge, comprehensive information cannot be provided, or it would be contrary to generally accepted principles of medical ethics to collect such information. Consequently, MAs under exceptional circumstances may be granted subject to certain specific obligations, which may include the following:
|●||the applicant must complete an identified program of studies within a time period specified by the competent authority, the results of which form the basis of a reassessment of the benefit/risk profile;|
|●||the medicinal product in question may be supplied on medical prescription only and may in certain cases be administered only under strict medical supervision, possibly in a hospital and in the case of a radio-pharmaceutical, by an authorized person; and|
|●||the package leaflet and any medical information must draw the attention of the medical practitioner to the fact that the particulars available concerning the medicinal product in question are as yet inadequate in certain specified respects.|
An MA under exceptional circumstances is subject to annual review to reassess the risk-benefit balance in an annual reassessment procedure. Continuation of the authorization is linked to the annual reassessment and a negative assessment could potentially result in the MA being suspended or revoked. The renewal of an MA of a medicinal product under exceptional circumstances, however, follows the same rules as a “normal” MA. Thus, an MA under exceptional circumstances is granted for an initial five years, after which the authorization will become valid indefinitely, unless the EMA decides that safety grounds merit one additional five-year renewal. An MA under exceptional circumstances should not be granted when a conditional MA is more appropriate.
The EU medicines rules expressly permit the EU member states to adopt national legislation prohibiting or restricting the sale, supply or use of any medicinal product containing, consisting of or derived from a specific type of human or animal cell, such as embryonic stem cells. While the products we have in development do not make use of embryonic stem cells, it is possible that the national laws in certain EU member states may prohibit or restrict us from commercializing our products, even if they have been granted an MA.
Data and Marketing Exclusivity
The EU also provides opportunities for market exclusivity. Upon receiving MA, reference products generally receive eight years of data exclusivity and an additional two years of market exclusivity. If granted, data exclusivity prevents generic or biosimilar applicants from relying on the preclinical and clinical trial data contained in the dossier of the reference product when applying for a generic or biosimilar MA in the EU during a period of eight years from the date on which the reference product was first authorized in the EU. The market exclusivity period prevents a successful generic or biosimilar applicant from commercializing its product in the EU until ten years have elapsed from the initial MA of the reference product in the EU. The overall ten-year market exclusivity period may be extended to a maximum of eleven years if during the first eight years of those ten years, the MA holder obtains an authorization for one or more new therapeutic indications with significant clinical benefit over existing therapies. However, there is no guarantee that a product will be considered by the EU regulatory authorities to be a new chemical or biological entity, and products may not qualify for data exclusivity.
There is a special regime for biosimilars, or biological medicinal products that are similar to a reference medicinal product but that do not meet the definition of a generic medicinal product, for example, because of differences in raw materials or manufacturing processes. For such products, the results of appropriate preclinical or clinical trials must be provided, and guidelines from the EMA detail the type of quantity of supplementary data to be provided for different types of biological product. There are no such guidelines for complex biological products, such as gene or cell therapy medicinal products, and so it is unlikely that biosimilars of those products will currently be approved in the EU. However, guidance from the EMA states that they will be considered in the future in light of the scientific knowledge and regulatory experience gained at the time.
Orphan Medicinal Products
The criteria for designating an “orphan medicinal product” in the EU are similar in principle to those in the United States. A medicinal product may be designated as orphan if (1) it is intended for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of a life-threatening or chronically debilitating condition; (2) either (a) such condition affects no more than five in 10,000 persons in the EU when the application is made, or (b) the product, without the benefits derived from orphan status, would not generate sufficient return in the EU to justify investment; and (3) there exists no satisfactory method of diagnosis, prevention or treatment of such condition authorized for marketing in the EU, or if such a method exists, the product will be of significant benefit to those affected by the condition.
Orphan drug designation entitles a party to incentives such as reduction of fees or fee waivers, protocol assistance, and access to the centralized procedure. The application for orphan drug designation must be submitted before the MAA. The applicant will receive a fee reduction for the MAA if the orphan drug designation has been granted, but not if the designation is still pending at the time the MA is submitted. Upon grant of a MA, orphan medicinal products are entitled to a ten-year period of market exclusivity for the approved therapeutic indication, which means that regulatory authorities cannot accept another MA or grant an MA or accept an application to extend an existing MA in respect of a similar medicinal product for the same indication for a period of ten years. The period of market exclusivity is extended by two years for orphan medicinal products that have also complied with an agreed pediatric investigation plan, or PIP. Orphan drug designation does not convey any advantage in, or shorten the duration of, the regulatory review and approval process.
The ten-year market exclusivity may be reduced to six years if, at the end of the fifth year, it is established that the product no longer meets the criteria for orphan designation, for example, if the product is sufficiently profitable not to justify maintenance of market exclusivity or where the prevalence of the condition has increased above the threshold. Additionally, an MA may be granted to a similar product for the same indication at any time if (1) the second applicant can establish that its product, although similar, is safer, more effective or otherwise clinically superior, (2) the applicant consents to a second orphan medicinal product application; or (3) the applicant cannot supply enough orphan medicinal product.
In the EU, MAAs for new medicinal products have to include the results of trials conducted in the pediatric population, in compliance with a PIP agreed with the EMA’s Pediatric Committee, or PDCO. The PIP sets out the timing and measures proposed to generate data to support a pediatric indication of the drug for which an MA is being sought. The PDCO can grant a deferral of the obligation to implement some or all of the measures of the PIP until there are sufficient data to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the product in adults. Further, the obligation to provide pediatric clinical trial data can be waived by the PDCO when these data are not needed or appropriate because the product is likely to be ineffective or unsafe in children, the disease or condition for which the product is intended occurs only in adult populations, or when the product does not represent a significant therapeutic benefit over existing treatments for pediatric patients. Once the MA is obtained in all EU member states and study results are included in the product information, even when negative, the product is eligible for a six-months supplementary protection certificate
extension (if any is in effect at the time of approval) or, in the case of orphan medicinal products, a two year extension of the orphan market exclusivity is granted.
Similar to the United States, both MA holders and manufacturers of medicinal products are subject to comprehensive regulatory oversight by the EMA, the European Commission and/or the competent regulatory authorities of the member states. The holder of an MA must establish and maintain a pharmacovigilance system and appoint an individual qualified person for pharmacovigilance who is responsible for oversight of that system. Key obligations include expedited reporting of suspected serious adverse reactions and submission of periodic safety update reports, or PSURs.
All new MAAs must include a risk management plan, or RMP, describing the risk management system that the company will put in place and documenting measures to prevent or minimize the risks associated with the product. The regulatory authorities may also impose specific obligations as a condition of the MA. Such risk-minimization measures or post-authorization obligations may include additional safety monitoring, more frequent submission of PSURs, or the conduct of additional clinical trials or post-authorization safety studies.
The advertising and promotion of medicinal products is also subject to laws concerning promotion of medicinal products, interactions with physicians, misleading and comparative advertising and unfair commercial practices. All advertising and promotional activities for the product must be consistent with the approved summary of product characteristics, and therefore all off-label promotion is prohibited. Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines is also prohibited in the EU. Although general requirements for advertising and promotion of medicinal products are established under EU directives, the details are governed by regulations in each member state and can differ from one country to another.
Failure to comply with EU and member state laws that apply to the conduct of clinical trials, manufacturing approval, MA of medicinal products and marketing of such products, both before and after grant of the MA, manufacturing of pharmaceutical products, statutory health insurance, bribery and anti-corruption or with other applicable regulatory requirements may result in administrative, civil or criminal penalties. These penalties could include delays or refusal to authorize the conduct of clinical trials or to grant MA, product withdrawals and recalls, product seizures, suspension, withdrawal or variation of the MA, total or partial suspension of production, distribution, manufacturing or clinical trials, operating restrictions, injunctions, suspension of licenses, fines and criminal penalties.
The aforementioned EU rules are generally applicable in the European Economic Area, or EEA, which consists of the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Pricing and Reimbursement
Even if a medicinal product obtains an MA in the EU, there can be no assurance that reimbursement for such product will be secured on a timely basis or at all. Governments influence the price of medicinal products through their pricing and reimbursement rules and control of national healthcare systems that fund a large part of the cost of those products to consumers. Member states are free to restrict the range of pharmaceutical products for which their national health insurance systems provide reimbursement, and to control the prices and reimbursement levels of pharmaceutical products for human use. Some jurisdictions operate positive and negative list systems under which products may only be marketed once a reimbursement price has been agreed to by the government. Member states may approve a specific price or level of reimbursement for the pharmaceutical product, or alternatively adopt a system of direct or indirect controls on the profitability of the company responsible for placing the pharmaceutical product on the market, including volume-based arrangements, caps and reference pricing mechanisms. To obtain reimbursement or pricing approval, some of these countries may require the completion of clinical trials that compare the cost-effectiveness of a particular product candidate to currently available therapies. Other EU member states allow companies to fix their own prices for
medicines, but monitor and control company profits. The downward pressure on healthcare costs in general, particularly prescription medicines, has become very intense. As a result, increasingly high barriers are being erected to the entry of new products. In addition, in some countries, cross border imports from low-priced markets exert a commercial pressure on pricing within a country.
Brexit and the Regulatory Framework in the United Kingdom
The UK formally left the EU on January 31, 2020, commonly referred to as “Brexit”. The post-Brexit transition period, during which EU pharmaceutical laws continued to apply to the UK, expired on December 31, 2020. This means that since January 1, 2021, the UK operates under a distinct regulatory regime. EU pharmaceutical laws now only apply to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland (as laid out in the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including but not limited to MAAs).
Since January 1, 2021, EU laws which have been transposed into UK law through secondary legislation continue to be applicable as “retained EU law”. However, new legislation such as the EU CTR will not be applicable. The UK government adopted the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021, which introduces delegated powers in favor of the Secretary of State or an ‘appropriate authority’ to amend or supplement existing regulations in the area of medicinal products and medical devices. This allows new rules to be introduced in the future by way of secondary legislation, which aims to allow flexibility in addressing regulatory gaps and future changes in the fields of human medicines and clinical trials.
The UK and EU have reached an agreement on their future trading relationship pursuant to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or TCA, which includes certain provisions affecting pharmaceutical companies such as customs and tariffs in relation to healthcare products and provides for the mutual recognition of GMP, inspections of manufacturing facilities for medicinal products and GMP documents issued. It is important to note that significant regulatory gaps still exist and the TCA does not contain wholesale mutual recognition of UK and EU pharmaceutical regulations and product standards.
UK Clinical Trials
It is currently unclear to what extent the UK will seek to align its regulations with the EU. The UK regulatory framework in relation to clinical trials is derived from existing EU legislation (as implemented into UK law, through secondary legislation), and after Brexit, EU laws on clinical trials (including the EU CTR) are no longer directly applicable in Great Britain (i.e., the UK excluding Northern Ireland). On January 17, 2022, the MHRA launched an eight-week consultation on reframing the UK legislation for clinical trials. The consultation closes on March 14, 2022 and aims to streamline clinical trials approvals, enable innovation, enhance clinical trials transparency, enable greater risk proportionality, and promote patient and public involvement in clinical trials. The outcome of the consultation will be closely watched and will determine whether the UK chooses to align with the regulation or diverge from it to maintain regulatory flexibility.
UK Marketing Authorizations
The MHRA is now the UK’s standalone regulator for MAAs. All existing centralized procedure MAs were automatically converted into UK MAs effective in Great Britain and issued with a UK MA number on January 1, 2021 (unless MA holders opted out of this scheme by January 21, 2021). As a result of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, centralized procedure MAs remain valid for marketing products in Northern Ireland. Pending applications which were submitted to EMA prior to the end of the transition period will either be determined in parallel by the MHRA, or will be put “on hold” until the CHMP issues a positive decision which can be relied upon by MHRA. Converted EU MAs will be treated as if they were granted on the date the corresponding centralized procedure MA was granted and the renewal date will stay the same. If renewals were submitted and no decision was rendered before January 1, 2021, the MHRA will ensure the renewal process is concluded and processed appropriately, and there
will be no need to resubmit the application. From January 1, 2021 the requirements for renewal submissions remain the same as required by the EMA and the MA holders should continue to submit renewal applications to the MHRA nine months before they expire (or six months in relation to conditional MAs).
Following January 1, 2021, an applicant for a centralized procedure MA must be established in the EU. After this date, companies established in the UK can no longer use the centralized procedure and instead must follow one of the UK national authorization procedures or one of the remaining post-Brexit international cooperation procedures (such as the Access Consortium) to obtain an MA to market products in the UK. In addition, for a two-year period from January 1, 2021, MHRA may rely on a decision taken by the European Commission on the approval of a new centralized procedure MA when determining an application for a Great Britain MA; or use the MHRA’s decentralized or mutual recognition procedures which enable MAs approved in EU member states (or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) to be granted in Great Britain. Additionally, the ‘Unfettered Access Procedure’ enables MA holders in Northern Ireland to seek recognition in Great Britain. Post Brexit, the MHRA has updated various aspects of the regulatory regime for medicines in the UK, including: introducing the Innovative Licensing and Access Procedure to accelerate the time to market and facilitate patient access for innovative medicines; updates to the UK national approval procedure, introducing a 150-day objective for assessing applications for MAs in the UK, Great Britain and Northern Ireland and a rolling review process for MA applications (rather than a consolidated full dossier submission).
UK Orphan Designation
The UK regulatory framework in relation to orphan drug designation is derived from existing EU legislation (as implemented into UK law, through secondary legislation). The European Commission is currently evaluating new legislation in relation to orphan medicines, and after Brexit, these laws will no longer be directly applicable in Great Britain. Since January 1, 2021, there has been no route to obtain pre-MA orphan designation in Great Britain, however, as a result of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, EU orphan drug designation and time periods of market exclusivity still remain valid for marketing products in Northern Ireland. Instead, the MHRA now reviews applications for Great Britain orphan designation in parallel with the corresponding MA application. The criteria are essentially the same as under the EU regime, but have been tailored for the Great Britain market, i.e. the prevalence of the condition in Great Britain (rather than the EU) must not be more than 5 in 10,000. For medicinal products that have received orphan status on or after January 1, 2021, a period of 10 years orphan market exclusivity is awarded from the date of MA by the MHRA. An additional two years of exclusivity may be added where pediatric data requirements have been met. Products with an orphan designation in the EU may be considered for a Great Britain orphan marketing authorization. However, where centrally authorized MAs that have been converted into Great Britain MAs have an existing EU orphan designation, these shall continue in effect with the remaining period of orphan market exclusivity.
UK Specials Regulation
The UK’s Human Medicines Regulations 2012 allow for the manufacture and supply of medicinal products not authorized for marketing to patients with special needs at the request of the healthcare professional responsible for the patient’s care (these products are referred to as “specials”). A special may only be supplied: (i) in response to an unsolicited order from a healthcare professional responsible for the care of the patient, (ii) if the product is manufactured and assembled in accordance with the specifications of that healthcare professional to fulfil the special needs of the individual patient which cannot be met by products already authorized for marketing, and (iii) if the product is manufactured under a specials license granted by the UK’s MHRA.
Manufacturing a special also imposes a five year record retention requirement subject to review by the MHRA, including details of any suspected adverse reaction to the product so sold or supplied of which the person is aware or subsequently becomes aware, as well as a continuing obligation to notify the MHRA of any suspected adverse reaction to the medicinal product which is a serious adverse reaction.
Privacy and Data Protection Laws
We are also subject to laws and regulations in non-U.S. countries in which we are established or in which we run clinical trials, as well as countries in which we may sell, market and distribute products for which we obtain marketing approval. These laws and regulations cover data privacy and the protection of health-related and other personal data. Laws and regulations in the EU and other jurisdictions apply broadly to the collection, use, storage, disclosure, processing and security of personal data, and have generally become more stringent over time.
For example, the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, imposes strict requirements for processing the personal data of individuals within the EEA. The GDPR allows EU member states to make additional laws and regulations further regulating the processing of genetic, biometric or health data. Failure to comply with the requirements of GDPR and the applicable national data protection laws of the EU member states may result in fines of up to €20 million or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher, and other administrative penalties and may expose us to compensation claims from affected individuals.
Further, from January 1, 2021, we are subject to the GDPR and also the UK GDPR, which, together with the amended UK Data Protection Act 2018, retains the GDPR in UK national law. The UK GDPR mirrors the fines under the GDPR, e.g. fines up to the greater of £17.5 million or 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year. The European Commission has adopted an adequacy decision in favor of the UK, enabling data transfers from EU member states to the UK without additional safeguards. However, the UK adequacy decision will automatically expire in June 2025 unless the European Commission re-assesses and renews/extends that decision, and it continues to remain under review by the Commission during this period.
As of December 31, 2021, we had 296 employees, 287 of which are full-time employees. None of our employees is subject to a collective bargaining agreement or represented by a trade or labor union. We consider our relationship with our employees to be good.
Our human capital resources objectives include, as applicable, identifying, recruiting, retaining, incentivizing and integrating our existing and new employees, advisors and consultants. The principal purposes of our equity incentive plans are to attract, retain and reward personnel through the granting of equity-based compensation awards in order to increase shareholder value and the success of our company by motivating such individuals to perform to the best of their abilities and achieve our objectives.
MeiraGTx Holdings plc was formed on May 1, 2018 under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our predecessor, MeiraGTx Limited, a limited company under the laws of England and Wales, was formed on March 20, 2015. In connection with our initial public offering (“IPO”), we reorganized whereby MeiraGTx Limited became a wholly owned subsidiary of MeiraGTx Holdings plc.
Our website can be found at http://www.meiragtx.com. From time to time, we may use our website as a channel of distribution of material company information. Financial and other material information is routinely posted and accessible under the Investors and Media section of our website at http://www.meiragtx.com.
We file annual, quarterly and current reports, proxy statements and other information with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Our SEC filings are available to the public over the Internet at the SEC’s website at http://www.sec.gov. Our SEC filings are also available without charge under the Investors and Media section of our
website at http://www.meiragtx.com. We make this information available on our website as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such information with, or furnish it to, the SEC. Our website and the information contained on or connected to that site are not incorporated into this Form 10-K.
ITEM 1A.RISK FACTORS
Investing in our ordinary shares involves a high degree of risk. You should consider carefully the risks described below, together with the other information included or incorporated by reference in this Form 10-K. If any of the following risks occur, our business, financial condition, results of operations and future growth prospects could be materially and adversely affected. In these circumstances, the market price of our ordinary shares could decline. Other events that we do not currently anticipate or that we currently deem immaterial may also affect our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations, particularly in light of the fast-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, containment measures, vaccine distribution, vaccination rates, new variants and the related impacts to economic and operating conditions.
Risks Related to Our Financial Position and Need for Additional Capital
We have incurred significant losses since inception and anticipate that we will incur continued losses for the foreseeable future, and may never achieve or maintain profitability.
We are a clinical stage company with limited operating history. We were formed and began operations in 2015. We have never been profitable and do not expect to be profitable in the foreseeable future. We have incurred net losses since inception, including net losses of approximately $79.6 million and $58.0 million for the twelve months ended December 31, 2021 and 2020, respectively. As of December 31, 2021, we had an accumulated deficit of approximately $340.6 million. Since our inception, we have devoted substantially all of our resources to developing our technology platform, establishing our viral vector manufacturing facilities and plasmid and DNA production facility, developing manufacturing processes, advancing the product candidates in our ophthalmology, salivary gland and neurodegenerative disease programs, research and development activities, building our intellectual property portfolio, organizing and staffing our company, developing our business plans, raising capital, and providing general and administrative support for these operations. We have not yet demonstrated an ability to successfully complete large-scale, pivotal clinical trials, obtain marketing approval, manufacture product at a commercial scale, or arrange for a third party to do so on our behalf, or conduct sales and marketing activities necessary for successful product commercialization. Given the length of time typically needed to develop a new drug from the time it enters Phase 1 clinical trials to when it is approved for treating patients, predictions about our future success or viability may not be as accurate as they could be if we had a longer operating history or a history of successfully developing and commercializing genetic medicine products.
We expect to continue to incur significant expenses and additional operating losses for the foreseeable future as we seek to advance product candidates through preclinical and clinical development, expand our research, development and manufacturing activities, develop new product candidates, build and expand our intellectual product portfolio, complete clinical trials, seek regulatory approval and, if we receive regulatory approval, commercialize our products. Furthermore, the costs of advancing product candidates into each succeeding clinical phase tend to increase substantially over time, including the ongoing Phase 3 Lumeos clinical trial of botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of patients with XLRP and the initiation of a Phase 3 clinical trial of AAV-RPE65 for the treatment of retinal dystrophy associated with mutations in the RPE65 gene, although we believe that certain of these increases will be partially offset by the research funding in connection with the Collaboration Agreement. The total costs to advance any of our product candidates to marketing approval in even a single jurisdiction would be substantial. Because of the numerous risks and uncertainties associated with gene therapy product development, we are unable to accurately predict the timing or amount of increased expenses or whether we will be able to begin generating revenue from the commercialization of products or achieve or maintain profitability. Our expenses have and will continue to increase substantially as a public company and as we continue to add clinical, scientific, operational, financial, manufacturing, compliance and management information
systems and personnel, including personnel to support our product development, manufacturing and planned future commercialization efforts.
Before we generate any revenue from product sales, each of our programs and product candidates will require additional preclinical and/or clinical development, potential regulatory approval in multiple jurisdictions, manufacturing, building of a commercial organization, substantial investment and significant marketing efforts. Our expenses could increase beyond expectations if we are required by the FDA, MHRA, EMA, or other regulatory authorities to perform preclinical studies and clinical trials in addition to those that we currently anticipate. These risks are further described under “—Risks Related to Discovery, Development, Clinical Testing, Manufacturing and Regulatory Approval” and “—Risks Related to Commercialization.” As a result, we expect to continue to incur net losses for the foreseeable future. These net losses have had, and will continue to have, an adverse effect on our shareholders’ equity and working capital.
As we continue to build our business, we expect our financial condition and operating results may fluctuate significantly from quarter to quarter and year to year due to a variety of factors, many of which are beyond our control. Accordingly, you should not rely upon the results of any particular quarterly or annual period as indications of future operating performance. If we are unable to develop and commercialize one or more of our product candidates either alone or with collaborators, or if revenues from any product candidate that receives marketing approval are insufficient, we will not achieve profitability. Even if we do achieve profitability, we may not be able to sustain or increase profitability. If we are unable to achieve and then maintain profitability, the value of our equity securities will be adversely affected.
We will require additional capital to fund our operations, which may not be available on acceptable terms, if at all.
We expect to spend substantial amounts to complete the development of, seek regulatory approvals for and commercialize our product candidates, as well as continue to expand our manufacturing and supply chain capabilities. This will require additional capital, which we may raise through equity offerings, debt financings, marketing and distribution arrangements and other collaborations, strategic alliances and licensing arrangements or other sources. Our ability to raise additional capital when needed may be adversely affected by external factors beyond our control, including changes in the political climate, geopolitical actions, changes in market interest rates, potential reforms and changes to government regulations, the effect of healthcare reform legislation, including those that may limit pricing of pharmaceutical products and drugs, market prices and conditions, prospects for favorable or unfavorable clinical trial results, new product initiatives, the manufacturing and distribution of new products, product safety and efficacy issues, new collaborations, strategic alliances and licensing arrangements, and the COVID-19 outbreak and mitigation measures. Furthermore, we expect to continue to incur costs associated with operating as a public company. Adequate additional financing may not be available to us on acceptable terms, or at all. Our failure to raise capital as and when needed would have a negative effect on our financial condition and our ability to pursue our business strategy. In addition, attempting to secure additional financing may divert the time and attention of our management from day-to-day activities and harm our product candidate development efforts. If we are unable to raise capital when needed or on acceptable terms, we would be forced to delay, reduce or eliminate certain of our research and development programs.
Our operations have consumed significant amounts of cash since inception. As of December 31, 2021, our cash and cash equivalents were $137.7 million. In addition, we expect to receive $22.4 million in receivables which we expect to collect in the first quarter of 2022 from Janssen in connection with the Collaboration Agreement. Based on our cash and cash equivalents at December 31, 2021 and the research funding and milestone payments we expect to receive under the Collaboration Agreement, we estimate that such funds will be sufficient to enable us to fund our operating expenses and capital expenditure requirements through the second quarter of 2023. This estimate is based on assumptions that may prove to be wrong, and we could use our available capital resources sooner than we currently expect. Changing circumstances could cause us to spend more than expected or consume capital significantly faster than we currently anticipate, such as inflation or other factors that may significantly increase our business costs. Because the length of time and activities associated with successful development of our product candidates is uncertain, we are unable to estimate the actual funds we will require for development and any approved marketing and commercialization activities. Our future funding requirements, both near and long-term, will depend on many factors, including, but not limited to:
|●||the progress, timing, costs and results of our ongoing clinical development for our X-linked retinitis pigmentosa product candidate, botaretigene sparoparvovec, including the ongoing Phase 3 Lumeos clinical trial of botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of patients with XLRP, for our CNGB3 achromatopsia gene therapy product candidate, AAV-CNGB3, for our CNGA3 achromatopsia gene therapy product candidate, AAV-CNGA3, for our RPE65-associated retinal dystrophy product candidate, AAV-RPE65, including the initiation of a Phase 3 clinical trial of AAV-RPE65 for the treatment of retinal dystrophy associated with mutations in the RPE65 gene, for our radiation induced xerostomia product candidate, AAV-hAQP1, and to continue to conduct our ongoing natural history studies for inherited retinal diseases, or IRDs;|
|●||the progress, timing, costs and results of our clinical development program for our product candidate for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, AAV-GAD;|
|●||the development of our product candidate for the treatment of ALS, AAV-UPF1, for our product candidate for the treatment of xerostomia associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, AAV-hAQP1, and our product candidate for the treatment of neovascular age related macular degeneration, or wet AMD;|
|●||the development of potentially transformative gene regulation technology designed to precisely and specifically control gene therapy expression levels via dose-response to orally delivered small molecules;|
|●||continuing our current research programs and our preclinical development of product candidates from our current research programs;|
|●||seeking to identify, assess, acquire and/or develop additional research programs and additional product candidates;|
|●||the preclinical testing and clinical trials for any product candidates we identify and develop;|
|●||the outcome, timing and cost of meeting regulatory requirements established by the FDA, MHRA, EMA and other regulatory authorities;|
|●||the cost of expanding and protecting our intellectual property portfolio, including filing, prosecuting, defending and enforcing our patent claims and other intellectual property rights;|
|●||the cost of defending potential intellectual property disputes, including patent infringement actions brought by third parties against us or any of our product candidates;|
|●||the effect of competing technological and market developments;|
|●||the cost of further developing and scaling our manufacturing facilities and processes;|
|●||the cost and timing of completion of commercial-scale manufacturing facilities and activities;|
|●||the cost of making royalty, milestone or other payments under current and any future in-license agreements;|
|●||our ability to establish and maintain strategic collaborations, licensing or other agreements and the financial terms of such agreements;|
|●||the extent to which we in-license or acquire rights to other products, product candidates and technologies;|
|●||the cost of establishing sales, marketing and distribution capabilities for our product candidates in regions where we choose to commercialize our products; and|
|●||the initiation, progress, timing and results of our commercialization of our product candidates, if approved for commercial sale.|
Raising additional capital through the sale of equity or convertible debt securities will dilute your ownership interest, and the terms of these securities may include liquidation or other preferences that adversely affect your rights as a shareholder. Debt financing and preferred equity financing, if available, may involve agreements that include covenants limiting or restricting our ability to take specific actions, such as incurring additional debt, making capital expenditures or declaring dividends. If we raise additional funds through collaborations, strategic alliances or marketing, distribution or licensing arrangements with third parties, we may be required to relinquish valuable rights to our technologies, future revenue streams or product candidates or grant licenses on terms that may not be favorable to us. If we are unable to raise additional funds through equity or debt financings when needed, we may be required to delay, limit, reduce or terminate our product development or future commercialization efforts or grant rights to develop and market product candidates that we would otherwise prefer to develop and market ourselves.
We are heavily dependent on the success of our Most Advanced Product Candidates, which are still in development, and if none of them receive regulatory approval or are successfully commercialized, our business may be harmed.
Our future success and ability to generate product revenue is substantially dependent on our ability to successfully develop, obtain regulatory approval for and successfully commercialize our product candidates. We currently have no products that are approved for commercial sale and may never be able to develop marketable products. We have invested and expect to continue to invest a meaningful portion of our efforts and expenditures over the next few years in the development of botaretigene sparoparvovec, AAV-GAD, AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3, AAV-RPE65 and AAV-hAQP1 (the “Most Advanced Product Candidates”), which will require additional clinical development, management of clinical and manufacturing activities, regulatory approval in multiple jurisdictions, manufacturing sufficient supply, building of a commercial organization, substantial investment and significant marketing efforts before we can generate any revenues from any commercial sales. While we have entered into a Collaboration Agreement with Janssen with respect to AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3 and botaretigene sparoparvovec, pursuant to which we received a $100 million upfront payment and will also receive funding for certain research, manufacturing, clinical development and commercialization costs, potential additional milestone payments upon the achievement of such milestones and royalties on future net sales of products, there can be no assurance that these three product candidates will be successfully developed and commercialized by us and Janssen. We cannot be certain that our Most Advanced Product Candidates will be successful in clinical trials, receive regulatory approval or be successfully commercialized even if we receive regulatory approval. Even if we receive approval to market our Most Advanced Product Candidates from the FDA, MHRA or other regulatory bodies, we cannot be certain that our product candidates will be successfully commercialized by us or our collaborators, widely accepted in the marketplace or more effective than other commercially available alternatives. Additionally, the research, testing, manufacturing, labeling, approval, sale, marketing and distribution of gene therapy products are and will remain subject to extensive and evolving regulation by the FDA, MHRA and other regulatory authorities. We are not permitted to market our Most Advanced Product Candidates in the United States until they receive approval of a biologics license application, or BLA, from the FDA, we cannot market them in the UK or EU until we receive approval for an MA from the MHRA or European Commission, respectively, and we cannot market them in other countries until we receive any other required regulatory approval in those countries.
Because some of our other product candidates are based on similar technology as our Most Advanced Product Candidates, if any of our product candidates show unexpected adverse events or a lack of efficacy in the indications we intend to treat, or if we experience other regulatory or developmental issues, our development plans and business could be
significantly harmed. Further, competitors may be developing products with similar technology and may experience problems with their products that could identify problems that would potentially harm our business.
We may not be successful in our efforts to identify additional product candidates.
Part of our strategy involves identifying novel product candidates. The process by which we identify product candidates may fail to yield product candidates for clinical development for a number of reasons, including those discussed in these risk factors and also:
|●||we may not be able to assemble sufficient resources to acquire or discover additional product candidates;|
|●||competitors may develop alternatives that render our potential product candidates obsolete or less attractive;|
|●||potential product candidates we develop may nevertheless be covered by third parties’ patents or other exclusive rights;|
|●||potential product candidates may, on further study, be shown to have harmful side effects, toxicities or other characteristics that indicate that they are unlikely to be products that will receive marketing approval and achieve market acceptance;|
|●||potential product candidates may not be effective in treating their targeted diseases;|
|●||the market for a potential product candidate may change so that the continued development of that product candidate is no longer reasonable;|
|●||a potential product candidate may not be capable of being produced in commercial quantities at an acceptable cost, or at all; or|
|●||the regulatory pathway for a potential product candidate may be too complex and difficult to navigate successfully or economically.|
In addition, we may choose to focus our efforts and resources on a potential product candidate that ultimately proves to be unsuccessful. As a result, we may fail to capitalize on viable commercial products or profitable market opportunities, be required to forego or delay pursuit of opportunities with other product candidates or other diseases that may later prove to have greater commercial potential, or relinquish valuable rights to such product candidates through collaboration, licensing or other royalty arrangements in cases in which it would have been advantageous for us to retain sole development and commercialization rights. If we are unable to identify additional suitable product candidates for clinical development, this would adversely impact our business strategy and our financial position and share price and could potentially cause us to cease operations.
Risks Related to Discovery, Development, Clinical Testing, Manufacturing and Regulatory Approval
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, or other pandemic, epidemic or outbreak of an infectious disease may materially and adversely impact our business, including our preclinical studies, clinical trials, manufacturing capabilities and regulatory approvals.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government measures taken in response have had a significant impact, both direct and indirect, on businesses and commerce globally, as worker shortages have occurred; supply chains have been disrupted;
facilities and production have been suspended; and demand for certain goods and services, such as medical services and supplies, has spiked, while demand for other goods and services, such as travel, has fallen.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have at times restricted onsite activities, and may continue to restrict onsite activities, to manufacturing functions, laboratory research and certain support activities. We have also experienced some delays in enrolling, treating and monitoring patients in our clinical trials, as well as limited supply chain disruptions. We may experience other disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic or other pandemic, epidemic or outbreak of an infectious disease that could severely impact our business, preclinical studies, clinical trials and laboratory and manufacturing activities, including:
|●||delays or difficulties in enrolling patients in our clinical trials;|
|●||delays or difficulties in clinical site initiation, including difficulties in recruiting clinical site investigators and clinical site staff;|
|●||diversion of healthcare resources away from the conduct of clinical trials, including the diversion of hospitals serving as our clinical trial sites and hospital staff supporting the conduct of our clinical trials;|
|●||interruption of key clinical trial activities, such as clinical trial site data monitoring, due to limitations on travel imposed or recommended by federal, state, local or foreign governments, employers and others, or interruption of clinical trial subject visits and study procedures, which may impact the integrity of subject data and clinical study endpoints;|
|●||interruption or delays in the operations of the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities, which may impact review and approval timelines;|
|●||interruption of, or delays in, the manufacturing of our product candidates due to staffing shortages, governmental restrictions relating to on-site activities, production slowdowns or stoppages and supply chain disruptions;|
|●||slowdowns or problems with the development and startup of our new manufacturing facilities in Shannon, Ireland;|
|●||interruptions in preclinical studies due to restricted or limited operations at our laboratory facilities;|
|●||limitations on employee resources that would otherwise be focused on the conduct of our preclinical studies and clinical trials, including because of sickness of employees or their families or the desire of employees to avoid contact with large groups of people; and|
|●||interruption or delays to our sourced discovery and clinical activities.|
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact businesses globally and new and more contagious variations of the virus have emerged or may emerge in the future. The extent to which the outbreak may further impact our business, preclinical studies, clinical trials and laboratory and manufacturing activities will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence, such as the duration of the pandemic, the timing, distribution and effectiveness of vaccines, vaccination rates, travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements in the countries where we do business, business closures or business disruptions, and the effectiveness of actions taken in the countries where we do business to contain and treat the disease, respond to the reduction in global economic activity and resume normal economic and operating conditions. If we or any of the third parties with whom we engage experience prolonged shutdowns or other business disruptions, our ability to conduct our business in the manner and on the timelines presently
planned could be materially and negatively impacted. The pandemic and public and private responses to the pandemic may continue to affect economic conditions and may lead to an economic downturn, significant inflation and/or a recession, at a global scale, which could materially affect our performance, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows, as well as our ability to raise additional capital.
In addition, we expect the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect our employees, our vendors and their employees or the employees of companies with which we do business, which may ultimately disrupt our business operations. We have and will continue to adhere to applicable guidelines and safety measures including work-from-home policies and restricting onsite activities to manufacturing functions, laboratory research and certain support activities as necessary. Employees who are working in our offices are required to quarantine if they are diagnosed with, show symptoms of, or are exposed to someone with, the coronavirus. We may also have to reinstitute a broader work-from-home policy for an undetermined amount of time if COVID-19 cases increase in the jurisdictions where we have offices. An extended period of remote working, whether by our employees, our vendors and their employees or the employees of companies with which we do business may negatively impact productivity, or disrupt, delay, or otherwise adversely impact our business. In addition, this could increase our cyber security risk due to increases in malware campaigns and phishing attacks exploiting remote workers and preying on the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, create data accessibility concerns, and make us more susceptible to communication disruptions, any of which could adversely impact our business operations or delay necessary interactions with regulators, laboratory and manufacturing sites, research or clinical trial sites and other important agencies and contractors.
It is difficult to predict the time and cost of product candidate development on our novel gene therapy platform. Very few gene therapies have been approved in the United States or in Europe.
We have concentrated a portion of our research and development efforts on our gene therapy platform, which uses both transduction and gene control technology. Our future success depends on the successful development of these novel therapeutic approaches. To date, very few products that utilize gene transfer have been approved in the United States or Europe.
Our gene therapy platform is based on a suite of viral vectors which we can deploy with gene therapy constructs, which relies on the ability of AAV to efficiently transmit a therapeutic gene to certain kinds of cells. The mechanism of action by which these vectors target particular tissues is still not completely understood. Therefore, it is difficult for us to determine that our vectors will be able to properly deliver gene transfer constructs to enough tissue cells to reach therapeutic levels. We cannot be certain that animal models will exist for some of the diseases we expect to pursue, that our viral vectors will be able to meet safety and efficacy levels needed to be therapeutic in humans or that they will not cause significant adverse events or toxicities. Furthermore, prior work conducted by a third party in non-human primates suggests that intravenous, or IV, delivery of certain AAV vectors at very high doses may result in severe toxicity. The indications that we target do not use IV administration for viral vector delivery and do not use doses as high as those tested in these publications, and to date we have not observed the severe toxicities described in these publications with the naturally occurring AAV vectors that we use. However, we cannot be certain that we will be able to avoid triggering toxicities in our future preclinical studies or clinical trials. Any such results could impact our ability to develop a product candidate. As a result of these factors, it is more difficult for us to predict the time and cost of product candidate development, and we cannot predict whether the application of our gene therapy platform, or any similar or competitive gene therapy platforms, will result in the identification, development, and regulatory approval of any product candidates, or that other gene therapy technologies will not be considered better or more attractive. There can be no assurance that any development problems we experience in the future related to our gene therapy platform or any of our research programs will not cause significant delays or unanticipated costs, or that such development problems can be solved. Any of these factors may prevent us from completing our preclinical studies or clinical trials or commercializing any product candidates we may develop on a timely or profitable basis, if at all.
In addition, because our gene regulation technology is still in the research stage, we have not yet been able to assess safety in humans, and there may be long-term effects from treatment that we cannot predict at this time.
Because gene therapy is novel and the regulatory landscape that governs any product candidates we may develop is uncertain and may change, we cannot predict the time and cost of obtaining regulatory approval, if we receive it at all, for any product candidates we may develop.
The regulatory requirements that will govern any novel gene therapy product candidates we develop are not entirely clear and may change. Within the broader genetic medicine field, very few therapeutic products have received marketing authorization from the FDA, MHRA and European Commission. Even with respect to more established products that fit into the categories of gene therapies or cell therapies, the regulatory landscape is still developing. Regulatory requirements governing gene therapy products and cell therapy products have changed frequently and will likely continue to change in the future. Moreover, there is substantial, and sometimes uncoordinated, overlap in those responsible for regulation of existing gene therapy products and cell therapy products, which could impact the timing and cost of any regulatory approval. For example, in the United States, the FDA has established the Office of Tissues and Advanced Therapies within its Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, or CBER, to consolidate the review of gene therapy and related products, and the Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee to advise CBER on its review. Gene therapy clinical trials are also subject to review and oversight by an institutional biosafety committee, or IBC, and/or an institutional review board, or IRB, which are local institutional committees or boards, as applicable, that review, approve and oversee basic and clinical research conducted at the institution participating in the clinical trial.
In the EU, the EMA’s Committee for Advanced Therapies, or CAT, is responsible for assessing the quality, safety, and efficacy of ATMPs. ATMPs include gene therapy medicines, somatic-cell therapy medicines and tissue-engineered medicines. The role of the CAT is to prepare a draft opinion on an application for marketing authorization for a gene therapy medicinal candidate that is submitted to the EMA. In the EU, the development and evaluation of a gene therapy product must be considered in the context of the relevant EU guidelines. The EMA may issue new guidelines concerning the development and marketing authorization for gene therapy products and require that we comply with these new guidelines. As a result, the procedures and standards applied to gene therapy products and cell therapy products may be applied to any gene therapy product candidate we may develop, but that remains uncertain at this point.
Post Brexit, MAAs for ATMPs in Great Britain are regulated nationally and assessed in accordance with the general provisions in place for the licensing of medicines, taking the specific requirements for this group of medicines into account. In Northern Ireland, ATMPs will continue to be authorized according to the EU’s centralized procedure. Definitions for individual classes of ATMPs remain unchanged and classification of ATMPs are undertaken by the MHRA in accordance with EU legislation and current guidance from CAT. Data, traceability, exemptions from licensing, packaging and post-authorization requirements remain in line with EU requirements transposed into UK law. However, if the EMA issues new guidance on ATMPs going forward, there is a risk of regulatory divergence with the MHRA and separate procedures and standards with which we may need to comply.
Adverse developments in preclinical studies or clinical trials conducted by others in the field of gene therapy and gene regulation products may cause the FDA, MHRA and other regulatory bodies to revise the requirements for approval of any product candidates we may develop or limit the use of products utilizing gene regulation technologies, either of which could harm our business. In addition, the clinical trial requirements of the FDA, MHRA and other regulatory authorities and the criteria these regulators use to determine the safety and efficacy of a product candidate vary substantially according to the type, complexity, novelty, and intended use and market of the potential products. The regulatory approval process for product candidates such as ours can be more expensive and take longer than for other, better known, or more extensively studied pharmaceutical or other product candidates. Further, as we are developing novel treatments for diseases in which there is little clinical experience with new endpoints and methodologies, there is heightened risk that the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory bodies may not consider the clinical trial endpoints to provide clinically meaningful results, and the resulting clinical data and results may be more difficult to analyze. The prospectively designed natural history studies with the same endpoints as our corresponding clinical trials may not be accepted by the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities. Regulatory agencies administering existing or future regulations or legislation may not allow production and marketing of products utilizing gene regulation technology in a timely manner or under
technically or commercially feasible conditions. In addition, regulatory action or private litigation could result in expenses, delays, or other impediments to our research programs or the commercialization of resulting products.
The regulatory review committees and advisory groups described above and the new guidelines they promulgate may lengthen the regulatory review process, require us to perform additional preclinical studies or clinical trials, increase our development costs, lead to changes in regulatory positions and interpretations, delay or prevent approval and commercialization of these treatment candidates, or lead to significant post-approval limitations or restrictions. As we advance our research programs and develop future product candidates, we will be required to consult with these regulatory and advisory groups and to comply with applicable guidelines. If we fail to do so, we may be required to delay or discontinue development of any product candidates we identify and develop.
Clinical trials are expensive, time-consuming, difficult to design and implement, and involve an uncertain outcome. Further, we may encounter substantial delays in our clinical trials.
The clinical trials and manufacturing of our product candidates are, and the manufacturing and marketing of our products, if approved, will be, subject to extensive and rigorous review and regulation by numerous government authorities in the United States and in other countries where we intend to test and market our product candidates. Before obtaining regulatory approvals for the commercial sale of any of our product candidates, we must demonstrate through lengthy, complex and expensive preclinical testing and clinical trials that our product candidates are both safe and effective for use in each target indication. In particular, because our product candidates are subject to regulation as biological drug products, we will need to demonstrate that they are safe, pure, and potent for use in their target indications. Each product candidate must demonstrate an adequate risk versus benefit profile in its intended patient population and for its intended use.
Clinical testing is expensive, can take many years to complete and is subject to uncertainty. We cannot guarantee that any clinical trials will be conducted as planned or completed on schedule, if at all. Failure can occur at any time during the clinical trial process. Even if our future clinical trials are completed as planned, we cannot be certain that their results will support the safety and effectiveness of our product candidates for their targeted indications. Our future clinical trial results may not be successful.
In addition, even if such trials are successfully completed, we cannot guarantee that the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities will interpret the results as we do, and more trials could be required before we submit our product candidates for approval. To the extent that the results of the trials are not satisfactory to the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities for support of an MAA, we may be required to expend significant resources, which may not be available to us, to conduct additional trials in support of potential approval of our product candidates.
To date, we have not completed any clinical development programs required for the approval of any of our product candidates. Although we are currently conducting several clinical development programs, we may experience delays in conducting any clinical trials and we do not know whether our ongoing and future clinical trials will begin on time, need to be redesigned, be able to recruit and enroll patients on time or be completed on schedule, or at all. Events that may prevent successful or timely completion of clinical development include:
|●||inability to generate sufficient preclinical, toxicology, or other in vivo or in vitro data to support the initiation of clinical trials;|
|●||delays in sufficiently developing, characterizing or controlling a manufacturing process suitable for advanced clinical trials;|
|●||delays in developing suitable assays for screening patients for eligibility for trials with respect to certain product candidates;|
|●||delays in reaching agreement with the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities as to the design or implementation of our clinical trials and obtaining regulatory approval to commence a clinical trial;|
|●||inability to reach an agreement on acceptable terms with clinical trial sites or prospective contract research organizations, or CROs, the terms of which can be subject to extensive negotiation and may vary significantly among different clinical trial sites;|
|●||our inability to recruit and train clinical trial investigators with the appropriate competencies and experience to conduct the clinical trials, administer our product candidates and oversee clinical trial staff;|
|●||delays in obtaining IRB or ethics committee approval at each site;|
|●||inability to recruit suitable patients to participate in a clinical trial;|
|●||inability to develop and validate the companion diagnostic to be used in a clinical trial, if applicable;|
|●||delays in sufficiently developing, designing and manufacturing equipment or medical devices used in our clinical trials;|
|●||patients not completing a clinical trial or returning for post-treatment follow-up;|
|●||clinical sites, CROs, or other third parties deviating from trial protocol or dropping out of a trial;|
|●||failure to perform in accordance with the FDA’s good clinical practice, or GCP, requirements, or applicable regulatory guidelines in other countries;|
|●||addressing patient safety concerns that arise during the course of a trial, including occurrence of adverse events associated with the product candidate that are viewed to outweigh its potential benefits;|
|●||having an insufficient number of clinical trial sites; or|
|●||inability to manufacture sufficient quantities of our product candidates for use in clinical trials.|
We may experience numerous unforeseen events during, or as a result of, clinical trials that could delay or prevent our ability to receive marketing approval or commercialize our product candidates or significantly increase the cost of such trials, including:
|●||we may experience changes in regulatory requirements or guidance, or receive feedback from regulatory authorities that requires us to modify the design of our clinical trials;|
|●||clinical trials of our product candidates may produce negative or inconclusive results, and we may decide, or regulators may require us, to conduct additional clinical trials or abandon development programs;|
|●||the number of patients required for clinical trials of our product candidates may be larger than we anticipate, enrollment in these clinical trials may be slower than we anticipate, or participants may drop out of these clinical trials at a higher rate than we anticipate;|
|●||our third-party contractors may fail to comply with regulatory requirements or meet their contractual obligations to us in a timely manner, or at all;|
|●||we or our investigators might have to suspend or terminate clinical trials of our product candidates for various reasons, including non-compliance with regulatory requirements, a finding that our product candidates have undesirable side effects or other unexpected characteristics, or a finding that the participants are being exposed to unacceptable health risks;|
|●||the cost of clinical trials of our product candidates may be greater than we anticipate, and we may not have funds to cover the costs;|
|●||the supply or quality of our product candidates or other materials necessary to conduct clinical trials of our product candidates may be insufficient or inadequate;|
|●||business interruptions resulting from geopolitical actions, including war and terrorism, or a widespread health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods and fires, or from economic or political instability; and|
|●||any future collaborators that conduct clinical trials may face any of the above issues, and they may conduct clinical trials in ways they view as advantageous to them but that are suboptimal for us.|
If we are required to conduct additional clinical trials or other testing of our product candidates beyond those that we currently contemplate, if we are unable to successfully complete clinical trials of our product candidates or other testing, if the results of these trials or tests are not positive or are only modestly positive or if there are safety concerns, we may:
|●||incur unplanned costs;|
|●||be delayed in obtaining marketing approval for our product candidates or not obtain marketing approval at all;|
|●||obtain marketing approval in some countries and not in others;|
|●||obtain marketing approval for indications or patient populations that are not as broad as intended or desired;|
|●||obtain marketing approval with labeling that includes significant use or distribution restrictions or safety warnings, including boxed warnings;|
|●||be subject to additional post-marketing testing requirements; or|
|●||have the product removed from the market after obtaining marketing approval.|
We could encounter delays if a clinical trial is suspended or terminated by us, by the IRBs of the institutions in which such trials are being conducted, by the Data Safety Monitoring Board, or DSMB, for such trial or by the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities. Such authorities may impose such a suspension or termination due to a number of factors, including failure to conduct the clinical trial in accordance with regulatory requirements or our clinical protocols, inspection of the clinical trial operations or trial site by the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities resulting in the imposition of a clinical hold, unforeseen safety issues or adverse side effects, failure to demonstrate a benefit from using a drug, changes in governmental regulations or administrative actions or lack of adequate funding to continue the clinical trial.
Our Most Advanced Product Candidates will require extensive clinical testing before we are prepared to submit a BLA or MAA for regulatory approval. We cannot predict with any certainty if or when we might complete the clinical development for our product candidates and submit a BLA or MAA for regulatory approval of any of our product candidates or whether any such BLA or MAA will be approved. We may also seek feedback from the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities on our clinical development program, and the FDA, MHRA, EMA or such regulatory authorities may not provide such feedback on a timely basis, or such feedback may not be favorable, which could further delay our development programs.
If we experience delays in the commencement or completion of our clinical trials, or if we terminate a clinical trial prior to completion, the commercial prospects of our product candidates could be harmed, and our ability to generate revenues from our product candidates may be delayed. In addition, any delays in our clinical trials could increase our costs, slow down the development and approval process and jeopardize our ability to commence product sales and generate revenues. Any of these occurrences may harm our business, financial condition and results of operations. In addition, many of the factors that cause, or lead to, a delay in the commencement or completion of clinical trials may also ultimately lead to the denial of regulatory approval of our product candidates.
In addition, the FDA’s and other regulatory authorities’ policies with respect to clinical trials may change and additional government regulations may be enacted. For instance, the regulatory landscape related to clinical trials in the EU recently evolved. The EU CTR adopted in April 2014 became applicable on January 31, 2022 and repeals the EU Clinical Trials Directive. While the Clinical Trials Directive required a separate CTA to be submitted in each member state, to both the competent national health authority and an independent ethics committee, the CTR introduces a centralized process and only requires the submission of a single application to all member states concerned. The CTR allows sponsors to make a single submission to both the competent authority and an ethics committee in each member state, leading to a single decision per member state. The assessment procedure of the CTA has been harmonized as well, including a joint assessment by all member states concerned, and a separate assessment by each member state with respect to specific requirements related to its own territory, including ethics rules. Each member state’s decision is communicated to the sponsor via the centralized EU portal. Once the CTA is approved, clinical study development may proceed. The CTR foresees a three-year transition period. The extent to which ongoing and new clinical trials will be governed by the CTR varies. For clinical trials whose CTA was made under the Clinical Trials Directive before January 31, 2022, the Clinical Trials Directive will continue to apply on a transitional basis for three years. Additionally, sponsors may still choose to submit a CTA under either the Clinical Trials Directive or the CTR until January 31, 2023 and, if authorized, those will be governed by the Clinical Trials Directive until January 31, 2025. By that date, all ongoing trials will become subject to the provisions of the CTR. Compliance with the CTR requirements by us and our third-party service providers, such as CRO, may impact our development plans.
It is currently unclear to what extent the UK will seek to align its regulations with the EU. The UK regulatory framework in relation to clinical trials is derived from existing EU legislation (as implemented into UK law, through secondary legislation). On January 17, 2022, the MHRA launched an eight-week consultation on reframing the UK legislation for clinical trials. The consultation closes on March 14, 2022 and aims to streamline clinical trials approvals, enable innovation, enhance clinical trials transparency, enable greater risk proportionality, and promote patient and public involvement in clinical trials. The outcome of the consultation will be closely watched and will determine whether the UK chooses to align with the regulation or diverge from it to maintain regulatory flexibility. A decision by the UK not to closely align its regulations with the new approach that will be adopted in the EU may have an effect on the cost of conducting clinical trials in the UK as opposed to other countries and/or make it harder to seek an MA in the EU for our product candidates on the basis of clinical trials conducted in the UK.
If we are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies governing clinical trials, our development plans may also be impacted.
The affected populations for our product candidates may be smaller than we or third parties currently project, which may affect the addressable markets for our product candidates.
Our projections of the number of people who have the diseases we are seeking to treat, as well as the subset of people with these diseases who have the potential to benefit from treatment with our product candidates, are estimates based on our knowledge and understanding of these diseases. The total addressable market opportunity for our product candidates will ultimately depend upon a number of factors including the diagnosis and treatment criteria included in the final label, if approved for sale in specified indications, acceptance by the medical community, patient access and product pricing and reimbursement. Incidence and prevalence estimates are frequently based on information and assumptions that are not exact and may not be appropriate, and the methodology is forward-looking and speculative. The process we have used in developing an estimated incidence and prevalence range for the indications we are targeting has involved collating limited data from multiple sources. Accordingly, the incidence and prevalence estimates included, or supporting the information, in our SEC filings and other materials should be viewed with caution. Further, the data and statistical information included, or supporting the information, in our SEC filings and other materials, including estimates derived from them, may differ from information and estimates made by our competitors or from current or future studies conducted by independent sources.
The use of such data involves risks and uncertainties and is subject to change based on various factors. Our estimates may prove to be incorrect and new studies may change the estimated incidence or prevalence of the diseases we seek to address. The number of patients with the diseases we are targeting in the United States, the UK, the EU and elsewhere may turn out to be lower than expected or may not be otherwise amenable to treatment with our products, or new patients may become increasingly difficult to identify or access, all of which would harm our results of operations and our business.
Negative public opinion of gene therapy and increased regulatory scrutiny of gene therapy and genetic research may adversely impact public perception of our current and future product candidates.
Our potential therapeutic products involve introducing genetic material into patients’ cells. The clinical and commercial success of our potential products will depend in part on public acceptance of the use of gene therapy and gene regulation for the prevention or treatment of human diseases. Public attitudes may be influenced by claims that gene therapy and gene regulation are unsafe, unethical, or immoral, and, consequently, our products may not gain the acceptance of the public or the medical community. Public attitudes may adversely impact our ability to enroll clinical trials. Moreover, our success will depend upon physicians prescribing, and their patients being willing to receive, treatments that involve the use of product candidates we may develop in lieu of, or in addition to, existing treatments with which they are already familiar and for which greater clinical data may be available.
More restrictive government regulations or negative public opinion would have a negative effect on our business or financial condition and may delay or impair the development and commercialization of our product candidates or demand for any products once approved. For example, in 2003, trials using early versions of murine gamma-retroviral vectors, which integrate with, and thereby alter, the host cell’s DNA, have led to several well-publicized adverse events, including reported cases of leukemia. Although none of our current product candidates utilize murine gamma-retroviral vectors, our product candidates use a viral delivery system. Adverse events in our clinical trials, even if not ultimately attributable to our product candidates, and the resulting publicity could result in increased governmental regulation, unfavorable public perception, potential regulatory delays in the testing or approval of our product candidates or the halting of clinical trials, stricter labeling requirements for those product candidates that are approved and a decrease in demand for any such product candidates. The risk of cancer remains a concern for gene therapy and we cannot assure that it will not occur in any of our planned or future clinical trials. In addition, there is the potential risk of delayed adverse events following exposure to gene therapy products due to persistent biological activity of the genetic material or other components of products used to carry the genetic material. If any such adverse events occur, commercialization of our product candidates or further advancement of our clinical trials could be halted or delayed, which would have a negative impact on our business and operations.
We may fail to maintain the benefits of certain regulatory designations that we have obtained for our product candidates, and may in the future seek and fail to obtain such designations for other of our current or potential future product candidates. Even if such designations are obtained, they may not lead to faster development or regulatory review or approval, and they do not increase the likelihood that our product candidates will receive marketing approval.
A sponsor may seek approval of its product candidate under programs designed to accelerate the FDA’s review and approval of new drugs and biological products that meet certain criteria. For example, the FDA has a Fast Track designation program that is intended to expedite or facilitate the process for reviewing new products that meet certain criteria. Specifically, new drugs and biological products are eligible for Fast Track designation if they are intended to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition and demonstrate the potential to address unmet medical needs. Fast Track designation applies to the combination of the product and the specific indication for which it is being studied. For product candidates with Fast Track designation, sponsors may be eligible for more frequent meetings with the FDA to discuss the candidate’s development plan and more frequent written communication from the FDA about such things as the design of the proposed clinical trials and use of biomarkers. In addition, the FDA may consider for review sections of the BLA on a rolling basis before the complete application is submitted if relevant criteria are satisfied, including an agreement with FDA on the proposed schedule for the submission of portions of the BLA, and the payment of applicable user fees before FDA may initiate a review. Even if Fast Track designation is granted, it may be rescinded if the product no longer meets the qualifying criteria. In April 2018, botaretigene sparoparvovec was issued Fast Track designation by the FDA for the treatment of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa owing to defects in RPGR. In August 2018, AAV-CNGB3 was issued Fast Track designation by the FDA for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by CNGB3 mutations. In January 2021, AAV-CNGA3 was issued Fast Track designation by the FDA for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by CNGA3 mutations.
Similarly, the EMA has established the PRIME scheme to expedite the development and review of product candidates that show a potential to address to a significant extent an unmet medical need, based on early clinical data. In February 2018, AAV-CNGB3 in the treatment of achromatopsia associated with defects in CNGB3 was admitted to the PRIME scheme of the EMA. In February 2020, botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa owing to defects in RPGR was admitted to the PRIME scheme of the EMA.
A sponsor may also seek an RMAT designation for its product candidates. In 2017, the FDA established the RMAT designation as part of its implementation of the 21st Century Cures Act. A biological product is eligible for RMAT designation if it qualifies as an RMAT, which is defined as a cell therapy, therapeutic tissue engineering product, human cell and tissue product, or any combination product using such therapies or products, with limited exceptions, and is intended to treat, modify, reverse, or cure a serious or life-threatening disease or condition and for which preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the biological product has the potential to address unmet medical needs for such a disease or condition. In a February 2019 guidance, the FDA also stated that certain gene therapies that lead to a sustained effect on cells or tissues may meet the definition of a regenerative medicine therapy. RMAT designation provides potential benefits that include more frequent meetings with FDA to discuss the development plan for the product candidate, and eligibility for rolling review and priority review. Products granted RMAT designation may also be eligible for accelerated approval on the basis of a surrogate or intermediate endpoint reasonably likely to predict long-term clinical benefit, or reliance upon data obtained from a meaningful number of sites, including through expansion to additional sites. RMAT-designated products that receive accelerated approval may, as appropriate, fulfill their post-approval requirements through the submission of clinical evidence, clinical trials, patient registries, or other sources of real world evidence (such as electronic health records); through the collection of larger confirmatory data sets; or via post-approval monitoring of all patients treated with such therapy prior to approval of the therapy.
Such regulatory designations are within the discretion of the FDA, MHRA, EMA and other regulatory authorities. Accordingly, even if we believe one of our product candidates meets the criteria for such regulatory programs designed to accelerate the review and approval of new drugs and we seek such designations, the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other applicable regulatory authority may disagree and instead determine not to make such designation for such product candidate. We cannot be sure that our evaluation of our product candidates as qualifying for such regulatory designations
will meet the regulatory authority’s expectations. In any event, the receipt of such regulatory designations for a product candidate may not result in a faster development process, review, or approval compared to product candidates considered for approval under conventional regulatory procedures and does not assure ultimate approval by the regulatory authorities. In addition, even if additional product candidates are granted such regulatory designations, the regulatory authority may later decide that such product candidates no longer meet the conditions for qualification or decide that the time period for review or approval will not be shortened.
We have received orphan drug designation from the FDA and European Commission for AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3, AAV-RPE65, botaretigene sparoparvovec, AAV-AIPL1, AAV-RDH12 and from the FDA for AAV-hAQP1, and we may seek orphan drug designation for additional product candidates in the future, but any orphan drug designations we have received or may receive in the future may not confer marketing exclusivity or other expected benefits.
Under the Orphan Drug Act, the FDA may designate a product as an orphan drug if it is intended to treat a rare disease or condition, defined as one occurring in a patient population of fewer than 200,000 in the United States, or a patient population greater than 200,000 in the United States where there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing the drug will be recovered from sales in the United States. In the EU, the European Commission grants orphan drug designation on the basis of the EMA’s Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products opinion. A medicinal product may be designated as orphan if (1) it is intended for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of a life-threatening or chronically debilitating condition; (2) either (a) such condition affects no more than five in 10,000 persons in the EU when the application is made, or (b) the product, without the benefits derived from orphan status, would not generate sufficient return in the EU to justify investment; and (3) there exists no satisfactory method of diagnosis, prevention or treatment, of such condition authorized for marketing in the EU, or if such a method exists, the product will be of significant benefit to those affected by the condition.
In the United States, orphan drug designation entitles a party to financial incentives such as opportunities for grant funding towards clinical trial costs, tax credits for qualified clinical testing, and user-fee waivers. In addition, if a product receives the first FDA approval of that drug for the indication for which it has orphan designation, the product is entitled to orphan drug exclusivity, which means the FDA may not approve any other application to market the same drug for the same disease or condition for a period of seven years, except in limited circumstances, such as a showing of clinical superiority over the product with orphan exclusivity or where the manufacturer is unable to assure the availability of sufficient quantities of the orphan drug to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition. Under the FDA’s regulations, the FDA will deny orphan drug exclusivity to a designated drug upon approval if the FDA has already approved another drug with the same principal molecular structural features, in the case of a biologic, for the same indication, unless the drug is demonstrated to be clinically superior to the previously approved drug. In the EU, orphan drug designation entitles a party to financial incentives such as reduction of fees or fee waivers and ten years of market exclusivity following approval for the approved therapeutic indication. This period may be reduced to six years if, at the end of the fifth year, the orphan drug designation criteria are no longer met, including where it is shown that the drug is sufficiently profitable not to justify maintenance of market exclusivity. In the EU, an MA for an orphan designated product will not be granted if a similar drug has been approved in the EU for the same therapeutic indication, unless the applicant can establish that its product is safer, more effective or otherwise clinically superior. A similar drug is a product containing a similar active substance or substances as those contained in an already authorized product. Similar active substance is defined as an identical active substance, or an active substance with the same principal molecular structural features (but not necessarily all of the same molecular features) and which acts via the same mechanism.
Products with an orphan designation in the EU may be considered for a Great Britain orphan marketing authorization. However, where centrally authorized MAs have an existing EU orphan designation, these have been converted into Great Britain MAs and shall continue in effect with the remaining period of orphan market exclusivity. Since the end of the Brexit transition period, there has been no route to obtain pre-MA orphan designation in Great Britain, however, as a result of the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, EU orphan drug designation and time periods of market exclusivity still remain valid for marketing products in Northern Ireland. Instead, the MHRA
now reviews applications for Great Britain orphan designation in parallel with the corresponding MA application. Market exclusivity periods between those approved by the MHRA may vary to products which already have an EU orphan designation.
We have obtained orphan drug designation from the FDA and European Commission for AAV-CNGB3 for the treatment of achromatopsia caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene, for AAV-CNGA3 for the treatment of achromatopsia due to autosomal-recessive CNGA3 gene mutations, for AAV-RPE65 for the treatment of Leber congenital amaurosis, for botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, for AAV-AIPL1 for the treatment of inherited retinal dystrophy due to defects in AIPL1 gene and for AAV-RDH12 for the treatment of retinol dehydrogenase 12 (RDH12) mutation-associated retinal dystrophy, and we obtained orphan drug designation from the FDA for AAV-hAQP1 for the treatment of grade 2 and grade 3 late xerostomia from parotid gland hypofunction caused by radiotherapy. We may seek orphan drug designation for other current and future product candidates. Even with orphan drug designation, we may not be the first to obtain marketing approval for any particular orphan indication due to the uncertainties associated with developing pharmaceutical products, which could prevent us from marketing our product candidates if another company is able to obtain orphan drug exclusivity before we do. In addition, exclusive marketing rights in the United States and the EU may be unavailable if we seek approval for an indication broader than the orphan-designated indication or may be lost in the United States or EU if the FDA or foreign authorities later determine that the request for designation was materially defective or if we are unable to assure sufficient quantities of the drug to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition following approval. Further, even if we obtain orphan drug exclusivity, that exclusivity may not effectively protect our product candidates from competition because different biologics with different active principal molecular structural features can be approved for the same condition. In addition, the FDA can subsequently approve products with the same principal molecular structural features, in the case of a biologic, for the same condition if the FDA concludes that the later product is safer, more effective, or makes a major contribution to patient care. Likewise, in the EU and Great Britain, the European Commission or MHRA, respectively, can approve a similar product for the same therapeutic indication, if it concludes that the later product is safer, more effective or clinically superior. Orphan drug designation neither shortens the development time or regulatory review time of a drug nor gives the drug any advantage in the regulatory review or approval process. In addition, while we intend to seek orphan drug designation for other existing and future product candidates, we may never receive such designations. There have been legal challenges to aspects of the FDA’s regulations and policies concerning the exclusivity provisions of the Orphan Drug Act, and future challenges could lead to changes that affect the protections afforded our product candidates in ways that are difficult to predict. It is uncertain how ongoing and future challenges might affect our business.
We and our contract manufacturers for plasmid are subject to significant regulation with respect to manufacturing our products. Our manufacturing facilities and the third-party manufacturing facilities which we rely on may not continue to meet regulatory requirements and have limited capacity.
We currently have relationships with a limited number of suppliers for the manufacturing of plasmid, a component of our viral vectors and product candidates. We completed the fit-out of our first cGMP manufacturing facility in early 2018 and we completed the acquisition of the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility in Shannon, Ireland in January 2021 to expand our manufacturing and supply chain capabilities. However, if we experience slowdowns or problems with our completed facility or the development and startup of our new facilities and are unable to establish or scale our internal manufacturing capabilities, we will need to continue to contract with manufacturers that can produce the preclinical, clinical and commercial supply of our products. Each supplier may require licenses to manufacture such components if such processes are not owned by the supplier or in the public domain and we may be unable to transfer or sublicense the intellectual property rights we may have with respect to such activities.
All entities involved in the preparation of therapeutics for clinical trials or commercial sale, including our existing contract manufacturers for components of our product candidates, are subject to extensive regulation. Components of a finished therapeutic product approved for commercial sale or used in late-stage clinical trials must be manufactured in accordance with cGMP. These regulations govern manufacturing processes and procedures (including record keeping) and
the implementation and operation of quality systems to control and assure the quality of investigational products and products approved for sale. Poor control of production processes can lead to the introduction of adventitious agents or other contaminants, or to inadvertent changes in the properties or stability of our product candidates that may not be detectable in final product testing. We or our contract manufacturers must supply all necessary documentation in support of a BLA or MAA on a timely basis. Our facilities and quality systems and the facilities and quality systems of some or all of our third-party contractors must pass a pre-approval inspection for compliance with the applicable regulations as a condition of regulatory approval of our product candidates or any of our other potential products. In addition, the regulatory authorities may, at any time, audit or inspect a manufacturing facility involved with the preparation of our product candidates or our other potential products or the associated quality systems for compliance with the regulations applicable to the activities being conducted. If these facilities do not pass a pre-approval plant inspection, FDA, MHRA or other regulatory approval of the products will not be granted.
If any such inspection or audit identifies a failure to comply with applicable regulations or if a violation of our product specifications or applicable regulations occurs independent of such an inspection or audit, we or the relevant regulatory authority may require remedial measures that may be costly and/or time-consuming for us or a third party to implement and that may include the temporary or permanent suspension of a clinical trial or commercial sales or the temporary or permanent closure of a facility. Any such remedial measures imposed upon us or third parties with whom we contract could harm our business. If we or any of our third-party manufacturers fail to maintain regulatory compliance, the FDA, MHRA or other regulatory authorities can impose regulatory sanctions including, among other things, refusal to approve a pending application for a new drug product or biologic product, or revocation of a pre-existing approval. As a result, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be harmed. Additionally, if supply from one approved manufacturer is interrupted, there could be a significant disruption in commercial supply. An alternative manufacturer would need to be qualified through a BLA and/or MAA supplement which could result in further delay. The regulatory agencies may also require additional studies if a new manufacturer is relied upon for commercial production. Switching manufacturers may involve substantial costs and is likely to result in a delay in our desired clinical and commercial timelines.
These factors could cause the delay of clinical trials, regulatory submissions, required approvals or commercialization of our product candidates, cause us to incur higher costs and prevent us from commercializing our products successfully. Furthermore, if our suppliers fail to meet contractual requirements, and we are unable to secure one or more replacement suppliers capable of production at a substantially equivalent cost, our clinical trials may be delayed, or we could lose potential revenue.
Any contamination in our manufacturing process, shortages of raw materials or failure of our plasmid supplier to deliver necessary components, or other issues with the manufacturing process, could result in delays in our clinical development or marketing schedules.
Given the nature of biologics manufacturing, there is a risk of contamination. Any contamination could adversely affect our ability to produce product candidates on schedule and could, therefore, harm our results of operations and cause reputational damage. Some of the raw materials required in our manufacturing process are derived from biologic sources. Such raw materials are difficult to procure and may be subject to contamination or recall. In addition, our manufacturing process is complex, and the manufacturing batch cycle period can be several weeks long. Each batch cycle may not yield planned quantities or meet the required standards. A material shortage, contamination, recall or restriction on the use of biologically derived substances in the manufacture of our product candidates, failure of manufacturing equipment or systems or other issues with our manufacturing process, could adversely impact or disrupt the commercial manufacturing or the production of clinical material, which could adversely affect our development timelines and our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
Expanding our manufacturing capacity has and will continue to be costly and we may be unsuccessful in doing so in a timely manner, which could delay our current and future clinical development programs, or delay the commercialization of our product candidates.
In addition to our existing manufacturing facility in London, United Kingdom, we may lease, operate, purchase, or construct additional facilities to conduct expanded manufacturing or other related activities in the future. In January 2021, we completed the acquisition of the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility in Shannon, Ireland. Expanding our manufacturing capacity to produce the preclinical, clinical and commercial supply of our products and their components will require completing the development and startup of our new facilities in Ireland, substantial additional expenditures, time, and various regulatory approvals and permits, all of which may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, we will need to hire and train significant numbers of employees and managerial personnel to staff our expanding manufacturing and supply chain operations, including in our new facilities in Ireland. Start-up costs can be large and may exceed our expectations, and scale-up entails significant risks related to process development and manufacturing yields. In addition, we may face difficulties or delays in developing or acquiring the necessary production equipment and technology to manufacture sufficient quantities of our product candidates for use in clinical trials and, should they be approved, to supply the commercial market at reasonable costs and in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements. We may not successfully expand or establish sufficient manufacturing capabilities or manufacture our products economically or in compliance with cGMP and other regulatory requirements, and we and our collaborators may not be able to build or procure additional capacity in the required timeframe to meet the requirements of our clinical programs or to meet potential commercial demand for our product candidates. This could also delay or require us to discontinue one or more of our clinical development programs or could interfere with our efforts to successfully commercialize our products. As a result, our business, prospects, operating results, and financial condition could be materially harmed.
If we encounter difficulties enrolling patients in our clinical trials, our clinical development activities could be delayed or otherwise adversely affected.
The timely completion of clinical trials in accordance with their protocols depends, among other things, on our ability to enroll a sufficient number of patients who remain in the study until its conclusion. The natural history studies may fail to provide us with patients for our clinical trials because patients enrolled in the natural history studies may not be good candidates for our clinical trials or may choose to not enroll in our clinical trials. We may encounter delays in enrolling, or be unable to enroll, a sufficient number of patients to complete any of our clinical trials, and even once enrolled we may be unable to retain a sufficient number of patients to complete any of our trials. This may result in increased costs, program delays or both, which could have a harmful effect on our ability to develop our product candidates, or could render further development impossible. The enrollment of patients depends on many factors, including:
|●||the size and nature of the patient population;|
|●||the patient eligibility criteria defined in the protocol;|
|●||the size of the patient population required for analysis of the trial’s primary endpoints;|
|●||the proximity of patients to study sites;|
|●||the design of the trial or side effects that may arise in development;|
|●||our ability to recruit clinical trial investigators with the appropriate competencies and experience;|
|●||clinicians’ and patients’ perceptions as to the potential advantages of the product candidate being studied in relation to other available therapies, including any new products that may be approved for the indications we are investigating;|
|●||our ability to obtain and maintain patient consents;|
|●||the risk that patients enrolled in clinical trials will drop out of the trials before completion; and|
|●||business interruptions resulting from geopolitical actions, including war and terrorism, or widespread health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods and fires, or from economic or political instability.|
In addition, other clinical trials for product candidates that are in the same therapeutic areas as our product candidates or approved products for the same clinical indications (such as Luxturna marketed by Spark Therapeutics, Inc. for the treatment of RPE65-associated retinal disease) may reduce the number and type of patients available to us.
Our product candidates may cause serious adverse events or undesirable side effects or have other properties which may delay or prevent their regulatory approval, limit the commercial profile of an approved label, or, result in significant negative consequences following marketing approval, if any.
Serious adverse events or undesirable side effects caused by our product candidates could cause us or regulatory authorities to interrupt, delay or halt clinical trials and could result in a more restrictive label or the delay or denial of regulatory approval by the FDA, MHRA or other authorities. Results of our clinical trials could reveal a high and unacceptable severity and prevalence of side effects, toxicities or unexpected characteristics, including death. A risk in any gene therapy product based on viral vectors is the risk of insertional mutagenesis.
If unacceptable side effects or deaths arise in the development of our product candidates, we, the FDA, the IRBs at the institutions in which our studies are conducted, DSMB, or other regulatory bodies could suspend or terminate our clinical trials or the FDA, MHRA or other regulatory authorities could order us to cease clinical trials or deny approval of our product candidates for any or all targeted indications. Undesirable side effects or deaths in clinical trials with our product candidates may cause the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities to place a clinical hold on the associated clinical trials, to require additional studies, or otherwise to delay or deny approval of our product candidates for any or all targeted indications. Treatment-related side effects could also affect patient recruitment or the ability of enrolled patients to complete the trial or result in potential product liability claims. In addition, these side effects may not be appropriately recognized or managed by the treating medical staff. We expect to have to train medical personnel using our product candidates to understand the side effect profiles for our clinical trials and upon any commercialization of any of our product candidates. Inadequate training in recognizing or managing the potential side effects of our product candidates could result in patient injury or death. Any of these occurrences may harm our business, financial condition and prospects significantly.
If any of our product candidates receives marketing approval, and we or others later identify undesirable side effects caused by any such product, including during any long-term follow-up observation period recommended or required for patients who receive treatment using our products, a number of potentially significant negative consequences could result, including:
|●||regulatory authorities may withdraw approvals of such product;|
|●||we may be required to recall a product or change the way such product is administered to patients;|
|●||additional restrictions may be imposed on the marketing of the particular product or the manufacturing processes for the product;|
|●||regulatory authorities may require additional warnings on the label, such as a “black box” warning or contraindication;|
|●||we may be required to implement a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS, or create a medication guide outlining the risks of such side effects for distribution to patients or similar risk management measures;|
|●||the product could become less competitive;|
|●||we could be sued and held liable for harm caused to patients; and|
|●||our reputation may suffer.|
Any of these events could prevent us from achieving or maintaining market acceptance of the particular product candidate, if approved, and could significantly harm our business, results of operations and prospects.
Success in preclinical studies or clinical trials may not be indicative of results in future clinical trials.
Results from previous preclinical studies or clinical trials are not necessarily predictive of future clinical trial results, and interim results of a clinical trial are not necessarily indicative of final results. Our product candidates may fail to show the desired safety and efficacy in clinical development despite positive results in preclinical studies or having successfully advanced through initial clinical trials.
Success in preclinical testing and early clinical trials does not ensure that later clinical trials will generate the same results or otherwise provide adequate data to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of a product candidate.
Frequently, product candidates that have shown promising results in early clinical trials have subsequently suffered significant setbacks in later clinical trials. In addition, the design of a clinical trial can determine whether its results will support approval of a product and flaws in the design of a clinical trial may not become apparent until the clinical trial is well advanced. We have limited experience designing clinical trials and may be unable to design and execute a clinical trial to support regulatory approval. There is a high failure rate for drugs and biologic products proceeding through clinical trials. Data obtained from preclinical and clinical activities are subject to varying interpretations, which may delay, limit or prevent regulatory approval, which could negatively impact our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
The regulatory approval processes of the FDA, MHRA, competent authorities in the EU and other regulatory authorities are lengthy, time consuming and inherently unpredictable, and if we are ultimately unable to obtain regulatory approval for our product candidates, our business will be substantially harmed.
The time required to obtain approval by the FDA, MHRA, European Commission and other regulatory authorities is unpredictable but typically takes many years following the commencement of clinical trials and depends upon numerous factors, including the substantial discretion of the regulatory authorities. In addition, approval policies, regulations, or the type and amount of clinical data necessary to gain approval may change during the course of a product candidate’s clinical development and may vary among jurisdictions. For instance, the EU pharmaceutical legislation is currently undergoing a complete review process, in the context of the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe initiative, launched by the European Commission in November 2020. A proposal for revision of several legislative instruments related to medicinal products (potentially revising the duration of regulatory exclusivity, eligibility for expedited pathways, etc.) is expected to be adopted by the European Commission by the end of 2022. The proposed revisions, once they are agreed and adopted by the European Parliament and European Council (not expected before the end of 2024) may have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry in the long term.
We have not obtained regulatory approval for any product candidate and it is possible that none of our product candidates in clinical programs or any other product candidates we may seek to develop in the future will ever obtain regulatory approval. Neither we nor any future collaborator is permitted to market any of our product candidates in the United States, the UK or the EU until we receive regulatory approval of a BLA from the FDA or an MAA from the MHRA or European Commission, respectively. It is possible that the FDA may refuse to accept for substantive review any BLAs, or the MHRA or EMA any of our MAAs, that we submit for our product candidates or may conclude after review of our data that our application is insufficient to obtain marketing approval of our product candidates.
Prior to obtaining approval to commercialize a product candidate in the United States, the UK, the EU or elsewhere, we or our collaborators must demonstrate with substantial evidence from well-controlled clinical trials, and to the satisfaction of the FDA, MHRA, EMA or foreign regulatory agencies, that such product candidates are safe and effective for their intended uses. Results from nonclinical studies and clinical trials can be interpreted in different ways. Even if we believe the nonclinical or clinical data for our product candidates are promising, such data may not be sufficient to support approval by the FDA, MHRA, European Commission or other regulatory authorities. The FDA, MHRA or EMA may also require us to conduct additional preclinical studies or clinical trials for our product candidates either prior to or post-approval, or it may object to elements of our clinical development program. Depending on the extent of these or any other FDA, MHRA or EMA required studies, approval of any regulatory approval applications that we submit may be delayed by several years, or may require us to expend significantly more resources than we have available.
Of the large number of potential products in development, only a small percentage successfully complete the FDA, MHRA, or other foreign regulatory approval processes and are commercialized. The lengthy approval process as well as the unpredictability of future clinical trial results may result in our failing to obtain regulatory approval to market our product candidates, which would significantly harm our business, results of operations and prospects.
Even if we and / or our collaboration partners, as applicable, obtain FDA, MHRA or European Commission approval for AAV-GAD, botaretigene sparoparvovec, AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3, AAV-RPE65, AAV-hAQP1 or our other product candidates in the United States, UK or EU, we may never obtain approval for or commercialize them in any other jurisdiction, which would limit our ability to realize their full market potential.
In order to market any products in any particular jurisdiction, we must establish and comply with numerous and varying regulatory requirements on a country-by-country basis regarding safety and efficacy. Approval by the FDA in the United States, the MHRA in the UK or the competent authorities in the EU does not ensure approval by regulatory authorities in other countries or jurisdictions. However, the failure to obtain approval in one jurisdiction may negatively impact our ability to obtain approval elsewhere. In addition, clinical trials conducted in one country may not be accepted by regulatory authorities in other countries, and regulatory approval in one country does not guarantee regulatory approval in any other country.
Approval processes vary among countries and can involve additional product testing and validation and additional administrative review periods. Seeking foreign regulatory approval could result in difficulties and increased costs for us and require additional preclinical studies or clinical trials which could be costly and time consuming. Regulatory requirements can vary widely from country to country and could delay or prevent the introduction of our products in those countries. We do not have any product candidates approved for sale in any jurisdiction, including in international markets, and we do not have experience in obtaining regulatory approval in international markets. If we fail to comply with regulatory requirements in international markets or to obtain and maintain required approvals, or if regulatory approvals in international markets are delayed, our target market will be reduced and our ability to realize the full market potential of any product we develop will be unrealized.
Even if we receive regulatory approval of one or more of our product candidates, we will be subject to ongoing regulatory obligations and continued regulatory review, which may result in significant additional expense, and we may be subject to penalties if we fail to comply with regulatory requirements or experience unanticipated problems with our product candidates.
Any product candidate for which we obtain marketing approval, along with the manufacturing processes, post-approval clinical data, labeling, packaging, distribution, adverse event reporting, storage, recordkeeping, export, import, advertising and promotional activities for such product, among other things, will be subject to extensive and ongoing requirements of and review by the FDA, MHRA and other regulatory authorities. These requirements include submissions of safety and other post-marketing information and reports, establishment registration and drug listing requirements, continued compliance with cGMP and similar requirements relating to manufacturing, quality control, quality assurance and corresponding maintenance of records and documents, requirements regarding the distribution of samples to physicians and recordkeeping and GCP requirements for any clinical trials that we conduct post-approval.
The FDA, MHRA and other regulatory authorities closely regulate the post-approval marketing and promotion of genetic therapy medicines to ensure they are marketed only for the approved indications and in accordance with the provisions of the approved labeling. The FDA, MHRA and other regulatory authorities impose stringent restrictions on manufacturers’ communications regarding off-label use and if we market our products for uses beyond their approved indications, we may be subject to enforcement action for off-label marketing. Violations of the U.S. federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, or FDCA, relating to the promotion of prescription drugs may lead to FDA enforcement actions and investigations alleging violations of federal and state health care fraud and abuse laws, as well as state consumer protection laws. Similar risks apply in foreign jurisdictions.
In addition, later discovery of previously unknown adverse events or other problems with our products, manufacturers or manufacturing processes, including adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or with our manufacturing processes or third-party manufacturers, or failure to comply with regulatory requirements, may yield various results, including:
|●||restrictions on manufacturing such products;|
|●||restrictions on the labeling or marketing of a product;|
|●||restrictions on product distribution or use;|
|●||requirements to conduct post-marketing studies or clinical trials;|
|●||warning letters or holds on clinical trials;|
|●||withdrawal of the products from the market;|
|●||refusal to approve pending applications or supplements to approved applications that we submit;|
|●||recall of products;|
|●||fines, restitution or disgorgement of profits or revenues;|
|●||suspension or withdrawal of marketing approvals;|
|●||refusal to permit the import or export of our products;|
|●||product seizure or detention; or|
|●||injunctions or the imposition of civil or criminal penalties.|
The FDA’s and foreign regulatory authorities’ policies may change and additional government regulations may be enacted that could prevent, limit or delay regulatory approval of our product candidates. We also cannot predict the likelihood, nature or extent of government regulation that may arise from future legislation or administrative action, either in the United States or in other countries. If we are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies, or if we are not able to maintain regulatory compliance, we may lose any marketing approval that we may have obtained which would adversely affect our business, prospects and ability to achieve or sustain profitability.
Interim, “topline” and preliminary data from our clinical trials that we announce or publish from time to time may change as more patient data become available and are subject to audit and verification procedures that could result in material changes in the final data.
From time to time, we may publicly disclose preliminary or topline data from our clinical trials, which is based on a preliminary analysis of then-available data, and the results and related findings and conclusions are subject to change following a more comprehensive review of the data related to the particular study or trial. We also make assumptions, estimations, calculations and conclusions as part of our analyses of data, and we may not have received or had the opportunity to fully and carefully evaluate all data. As a result, the topline or preliminary results that we report may differ from future results of the same studies, or different conclusions or considerations may qualify such results, once additional data have been received and fully evaluated. Topline and preliminary data also remain subject to audit and verification procedures that may result in the final data being materially different from the topline or preliminary data we previously published. As a result, topline and preliminary data should be viewed with caution until the final data are available.
From time to time, we may also disclose interim data from our clinical trials. Interim data from these trials that we may complete are subject to the risk that one or more of the clinical outcomes may materially change as subject enrollment continues and more data become available. Adverse differences between interim data and topline, preliminary, or final data could significantly harm our business prospects. Further, disclosure of interim data by us or by our competitors could result in volatility in the price of our common stock.
Further, others, including regulatory agencies, may not accept or agree with our assumptions, estimates, calculations, conclusions or analyses or may interpret or weigh the importance of data differently, which could impact the value of the particular program, the approvability or commercialization of the particular product candidate or product and our company in general. In addition, the information we choose to publicly disclose regarding a particular clinical trial is based on what is typically extensive information, and you or others may not agree with what we determine is material or otherwise appropriate information to include in our disclosure. If the interim, topline, or preliminary data that we report differ from actual results, or if others, including regulatory authorities, disagree with the conclusions reached, our ability to obtain approval for, and commercialize, our product candidates may be harmed, which could harm our business, operating results, prospects or financial condition.
We may expend our limited resources to pursue a particular product candidate or indication and fail to capitalize on product candidates or indications that may be more profitable or for which there is a greater likelihood of success.
Because we have limited financial and managerial resources, we focus on research programs and product candidates that we identify for specific indications. As a result, we may forego or delay pursuit of opportunities with other product candidates or for other indications that later prove to have greater commercial potential. Our resource allocation decisions may cause us to fail to timely capitalize on viable commercial products or profitable market opportunities. Our spending on current and future research and development programs and product candidates for specific indications may not yield any commercially viable products. If we do not accurately evaluate the commercial potential
or target market for a particular product candidate, we may relinquish valuable rights to that product candidate through collaboration, licensing or other royalty arrangements in cases in which it would have been more advantageous for us to retain sole development and commercialization rights to such product candidate.
Changes in funding for, or disruptions caused by global health concerns impacting, the FDA and other government or regulatory agencies could hinder their ability to hire and retain key leadership and other personnel, or otherwise prevent new products and services from being developed, approved or commercialized in a timely manner, which could negatively impact our business.
The ability of the FDA and foreign regulatory authorities to review and approve new products can be affected by a variety of factors, including government budget and funding levels, ability to hire and retain key personnel, including those with experience relating to novel gene therapy product candidates, acceptance of the payment of user fees, statutory, regulatory, and policy changes and other events that may otherwise affect the FDA’s or foreign regulatory authorities’ ability to perform routine functions. Average review times at the FDA and foreign regulatory authorities have fluctuated in recent years as a result. In addition, government funding of other government agencies that fund research and development activities is subject to the political process, which is inherently fluid and unpredictable.
Disruptions at the FDA and other government or regulatory agencies such as the EMA, following its relocation to Amsterdam and related reorganization (including staff changes), may also slow the time necessary for new product candidates to be reviewed and/or approved, which would adversely affect our business. For example, over the last several years, the U.S. government has shut down several times and certain regulatory agencies, such as the FDA, have had to furlough critical FDA employees and stop critical activities. While Congress is currently negotiating a spending bill to extend federal funding through September 30, 2022, the risk of a U.S. government shutdown remains a probability if Congress cannot reach an agreement before the current short-term spending bill expires.
Separately, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020 the FDA announced its intention to postpone most inspections of foreign manufacturing facilities and products and also temporarily postponed routine surveillance inspections of domestic manufacturing facilities. Subsequently, in July 2020, the FDA resumed certain on-site inspections of domestic manufacturing facilities subject to a risk-based prioritization system. The FDA utilized this risk-based assessment system to assist in determining when and where it is safest to conduct prioritized domestic inspections. Additionally, on April 15, 2021, the FDA issued a guidance document in which the FDA described its plans to conduct voluntary remote interactive evaluations of certain drug manufacturing facilities and clinical research sites, among other facilities. According to the guidance, the FDA may request such remote interactive evaluations where the FDA determines that remote evaluation would be appropriate based on mission needs and travel limitations. In May 2021, the FDA outlined a detailed plan to move toward a more consistent state of inspectional operations, and in July 2021, the FDA resumed standard inspectional operations of domestic facilities and was continuing to maintain this level of operation as of September 2021. More recently, the FDA has continued to monitor and implement changes to its inspectional activities to ensure the safety of its employees and those of the firms it regulates as it adapts to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Regulatory authorities outside the U.S. have adopted similar restrictions or other policy measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and may experience delays in their regulatory activities. If a prolonged government shutdown occurs, or if global health concerns continue to prevent the FDA or other regulatory authorities from conducting business as usual or conducting inspections, reviews or other regulatory activities, it could significantly impact the ability of such regulatory authorities to timely review and process our regulatory submissions, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.
Risks Related to Healthcare Laws and Other Legal Compliance Matters
Enacted and future healthcare legislation may increase the difficulty and cost for us to obtain marketing approval of and commercialize our product candidates and may affect the prices we may set.
In the United States, the UK, the EU and other jurisdictions, there have been, and we expect there will continue to be, a number of legislative and regulatory changes and proposed changes to the healthcare system that could affect our future results of operations. In particular, there have been and continue to be a number of initiatives at the U.S. federal and state levels that seek to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of healthcare. For example, in March 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, or collectively the ACA, was enacted, which substantially changed the way healthcare is financed by both governmental and private insurers. Among the provisions of the ACA, those of greatest importance to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries include the following:
|●||an annual, non-deductible fee payable by any entity that manufactures or imports certain branded prescription drugs and biologic agents (other than those designated as orphan drugs), which is apportioned among these entities according to their market share in certain government healthcare programs;|
|●||a new methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program are calculated for drugs that are inhaled, infused, instilled, implanted or injected;|
|●||expansion of eligibility criteria for Medicaid programs by, among other things, allowing states to offer Medicaid coverage to certain individuals with income at or below 133% of the federal poverty level, thereby potentially increasing a manufacturer’s Medicaid rebate liability;|
|●||a licensure framework for follow on biologic products;|
|●||a new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to oversee, identify priorities in, and conduct comparative clinical effectiveness research, along with funding for such research; and|
|●||establishment of a Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, to test innovative payment and service delivery models to lower Medicare and Medicaid spending, potentially including prescription drug spending.|
Since its enactment, there have been judicial, Congressional and executive branch challenges to certain aspects of the ACA. On June 17, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the most recent judicial challenge to the ACA brought by several states without specifically ruling on the constitutionality of the ACA. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Biden issued an executive order to initiate a special enrollment period for purposes of obtaining health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace from February 15, 2021 through August 15, 2021. The executive order also instructed certain governmental agencies to review and reconsider their existing policies and rules that limit access to healthcare, including among others, reexamining Medicaid demonstration projects and waiver programs that include work requirements, and policies that create unnecessary barriers to obtaining access to health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the ACA.
In addition, other legislative changes have been proposed and adopted in the United States since the ACA was enacted. In August 2011, the Budget Control Act of 2011, among other things, led to aggregate reductions of Medicare payments to providers of 2% per fiscal year. These reductions went into effect in April 2013 and, due to subsequent legislative amendments to the statute, will remain in effect through 2030, with the exception of a temporary suspension from May 1, 2020 through December 31, 2021, unless additional action is taken by Congress. In January 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was signed into law, which, among other things, further reduced Medicare
payments to several types of providers, including hospitals, imaging centers and cancer treatment centers, and increased the statute of limitations period for the government to recover overpayments to providers from three to five years. These new laws or any other similar laws introduced in the future may result in additional reductions in Medicare and other health care funding, which could negatively affect our customers and accordingly, our financial operations.
Moreover, payment methodologies may be subject to changes in healthcare legislation and regulatory initiatives. For example, CMS may develop new payment and delivery models, such as bundled payment models. In addition, recently there has been heightened governmental scrutiny over the manner in which manufacturers set prices for their marketed products, which has resulted in several U.S. Congressional inquiries and proposed and enacted federal legislation designed to, among other things, bring more transparency to drug pricing, reduce the cost of prescription drugs under Medicare, and review the relationship between pricing and manufacturer patient programs. We expect that additional U.S. federal healthcare reform measures will be adopted in the future, any of which could limit the amounts that the U.S. federal government will pay for healthcare products and services, which could result in reduced demand for our product candidates or additional pricing pressures.
Individual states in the United States have also increasingly passed legislation and implemented regulations designed to control pharmaceutical and biological product pricing, including price or patient reimbursement constraints, discounts, restrictions on certain product access and marketing cost disclosure and transparency measures, and, in some cases, designed to encourage importation from other countries and bulk purchasing. Legally mandated price controls on payment amounts by third-party payors or other restrictions could harm our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects. In addition, regional healthcare authorities and individual hospitals are increasingly using bidding procedures to determine what pharmaceutical products and which suppliers will be included in their prescription drug and other healthcare programs. This could reduce the ultimate demand for our product candidates or put pressure on our product pricing.
In addition, FDA regulations and guidance may be revised or reinterpreted by the FDA in ways that may significantly affect our business and our products. Any new regulations or guidance, or revisions or reinterpretations of existing regulations or guidance, may impose additional costs or lengthen FDA review times for our product candidates. We cannot determine how changes in regulations, statutes, policies, or interpretations when and if issued, enacted or adopted, may affect our business in the future.
Such changes would likely require substantial time and impose significant costs, or could reduce the potential commercial value of our product candidates, and could materially harm our business and our financial results. In addition, delays in receipt of or failure to receive regulatory clearances or approvals for any other products would harm our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
In the UK and EU, similar political, economic and regulatory developments may affect our ability to profitably commercialize our product candidates, if approved. In addition to continuing pressure on prices and cost containment measures, legislative developments at the UK or the EU or member state level may result in significant additional requirements or obstacles that may increase our operating costs. The delivery of healthcare in the UK and the EU, including the establishment and operation of health services and the pricing and reimbursement of medicines, is almost exclusively a matter for national law and policy. National governments and health service providers have different priorities and approaches to the delivery of health care and the pricing and reimbursement of products in that context. In general, however, the healthcare budgetary constraints in the UK and in most EU member states have resulted in restrictions on the pricing and reimbursement of medicines by relevant health service providers. Coupled with ever-increasing national regulatory burdens on those wishing to develop and market products, this could prevent or delay marketing approval of our product candidates, restrict or regulate post-approval activities and affect our ability to commercialize our product candidates, if approved.
In markets outside of the United States, the UK and the EU, reimbursement and healthcare payment systems vary significantly by country, and many countries have instituted price ceilings on specific products and therapies.
We cannot predict the likelihood, nature or extent of government regulation that may arise from future legislation or administrative action in the United States, the UK the EU or any other jurisdiction. If we or any third parties we may engage are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies, or if we or such third parties are not able to maintain regulatory compliance, our product candidates may lose any regulatory approval that may have been obtained and we may not achieve or sustain profitability.
Our business operations and current and future relationships with investigators, healthcare professionals, consultants, third-party payors, patient organizations and customers will be subject to applicable healthcare regulatory laws, which could expose us to penalties.
Our business operations and current and future arrangements with investigators, healthcare professionals, consultants, third-party payors, patient organizations and customers, may expose us to broadly applicable fraud and abuse laws and other healthcare laws and regulations. These laws may constrain the business or financial arrangements and relationships through which we conduct our operations, including how we research, market, sell and distribute our product candidates, if approved. Such laws include:
|●||the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits, among other things, persons or entities from knowingly and willfully soliciting, offering, receiving or providing any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe, or certain rebate), directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, to induce or reward, or in return for, either the referral of an individual for, or the purchase, lease, order or recommendation of, any good, facility, item or service, for which payment may be made, in whole or in part, under U.S. federal and state healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. A person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation;|
|●||the U.S. federal civil and criminal false claims and civil monetary penalties laws, including the civil False Claims Act, which, among other things, impose criminal and civil penalties, including through civil whistleblower or qui tam actions, against individuals or entities for knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, to the U.S. federal government, claims for payment or approval that are false or fraudulent, knowingly making, using or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim, or from knowingly making a false statement to avoid, decrease or conceal an obligation to pay money to the U.S. federal government. In addition, the government may assert that a claim including items and services resulting from a violation of the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the False Claims Act;|
|●||the U.S. federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which created additional federal criminal statutes which prohibit, among other things, knowingly and willfully executing, or attempting to execute, a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program, or knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing or covering up a material fact or making any materially false statement, in connection with the delivery of, or payment for, healthcare benefits, items or services. Similar to the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, a person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation;|
|●||the FDCA, which prohibits, among other things, the adulteration or misbranding of drugs, biologics and medical devices;|
|●||the U.S. Public Health Service Act, which prohibits, among other things, the introduction into interstate commerce of a biological product unless a biologics license is in effect for that product;|
|●||federal consumer protection and unfair competition laws, which broadly regulate marketplace activities and activities that potentially harm consumers;|
|●||the U.S. Physician Payments Sunshine Act and its implementing regulations, which requires certain manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologics and medical supplies that are reimbursable under Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with specific exceptions, to report annually to the government information related to certain payments and other transfers of value to physicians (defined to include doctors, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors), certain non-physician practitioners (physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologist assistants and certified nurse midwives), and teaching hospitals, as well as ownership and investment interests held by physicians and their immediate family members;|
|●||analogous U.S. state laws and regulations, including: state anti-kickback and false claims laws, which may apply to our business practices, including but not limited to, research, distribution, sales and marketing arrangements and claims involving healthcare items or services reimbursed by any third-party payor, including private insurers; state laws that require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the pharmaceutical industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the relevant compliance guidance promulgated by the U.S. federal government, or otherwise restrict payments that may be made to healthcare providers and other potential referral sources; state laws and regulations that require drug manufacturers to file reports relating to pricing and marketing information, which requires tracking gifts and other remuneration and items of value provided to healthcare professionals and entities; and state and local laws that require the registration of pharmaceutical sales representatives; and|
|●||similar healthcare laws and regulations in the UK, EU and other jurisdictions, including reporting requirements detailing interactions with and payments to healthcare providers.|
Ensuring that our internal operations and future business arrangements with third parties comply with applicable healthcare laws and regulations will involve substantial costs. It is possible that governmental authorities will conclude that our business practices do not comply with current or future statutes, regulations, agency guidance or case law involving applicable fraud and abuse or other healthcare laws and regulations. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of the laws described above or any other governmental laws and regulations that may apply to us, we may be subject to significant penalties, including civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, fines, exclusion from government-funded healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid or similar programs in other countries or jurisdictions, integrity oversight and reporting obligations to resolve allegations of non-compliance, disgorgement, individual imprisonment, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations. If any of the physicians or other providers or entities with whom we expect to do business are found to not be in compliance with applicable laws, they may be subject to criminal, civil or administrative sanctions, including exclusions from government funded healthcare programs and imprisonment, which could affect our ability to operate our business. Further, defending against any such actions can be costly, time-consuming and may require significant personnel resources. Therefore, even if we are successful in defending against any such actions that may be brought against us, our business may be impaired.
We are subject to government laws, regulations, standards and other legal obligations relating to data privacy and security. Compliance with these requirements is complex and costly and our actual or perceived failures to comply could materially harm our business.
The global data protection landscape is rapidly evolving, and we are or may become subject to numerous state, federal and foreign laws, requirements and regulations governing the collection, use, disclosure, retention and security of personal information.
In the U.S., HIPAA imposes privacy, security and breach reporting obligations with respect to individually identifiable health information upon “covered entities” (health plans, health care clearinghouses and certain health care providers), and their respective business associates, individuals or entities that create, receive, maintain or transmit protected health information in connection with providing a service for or on behalf of a covered entity, as well as their covered subcontractors. Most healthcare providers, including research institutions and other vendors from which we may obtain patient health information, are subject to privacy and security regulations promulgated under HIPAA. We do not believe that we are currently acting as a covered entity or business associate under HIPAA and thus are not directly subject to its requirements or penalties. However, depending on the facts and circumstances, we could face substantial criminal penalties if we knowingly receive individually identifiable health information from a HIPAA-covered healthcare provider or research institution that has not satisfied HIPAA’s requirements for disclosure of individually identifiable health information.
In addition, certain state laws govern the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, some of which are more stringent than HIPAA and many of which differ from each other in significant ways and may not have the same effect, thus complicating compliance efforts. Failure to comply with these laws, where applicable, can result in the imposition of significant civil and/or criminal penalties and private litigation. Further, we may also be subject to other state laws governing the privacy, processing and protection of personal information. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA, confers individual privacy rights for California consumers (as such term is defined in the law) and places increased privacy and security obligations on entities handling personal information of consumers or households. The CCPA provides for civil penalties for violations, as well as a private right of action for data breaches that is expected to increase data breach litigation. Further, the California Privacy Rights Act, or the CPRA, was passed in California in November 2020. The CPRA significantly amends the CCPA and will impose additional data protection obligations on covered businesses, including additional consumer rights processes, limitations on data uses, new audit requirements for higher risk data, and opt outs for certain uses of sensitive data. It will also create a new California data protection agency authorized to issue substantive regulations and could result in increased privacy and information security enforcement. The majority of the provisions will go into effect on January 1, 2023, and additional compliance investment and potential business process changes may be required. The CCPA, the CPRA and other domestic privacy and data protection laws and regulations may increase our compliance costs and potential liability.
Our operations abroad may also be subject to increased scrutiny or attention from data protection authorities. For example, the GDPR imposes stringent requirements for processing the personal data of individuals within the European Economic Area, or EEA, which consists of the 27 EU member states plus Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland. Companies that must comply with the GDPR face increased compliance obligations and risk, including more robust regulatory enforcement of data protection requirements and potential fines for noncompliance of up to €20 million or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher, and other administrative penalties.
Among other requirements, the GDPR regulates transfers of personal data subject to the GDPR to third countries that have not been found to provide adequate protection to such personal data, including the U.S. In July 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union, or CJEU, limited how organizations could lawfully transfer personal data from the EEA to the U.S. by invalidating the Privacy Shield for purposes of international transfers and imposing further restrictions on the use of standard contractual clauses (a standard form of contract approved by the European Commission as an adequate personal data transfer mechanism, and potential alternative to the Privacy Shield), or SCCs. The European Commission issued revised SCCs on June 4, 2021 to account for the decision of the CJEU and recommendations made by the European Data Protection Board. The revised SCCs must be used for relevant new data transfers from September 27, 2021. Arrangements using the existing standard contractual clauses must be migrated to the revised clauses by December 27, 2022.The new SCCs apply only to the transfer of personal data outside of the EEA and not the UK; the UK’s Information Commission’s Office launched a public consultation on its draft revised data transfer mechanisms in August 2021 and laid its proposal before the UK Parliament, with the UK SCC’s expected to come into force in March 2022, with a two-year grace period. There is some uncertainty around whether the revised clauses can be used for all types of data transfers,
particularly whether they can be relied on for data transfers to non-EEA entities subject to the GDPR. As supervisory authorities issue further guidance on personal data export mechanisms, including circumstances where the SCCs cannot be used, and/or start taking enforcement action, we could suffer additional costs, complaints and/or regulatory investigations or fines, and/or if we are otherwise unable to transfer personal data between and among countries and regions in which we operate, it could affect the manner in which we provide our services, the geographical location or segregation of our relevant systems and operations, and could adversely affect our financial results.
Further, since the beginning of 2021, after the end of the transition period following the UK’s departure from the EU, we are also subject to the UK data protection regime, which imposes separate but similar obligations to those under the GDPR and comparable penalties, including fines of up to £17.5 million or 4% of a noncompliant company’s global annual revenue for the preceding financial year, whichever is greater. As we continue to expand into other foreign countries and jurisdictions, we may be subject to additional laws and regulations that may affect how we conduct business.
Although we work to comply with applicable laws, regulations and standards, as well as our contractual obligations and other legal obligations, relating to data privacy and security, these requirements are evolving and may be modified, interpreted and applied in an inconsistent manner from one jurisdiction to another, and may conflict with one another or other legal obligations with which we must comply. Any failure or perceived failure by us or our employees, representatives, contractors, consultants, collaborators, or other third parties to comply with such requirements or adequately address privacy and security concerns, even if unfounded, could result in additional cost and liability to us, damage our reputation, and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
We are subject to environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, and we may become exposed to liability and substantial expenses in connection with environmental compliance or remediation activities.
Our operations, including our development, testing and manufacturing activities, are subject to numerous environmental, health and safety laws and regulations. These laws and regulations govern, among other things, the controlled use, handling, release and disposal of and the maintenance of a registry for, hazardous materials and biological materials, such as chemical solvents, human cells, carcinogenic compounds, mutagenic compounds and compounds that have a toxic effect on reproduction, laboratory procedures and exposure to blood-borne pathogens. If we fail to comply with such laws and regulations, we could be subject to fines or other sanctions. Additionally, if environmental regulations are enacted that restrict our ability to use one or more of the materials or compounds necessary to manufacture our product candidates, and we are unable to find suitable alternatives or such alternatives require additional testing or will extend the manufacturing timeline, then we may be unable to manufacture our product candidates in a timely manner, or at all.
We may be subject to environmental liability inherent in our current and historical activities, including liability relating to releases of or exposure to hazardous or biological materials. Environmental, health and safety laws and regulations are becoming more stringent. We may be required to incur substantial expenses in connection with future environmental compliance or remediation activities, in which case, our production efforts or those of our third-party manufacturers may be interrupted or delayed.
Due to our international operations, we are subject to anti-corruption laws, as well as export control laws, customs laws, sanctions laws and other laws governing our operations. If we fail to comply with these laws, we could be subject to civil or criminal penalties, other remedial measures and legal expenses.
Our operations are subject to anti-corruption laws, including the UK Bribery Act 2010, or Bribery Act; the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA; and other anti-corruption laws that apply in countries where we do business and may do business in the future. The Bribery Act, FCPA, and these other laws generally prohibit us, our officers and our employees and intermediaries from bribing, being bribed by, or providing prohibited payments or anything else of value to government officials or other persons to obtain or retain business or gain some other business advantage. We may in the future operate in jurisdictions that pose a high risk of potential Bribery Act or FCPA violations, and we may
participate in collaborations and relationships with third parties whose actions could potentially subject us to liability under the Bribery Act, FCPA, or local anti-corruption laws. In addition, we cannot predict the nature, scope, or effect of future regulatory requirements to which any of our international operations might be subject or the manner in which existing laws might be administered or interpreted.
We also are subject to other laws and regulations governing any international operations, including regulations administered by the governments of the UK and the U.S., and authorities in the EU, including applicable export control regulations, economic sanctions on countries and persons, customs requirements and currency exchange regulations, or, collectively, the Trade Control laws.
There is no assurance that we will be completely effective in ensuring our compliance with all applicable anti-corruption laws, including the Bribery Act, the FCPA, or other legal requirements, including Trade Control laws. If we are not in compliance with the Bribery Act, the FCPA, and other anti-corruption laws or Trade Control laws, we may be subject to criminal and civil penalties, disgorgement, and other sanctions and remedial measures and legal expenses. Any investigation of any potential violations of the Bribery Act, the FCPA, other anti-corruption laws, or Trade Control laws by UK, U.S., or other authorities, even if it is ultimately determined that we did not violate such laws, could be costly and time-consuming, require significant personnel resources, and harm our reputation.
We have established internal controls to detect and prevent violations of applicable anti-corruption laws and to remedy any weaknesses identified. There can be no assurance, however, that the policies and procedures will be followed at all times or effectively detect and prevent violations of the applicable laws by one or more of our employees, consultants, agents, or collaborators and, as a result, we could be subject to fines, penalties, or prosecution.
Risks Related to Commercialization
We face significant competition in an environment of rapid technological change, and there is a possibility that our competitors may achieve regulatory approval before us or develop therapies that are safer or more advanced or effective than ours, which may harm our financial condition and our ability to successfully market or commercialize any product candidates we may develop.
The development and commercialization of new gene therapy products is highly competitive. Moreover, the gene regulation and manufacturing fields are characterized by rapidly changing technologies and a strong emphasis on intellectual property. We may face competition with respect to any product candidates that we may seek to develop or commercialize in the future from major pharmaceutical companies, specialty pharmaceutical companies, and biotechnology companies worldwide. Potential competitors also include academic institutions, government agencies, and other public and private research organizations that conduct research, seek patent protection, and establish collaborative arrangements for research, development, manufacturing, and commercialization.
There are a number of large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that currently market and sell products or are pursuing the development of products for the treatment of the disease indications for which we have research programs, including inherited retinal diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. Some of these competitive products and therapies are based on scientific approaches that are similar to our approach, and others are based on entirely different approaches. Differences in the scientific approaches may create confusion or uncertainty among clinical trial investigators or patient populations, which could delay or hinder enrollment or initiation of our clinical trials.
Our platform and products focus on the development of gene therapies and gene regulation technology. In 2017, the FDA approved the first gene treatment for RPE65-associated retinal disease, Luxturna, a commercially available product developed by Spark Therapeutics, Inc., which was purchased by Roche. There are a number of other companies developing ocular gene therapy products, including Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, Biogen, Inc. and 4D Molecular Therapeutics, Inc. There are a number of companies developing gene therapy products for neurodegenerative diseases, including Voyager Therapeutics, Inc., Brain Neurotherapy Bio, Inc., Axovant Gene Therapies Ltd. and Prevail
Therapeutics Inc. (which was purchased by Eli Lilly and Company). In addition to competition from other gene therapies, any products we may develop may also face competition from other types of therapies, such as small molecule, antibody, or protein therapies. Many of our current or potential competitors, either alone or with their collaboration partners, have greater financial resources and expertise in research and development, manufacturing, preclinical testing, conducting clinical trials, obtaining regulatory approvals, and marketing approved products than we do. Mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and gene therapy industries may result in even more resources being concentrated among a smaller number of our competitors. These competitors also compete with us in recruiting and retaining qualified scientific, manufacturing and management personnel and establishing clinical trial sites and patient enrollment in clinical trials, as well as in acquiring technologies complementary to, or necessary for, our programs. Our commercial opportunity could be reduced or eliminated if our competitors develop and commercialize products that are safer, more effective, have fewer or less severe side effects, are more convenient, or are less expensive than any products that we may develop, limiting demand or the price we are able to charge, or that could render any products that we may develop obsolete or non-competitive. Our competitors also may obtain FDA, MHRA or other regulatory approval for their products more rapidly than we may obtain approval for ours, which could result in our competitors establishing a strong market position before we are able to enter the market. In addition, as a result of the expiration or successful challenge of our patent rights, we could face more litigation with respect to the validity and/or scope of patents relating to our competitors’ products.
The successful commercialization of our product candidates will depend in part on the extent to which governmental authorities and health insurers establish coverage, adequate reimbursement levels and pricing policies. Failure to obtain or maintain coverage and adequate reimbursement for our product candidates, if approved, could limit our ability to market those products and decrease our ability to generate revenue.
The availability of coverage and adequacy of reimbursement by governmental healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, private health insurers and other third-party payors are essential for most patients to be able to afford medical services and pharmaceutical products such as our product candidates, assuming FDA approval. Our ability to achieve acceptable levels of coverage and reimbursement for our products or procedures using our products by governmental authorities, private health insurers and other organizations will have an effect on our ability to successfully commercialize our product candidates. Obtaining coverage and adequate reimbursement for our products may be particularly difficult because of the higher prices often associated with drugs administered under the supervision of a physician. Separate reimbursement for the product itself or the treatment or procedure in which our product is used may not be available. A decision by a third-party payor not to cover or separately reimburse for our products or procedures using our products, could reduce physician utilization of our products if approved. Assuming there is such coverage by a third-party payor, the resulting reimbursement payment rates may not be adequate or may require co-payments that patients find unacceptably high. We cannot be sure that coverage and reimbursement in the United States, the UK, the EU or elsewhere will be available for our product candidates or any product that we may develop, and any reimbursement that may become available may not be adequate or may be decreased or eliminated in the future.
Third-party payors increasingly are challenging prices charged for pharmaceutical products and services, and many third-party payors may refuse to provide coverage and reimbursement for particular drugs or biologics when an equivalent generic drug, biosimilar or a less expensive therapy is available. It is possible that a third-party payor may consider our product candidates as substitutable and only offer to reimburse patients for the less expensive product. Even if we show improved efficacy or improved convenience of administration with our product candidates, pricing of existing third-party therapeutics may limit the amount we will be able to charge for our product candidates. These payors may deny or revoke the reimbursement status of a given product or establish prices for new or existing marketed products at levels that are too low to enable us to realize an appropriate return on our investment in our product candidates. If reimbursement is not available or is available only at limited levels, we may not be able to successfully commercialize our product candidates and may not be able to obtain a satisfactory financial return on our product candidates.
There is significant uncertainty related to the insurance coverage and reimbursement of newly-approved products. In the United States, third-party payors, including private and governmental payors, such as the Medicare and Medicaid
programs, play an important role in determining the extent to which new drugs and biologics will be covered. The Medicare and Medicaid programs increasingly are used as models in the United States for how private payors and other governmental payors develop their coverage and reimbursement policies for drugs and biologics. Some third-party payors may require pre-approval of coverage for new or innovative devices or drug therapies before they will reimburse healthcare providers who use such therapies. We cannot predict at this time what third-party payors will decide with respect to the coverage and reimbursement for our product candidates.
No uniform policy for coverage and reimbursement for products exists among third-party payors in the United States. Therefore, coverage and reimbursement for products can differ significantly from payor to payor. As a result, the coverage determination process is often a time-consuming and costly process that will require us to provide scientific and clinical support for the use of our product candidates to each payor separately, with no assurance that coverage and adequate reimbursement will be applied consistently or obtained in the first instance. Furthermore, rules and regulations regarding reimbursement change frequently, in some cases on short notice.
Outside the United States, international operations are generally subject to extensive governmental price controls and other market regulations, and we believe the increasing emphasis on cost-containment initiatives in Europe and other countries have and will continue to put pressure on the pricing and usage of our product candidates. In many countries, the prices of medical products are subject to varying price control mechanisms as part of national health systems. Other countries allow companies to fix their own prices for medical products but monitor and control company profits. Additional foreign price controls or other changes in pricing regulation could restrict the amount that we are able to charge for our product candidates. Accordingly, in markets outside the United States, the reimbursement for our product candidates may be reduced compared with the United States and may be insufficient to generate commercially-reasonable revenue and profits.
Moreover, increasing efforts by governmental and third-party payors in the United States and abroad to cap or reduce healthcare costs may cause such organizations to limit both coverage and the level of reimbursement for newly approved products and, as a result, they may not cover or provide adequate payment for our product candidates. We expect to experience pricing pressures in connection with the sale of our product candidates due to the trend toward managed health care, the increasing influence of health maintenance organizations and additional legislative changes. The downward pressure on healthcare costs in general, particularly prescription drugs and biologics and surgical procedures and other treatments, has become intense. As a result, increasingly high barriers are being erected to the entry of new products.
Even if our product candidates receive marketing approval, they may fail to achieve market acceptance by physicians, patients, third-party payors or others in the medical community necessary for commercial success.
If our product candidates receive marketing approval, they may nonetheless fail to gain sufficient market acceptance by physicians, patients, third-party payors and others in the medical community. If they do not achieve an adequate level of acceptance, we may not generate significant product revenues or become profitable. The degree of market acceptance of our product candidates, if approved for commercial sale, will depend on a number of factors, including but not limited to:
|●||the efficacy and potential advantages compared to alternative treatments;|
|●||effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts;|
|●||the cost of treatment in relation to alternative treatments, including any similar generic treatments;|
|●||our ability to offer our product candidates for sale at competitive prices;|
|●||the convenience and ease of administration;|
|●||the willingness of the target patient population to try new therapies and of physicians to prescribe these therapies;|
|●||the strength of marketing and distribution support, and publicity concerning our products or competing products and treatments;|
|●||the timing of market introduction of competitive products;|
|●||the availability of third-party coverage and adequate reimbursement;|
|●||product labeling or product insert requirements of the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other regulatory authorities, including any limitations or warnings contained in a product’s approved labeling;|
|●||the prevalence and severity of any side effects; and|
|●||any restrictions on the use of our product together with other medications.|
Because we expect sales of our product candidates, if approved, to generate substantially all of our product revenues for a substantial period, the failure of these product candidates to find market acceptance would harm our business and could require us to seek additional financing.
If we are unable to establish sales, marketing and distribution capabilities either on our own or in collaboration with third parties, we may not be successful in commercializing our product candidates or realizing the synergies in the target indications of our programs, even if they are approved.
We do not have any infrastructure for the sales, marketing or distribution of our products, and the cost of establishing and maintaining such an organization may exceed the cost-effectiveness of doing so or we may seek collaborative arrangements or external funding to commercialize our product candidates. For example, Janssen will be solely responsible for the commercialization of botaretigene sparoparvovec, AAV-CNGB3 and AAV-CNGA3 pursuant to our Collaboration Agreement with them. There are significant expenses and risks involved with establishing our own sales, marketing and distribution capabilities, including our ability to hire, retain and appropriately incentivize qualified individuals, generate sufficient sales leads, provide adequate training to sales and marketing personnel, and effectively manage a geographically dispersed sales and marketing team. Any failure or delay in the development of such capabilities could delay any product launch, which would adversely impact the commercialization of our product candidates. Additionally, if any commercial launch is delayed or does not occur for any reason, we would have prematurely or unnecessarily incurred these commercialization expenses. This may be costly, and our investment would be lost if we cannot retain or reposition our sales and marketing personnel.
We may not have the resources in the foreseeable future to allocate to the sales and marketing of our product candidates in certain markets. Therefore, our future sales in these markets will largely depend on our ability to enter into and maintain collaborative relationships for such capabilities, the collaborator’s strategic interest in the product and such collaborator’s ability to successfully market and sell the product. We may pursue collaborative arrangements regarding the sale and marketing of AAV-GAD, AAV-RPE65, AAV-hAQP1 or other future gene therapy programs, if approved, for the United States and/or certain markets overseas; however, there can be no assurance that we will be able to establish or maintain such collaborative arrangements, or if able to do so, that they will have effective sales forces.
If we are unable to build our own sales force or negotiate or maintain a collaborative relationship for the commercialization of our product candidates, we may be forced to delay potential commercialization or reduce the scope of our sales or marketing activities. If we elect to increase our expenditures to fund commercialization activities internationally, we will need to obtain additional capital, which may not be available to us on acceptable terms, or at all.
We could enter into arrangements with collaborative partners at an earlier stage than otherwise would be ideal and we may be required to relinquish rights or otherwise agree to terms unfavorable to us, any of which may have an adverse effect on our business, operating results and prospects.
Some indications targeted by our ophthalmology programs are rare, but we anticipate realizing synergies in commercializing our IRD product candidates, should they be approved. Failure to realize synergies in our sales, marketing and distribution efforts may harm our commercialization efforts.
If we or our collaborators are unable to establish or maintain adequate sales, marketing and distribution capabilities, we will not be successful in commercializing our product candidates and may not become profitable and may incur significant additional losses. We will be competing with many companies that currently have extensive and well-funded marketing and sales operations. Without an internal team or the support of a third party to perform marketing and sales functions, we may be unable to compete successfully against these more established companies.
If any of our products are commercialized outside of the United States, the UK or the EU, a variety of risks associated with international operations could adversely affect our business.
If any of our products are approved for commercialization, we have entered into, and intend to enter into, agreements with third parties to market them in certain jurisdictions outside the United States, the UK and the EU, such as under our Collaboration Agreement with Janssen. We expect that we and our third-party collaborators will be subject to additional risks related to international pharmaceutical operations, including:
|●||different regulatory requirements for drug and biologic approvals and rules governing drug and biologic commercialization in foreign countries;|
|●||tighter restrictions on privacy and the collection and use of patient data;|
|●||reduced or loss of protection for intellectual property rights;|
|●||foreign reimbursement, pricing and insurance regimes;|
|●||unexpected changes in tariffs, trade barriers and regulatory requirements;|
|●||economic weakness, including inflation, or political instability in particular foreign economies and markets;|
|●||foreign currency fluctuations, which could result in increased operating expenses and reduced revenues, and other obligations incident to doing business in another country;|
|●||business interruptions resulting from geopolitical actions, including war and terrorism, or widespread health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods and fires, or from economic or political instability;|
|●||greater difficulty with enforcing our contracts;|
|●||potential noncompliance with the FCPA, the Bribery Act and similar anti-bribery and anticorruption laws in other jurisdictions;|
|●||production shortages resulting from any events affecting raw material supply or manufacturing capabilities abroad; and|
|●||workforce uncertainty in countries where labor unrest is more common than in the United States and compliance with tax, employment, immigration and labor laws for employees living or traveling abroad.|
We have no prior experience in these areas and we may rely on other third parties to help us establish our international commercialization operations. In addition, there are complex regulatory, tax, labor and other legal requirements imposed by individual countries in Europe with which we and our third-party collaborators will need to comply. If we are unable to successfully manage the challenges of international expansion and operations, our business and operating results could be harmed.
Any product candidates for which we intend to seek approval as biologic products may face competition sooner than anticipated.
The ACA includes a subtitle called the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, or BPCIA, which created an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products that are biosimilar to or interchangeable with an FDA-licensed reference biological product. Under the BPCIA, an application for a biosimilar product may not be submitted to the FDA until four years following the date that the reference product was first licensed by the FDA. In addition, the approval of a biosimilar product may not be made effective by the FDA until 12 years from the date on which the reference product was first licensed by the FDA. During this 12-year period of exclusivity, another company may still market a competing version of the reference product if the FDA approves a full BLA for the competing product containing the sponsor’s own pre-clinical data and data from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials to demonstrate the safety, purity and potency of the other company’s product.
We believe that any of our product candidates approved as a biological product under a BLA should qualify for the 12-year period of exclusivity. However, there is a risk that any of our product candidates approved as a biological product under a BLA would not qualify for the 12-year period of exclusivity or that this exclusivity could be shortened due to Congressional action or otherwise, or that the FDA will not consider our product candidates to be reference products for competing products, potentially creating the opportunity for generic competition sooner than anticipated. Other aspects of the BPCIA, some of which may impact the BPCIA exclusivity provisions, have also been the subject of recent litigation. Jurisdictions outside the United States have established abbreviated pathways for regulatory approval of biological products that are biosimilar to earlier approved reference products. For example, the EU has had an established regulatory pathway for biosimilars since 2006. Moreover, the extent to which a biosimilar, once licensed, will be substituted for any one of our reference products in a way that is similar to traditional generic substitution for non-biological products is not yet clear, and will depend on a number of marketplace and regulatory factors that are still developing.
If competitors are able to obtain marketing approval for biosimilars referencing our products, our products may become subject to competition from such biosimilars, with the attendant competitive pressure and consequences.
Risks Related to Our Dependence on Third Parties
If our cGMP and GMP manufacturing facilities are unable to supply our product candidates for all of our current preclinical, clinical and potential commercial needs, we will be forced to seek out third-party manufacturers. We currently contract with third parties for the manufacture of plasmid used in producing our product candidates. Relying on third parties increases the risk that we will not have sufficient quantities of such materials, product candidates, or any medicines that we may develop and commercialize, or that such supply will not be available to us at an acceptable cost, which could delay, prevent, or impair our development or commercialization efforts.
We produce our product candidates in our cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility completed in early 2018 and we completed the acquisition of the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility in Shannon, Ireland in January 2021 to expand our manufacturing and
supply chain capabilities. However, if our current facility is damaged, suffers any form of delay or regulatory challenges, we experience slowdowns or problems with the development and startup of our new facilities or we are unable to scale our internal manufacturing capabilities to meet demand for our product candidates, we will need to contract with third-party manufacturers to produce our product candidates. While we now have our own plasmid manufacturing capabilities in our Shannon, Ireland facilities, we may also rely on third-party manufacturers from time to time for the manufacture of plasmid used in the production of some of our product candidates. We do not have a long-term supply agreement with any of the third-party manufacturers, and we purchase our required supply on a purchase order basis.
We and our third-party manufacturers may also encounter difficulties or delays in manufacturing of our product candidates or the plasmid used in the production of our product candidates. Geopolitical actions, natural disaster or a widespread health emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, could impact our supply chain. To the extent that we or our third-party manufacturers are located in geographies affected by these matters, it may result in the temporary closing of manufacturing facilities and may increase the costs associated with manufacturing our product candidates.
We may be unable to establish any agreements with third-party manufacturers or to do so on acceptable terms. Even if we are able to establish agreements with third-party manufacturers, reliance on third-party manufacturers entails additional risks, including:
|●||the possible breach of the manufacturing agreement by the third party, including failure to provide appropriate quantities in a timely manner;|
|●||the possible termination or nonrenewal of the agreement by the third party at a time that is costly or inconvenient for us; and|
|●||reliance on the third party for regulatory compliance, quality assurance, safety, and pharmacovigilance and related reporting.|
We and our third-party manufacturers may not be able to comply with cGMP regulations or similar regulatory requirements that might be required by the FDA, MHRA or EMA. Our failure, or the failure of our third-party manufacturers, to comply with applicable regulations could result in sanctions being imposed on us, including fines, injunctions, civil penalties, delays, suspension or withdrawal of approvals, license revocations, seizures or recalls of product candidates or medicines, operating restrictions, and criminal prosecutions, any of which could adversely affect supplies of our candidates and harm our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects.
Any therapies that we may develop may compete with other product candidates and products for access to manufacturing facilities. There are a limited number of manufacturers that operate under cGMP or similar regulations and that might be capable of manufacturing for us. Any performance failure on the part of our existing or future manufacturers could delay clinical development or marketing approval.
Our current and anticipated future dependence upon others for the manufacture of any product candidates we may develop or any components required for the manufacture of our product candidates may adversely affect our future profit margins and our ability to commercialize any product candidates that receive marketing approval on a timely and competitive basis.
We have in the past, and may in the future, collaborate with third parties for the development, manufacture and commercialization of our product candidates. We may not succeed in establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships, which may significantly limit our ability to develop and commercialize our product candidates successfully, if at all.
We have entered into collaboration agreements with third parties for the development and commercialization of our product candidates, including our Collaboration Agreement with Janssen for the development and commercialization
of AAV-CNGB3, AAV-CNGA3 and botaretigene sparoparvovec. We have also entered into a manufacturing research collaboration agreement with Janssen to further develop processes for manufacturing AAV viral vectors. We may seek additional collaborative relationships in the future. Failure to obtain a collaborative relationship for our product candidates may significantly impair their commercial potential. We also may need to enter into collaborative relationships to provide funding to support our other research and development programs. The process of establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships is difficult, time-consuming and involves significant uncertainty, such as:
|●||a collaboration partner may shift its priorities and resources away from our product candidates due to a change in business strategies, or a merger, acquisition, sale or downsizing;|
|●||a collaboration partner may seek to renegotiate or terminate their relationships with us due to unsatisfactory clinical results, manufacturing issues, a change in business strategy, a change of control or other reasons;|
|●||a collaboration partner may cease development in therapeutic areas which are the subject of our strategic collaboration;|
|●||a collaboration partner may not devote sufficient capital or resources towards our product candidates;|
|●||a collaboration partner may change the success criteria for a product candidate thereby delaying or ceasing development of such candidate;|
|●||a significant delay in initiation of certain development activities by a collaboration partner will also delay payment of milestones tied to such activities, thereby impacting our ability to fund our own activities;|
|●||a collaboration partner could develop a product that competes, either directly or indirectly, with our product candidate;|
|●||a collaboration partner with commercialization obligations may not commit sufficient financial or human resources to the marketing, distribution or sale of a product;|
|●||a collaboration partner with manufacturing responsibilities may encounter regulatory, resource or quality issues and be unable to meet demand requirements;|
|●||a collaboration partner may terminate a strategic alliance;|
|●||a dispute may arise between us and a partner concerning the research, development or commercialization of a product candidate resulting in a delay in milestones, royalty payments or termination of an alliance and possibly resulting in costly litigation or arbitration which may divert management attention and resources; and|
|●||a partner may use our products or technology in such a way as to make us subject to litigation with a third party.|
If any collaborator fails to fulfill its responsibilities in a timely manner, or at all, our research, clinical development, manufacturing or commercialization efforts related to that collaboration could be delayed or terminated, or it may be necessary for us to assume responsibility for expenses or activities that would otherwise have been the responsibility of our collaborator. If we are unable to establish and maintain collaborative relationships on acceptable terms or to successfully transition terminated collaborative agreements, we may have to delay or discontinue further
development of one or more of our product candidates, undertake development and commercialization activities at our own expense or find alternative sources of capital.
We have relied, and we expect to continue to rely, on third parties to conduct, supervise and monitor our preclinical studies and clinical trials, and if these third parties perform in an unsatisfactory manner, our business could be harmed.
We expect to rely on CROs, clinical trial sites, and other vendors to ensure our preclinical studies and clinical trials are conducted properly and on time. We may also engage third parties such as clinical data management organizations, medical institutions and clinical investigators to conduct or assist in our clinical trials or other preclinical and clinical research and development work. While we will have agreements governing their activities, we will have limited influence over their actual performance. We will control only certain aspects of our third-party service providers’ activities. Nevertheless, we will be responsible for ensuring that each of our preclinical studies and clinical trials is conducted in accordance with the applicable protocol, legal, quality, regulatory and scientific standards. Our reliance on these third parties does not relieve us of our regulatory responsibilities. For example, we are conducting the Phase 3 Lumeos clinical trial of botaretigene sparoparvovec for the treatment of patients with XLRP caused by mutations in the RPGR gene at multiple clinical trial sites in North America and Europe. If any locations terminate the clinical trial, we would be required to find another party to conduct any new trials. We may be unable to find a new party to conduct new trials of our product candidates or obtain clinical supply of our product candidates or AAV vectors for such trials. If we elect to internalize some or all activities related to the conduct of our preclinical studies or clinical trials that are currently performed by our third-party service providers, or if we are required to do so due to a service provider’s termination of our relationship, then we may be required to source additional technology and personnel in order to perform the relevant activities. We may be unsuccessful in our efforts to internalize some or all relevant activities, either on the desired timeline or at all.
Our third-party service providers are not our employees, and we are therefore unable to directly monitor whether or not they devote sufficient time, attention, expertise and resources to our clinical and nonclinical programs. These third-party service providers may also have relationships with other commercial entities, including our competitors, for whom they may also be conducting clinical trials or other drug development activities that could harm our competitive position. If our third-party service providers do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or obligations or fail to meet expected deadlines, including as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or if the quality or accuracy of the preclinical or clinical data they obtain is compromised due to the failure to adhere to our clinical protocols or regulatory requirements, or for any other reasons, our preclinical studies or clinical trials may be extended, delayed or terminated, and we may not be able to obtain regulatory approval for, or successfully commercialize our product candidates. As a result, our financial results and the commercial prospects for our product candidates could be harmed, our costs could increase, and our ability to generate revenues could be delayed.
If our relationship with any CROs terminate, we may not be able to enter into arrangements with alternative CROs or do so on commercially reasonable terms. Switching or adding additional CROs involves substantial cost and requires management time and focus. In addition, there is a natural transition period when a new CRO commences work. As a result, delays occur, which can materially impact our ability to meet our desired clinical development timelines. Though we intend to carefully manage our relationships with our CROs, there can be no assurance that we will not encounter challenges or delays in the future or that these delays or challenges will not have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition and prospects.
Risks Related to Intellectual Property
We depend on proprietary technology licensed from others. If we lose our existing licenses or are unable to acquire or license additional proprietary rights from third parties, we may not be able to continue developing our product candidates.
We currently in-license certain intellectual property from research institutions, universities and other third parties. We may also enter into additional agreements, including license agreements, with other parties in the future that impose diligence, development and commercialization timelines, milestone payments, royalties, insurance and other obligations on us. If we fail to comply with our obligations to any of our current or future collaborators, our counterparties may have the right to terminate these agreements, in which event we might not be able to develop, manufacture or market any product candidate that is covered by these agreements, which could adversely affect the value of the product candidate being developed under any such agreement. Termination of these agreements or reduction or elimination of our rights under these agreements may result in our having to negotiate new or reinstated agreements with less favorable terms, or cause us to lose our rights under these agreements, including our rights to important intellectual property or technology.
We may rely on other third parties from whom we license proprietary technology to file and prosecute patent applications and maintain patents and otherwise protect the intellectual property we license from them. We may have limited control over these activities or any other intellectual property that may be related to our in-licensed intellectual property. For example, we cannot be certain that such activities by these licensors will be conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations or will result in valid and enforceable patents and other intellectual property rights. We may have limited control over the manner in which our licensors initiate an infringement proceeding against a third-party infringer of the intellectual property rights, or defend certain of the intellectual property that may be licensed to us. It is possible that the licensors’ infringement proceedings or defense activities may be less vigorous than if we conduct them ourselves. The licensing and acquisition of third-party intellectual property rights is a competitive practice, and companies that may be more established, or have greater resources than we do, may also be pursuing strategies to license or acquire third-party intellectual property rights that we may consider necessary or attractive in order to commercialize our product candidates. More established companies may have a competitive advantage over us due to their larger size and cash resources or greater clinical development and commercialization capabilities. There can be no assurance that we will be able to successfully complete such negotiations and ultimately acquire the rights to the intellectual property surrounding the additional product candidates that we may seek to acquire. If we are unable to obtain and maintain patent protection for our technology and product candidates or if the scope of the patent protection obtained is not sufficiently broad, we may not be able to compete effectively in our markets.
If we are unable to obtain and maintain patent protection for our technology and product candidates or if the scope of the patent protection obtained is not sufficiently broad, we may not be able to compete effectively in our markets.
We rely upon a combination of patents, trade secret protection and confidentiality agreements to protect the intellectual property related to our proprietary technologies, product candidate development programs and product candidates. Our success depends in part on our ability to secure and maintain patent protection in the United States and other countries with respect to our current product candidates and any future product candidates we may develop. We seek to protect our proprietary position by filing or collaborating with our licensors to file patent applications in the United States and abroad related to our proprietary technologies, development programs and product candidates. The patent prosecution process is expensive and time-consuming, and we may not be able to file and prosecute all necessary or desirable patent applications at a reasonable cost or in a timely manner. Moreover, the issuance, scope, validity, enforceability and commercial value of our patent rights are uncertain.
It is also possible that we might fail to identify patentable aspects of our research and development output before it is too late to obtain patent protection. We may not have the right to control the preparation, filing, and prosecution of patent applications, or to maintain the rights to patents licensed to third parties. Therefore, these patents and patent
applications may not be prosecuted and enforced in a manner consistent with the best interests of our business. The patent applications that we own or in-license may fail to result in issued patents with claims that cover our proprietary products and technology, including current product candidates, any future product candidates we may develop, and our gene regulation technology in the United States or in other countries, in whole or in part. Alternately, our existing patents and any future patents we obtain may not be sufficiently broad to prevent others from using our technology or from developing competing products and technologies. There is no assurance that all potentially relevant prior art relating to our patents and patent applications has been found, which can prevent a patent from issuing from a pending patent application or later invalidate or narrow the scope of an issued patent. For example, publications of discoveries in the scientific literature often lag behind the actual discoveries, and patent applications in the United States and other jurisdictions are typically not published until 18 months after filing or, in some cases, not at all. Therefore, we cannot know with certainty whether we were the first to make the inventions claimed in our patents or pending patent applications, or that we were the first to file for patent protection of such inventions. In addition, obtaining and maintaining our patent protection depends on compliance with various procedural, document submission, fee payment and other requirements imposed by governmental patent agencies, and our patent protection could be reduced or eliminated for non-compliance with these requirements. Even if patents do successfully issue and even if such patents cover our current product candidates, any future product candidates we may develop and our gene regulation technology, third parties may challenge their validity, enforceability or scope thereof, which may result in such patents being narrowed, invalidated, or held unenforceable. Any successful challenge to these patents or any other patents owned by or licensed to us could deprive us of rights necessary for the successful commercialization of any of our product candidates or gene regulation technology. Our competitors may be able to circumvent our patents by developing similar or alternative product candidates in a non-infringing manner. Further, if we encounter delays in regulatory approvals, the period of time during which we could market a product candidate and our gene regulation technology under patent protection could be reduced.
If the patent applications we hold or have in-licensed with respect to our development programs and product candidates fail to issue, if their validity, breadth or strength of protection is threatened, or if they fail to provide meaningful exclusivity for any of our current or future product candidates or technology, it could dissuade companies from collaborating with us to develop product candidates, encourage competitors to develop competing products or technologies and threaten our ability to commercialize future product candidates. Any such outcome could harm our business.
The patent position of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies is uncertain, involves complex legal and factual questions, and is characterized by the existence of large numbers of patents and frequent litigation based on allegations of patent or other intellectual property infringement or violation. In addition, the laws of jurisdictions outside the United States may not protect our rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States. Changes in either the patent laws or interpretation of the patent laws in the United States and other countries may diminish the value of our patents or narrow the scope of our patent protection.
The issuance of a patent is not conclusive as to its inventorship, scope, validity or enforceability, and our owned and licensed patents may be challenged in the courts or patent offices in the United States and abroad. Such challenges may result in loss of exclusivity or freedom to operate or in patent claims being narrowed, invalidated or held unenforceable, in whole or in part, which could limit our ability to stop others from using or commercializing similar or identical technology and products, or limit the duration of the patent protection of our technology and products. Thus, even if our patent applications issue as patents, they may not issue in a form that will provide us with meaningful protection, prevent competitors from competing with us or otherwise provide us with any competitive advantage. Moreover, patents have a limited lifespan. In the United States, the natural expiration of a patent is generally 20 years after it is filed. Various extensions may be available; however, the life of a patent, and the protection it affords, is limited. Without patent protection for our current or future product candidates, we may be open to competition from generic versions of such products. Given the amount of time required for the development, testing and regulatory review of new product candidates, patents protecting such candidates might expire before or shortly after such candidates are
commercialized. As a result, our owned and licensed patent portfolio may not provide us with sufficient rights to exclude others from commercializing products similar or identical to ours.
Third parties may assert claims against us alleging infringement of their patents and proprietary rights, or we may need to become involved in lawsuits to defend or enforce our patents, either of which could result in substantial costs or loss of productivity, delay or prevent the development and commercialization of our product candidates, prohibit our use of proprietary technology or sale of products or put our patents and other proprietary rights at risk.
Our commercial success depends, in part, upon our ability to develop, manufacture, market and sell our product candidates without alleged or actual infringement, misappropriation or other violation of the patents and proprietary rights of third parties. However, our research, development and commercialization activities may be subject to claims that we infringe or otherwise violate patents or other intellectual property rights owned or controlled by third parties. Litigation relating to infringement or misappropriation of patent and other intellectual property rights in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries is common, including patent infringement lawsuits, interferences, oppositions and inter partes reviews, and reexamination proceedings before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, and corresponding foreign patent offices. In addition, many companies in intellectual property-dependent industries, including the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, have employed intellectual property litigation as a means to gain an advantage over their competitors. Numerous U.S., EU and foreign issued patents and pending patent applications, which are owned by third parties, exist in the fields in which we are developing product candidates, and as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries expand and more patents are issued, the risk increases that our product candidates may be subject to claims of infringement of the intellectual property rights of third parties. Some claimants may have substantially greater resources than we do and may be able to sustain the costs of complex intellectual property litigation to a greater degree and for longer periods of time than we could. In addition, patent holding companies that focus solely on extracting royalties and settlements by enforcing patent rights may target us.
We may be subject to third-party claims including infringement, interference or derivation proceedings, post-grant review and inter partes review before the USPTO or similar adversarial proceedings or litigation in other jurisdictions. Even if such claims are without merit, a court of competent jurisdiction could hold that these third-party patents are valid, enforceable and infringed, and the holders of any such patents may be able to block our ability to commercialize the applicable product candidate unless we obtained a license under the applicable patents, or until such patents expire or are finally determined to be invalid or unenforceable. In addition, third parties may obtain patents in the future and claim that use of our technologies infringes upon these patents, and the holders of any such patents may be able to prohibit our use of those compositions, formulations, methods of treatment, prevention or use or other technologies, effectively blocking our ability to develop and commercialize the applicable product candidate until such patent expires or is finally determined to be invalid or unenforceable or unless we obtained a license.
In addition, defending such claims would cause us to incur substantial expenses and, if we are not successful in defending such claims, it could cause us to pay substantial damages if we are found to be infringing a third party’s patent rights. These damages potentially include increased damages (possibly treble damages) and attorneys’ fees if we are found to have infringed such rights willfully. Further, if a patent infringement suit is brought against us or our third-party service providers, our development, manufacturing or sales activities relating to the product or product candidate that is the subject of the suit may be delayed or terminated. As a result of patent infringement claims, or in order to avoid potential infringement claims, we may choose to seek, or be required to seek, a license from the third party, which may require payment of substantial royalties or fees, or require us to grant a cross-license under our intellectual property rights. These licenses may not be available on reasonable terms or at all. Even if a license can be obtained on reasonable terms, the rights may be nonexclusive, which would give our competitors access to the same intellectual property rights. If we are unable to enter into a license on acceptable terms, we could be prevented from commercializing one or more of our product candidates, or forced to modify such product candidates, or to cease some aspect of our business operations, which could harm our business significantly. We might also be forced to redesign or modify our product candidates so that we no longer infringe the third-party intellectual property rights, which may result in significant cost or delay to us, or which redesign or modification could be impossible or technically infeasible. Even if we were ultimately to prevail,
any of these events could require us to divert substantial financial and management resources that we would otherwise be able to devote to our business.
Competitors may infringe our patents or other intellectual property. If we or one of our licensors were to initiate legal proceedings against a third party to enforce a patent covering one of our product candidates, the defendant could counterclaim that our patent is invalid or unenforceable. If a defendant were to prevail on a legal assertion of invalidity or unenforceability, we would lose at least part, and perhaps all, of the patent protection on our product candidates.
Even if resolved in our favor, litigation or other legal proceedings relating to intellectual property claims may cause us to incur significant expenses and could distract our technical and management personnel from their normal responsibilities. In addition, because of the substantial amount of discovery required in connection with intellectual property litigation, there is a risk that some of our confidential information could be compromised by disclosure during this type of litigation. Such litigation or proceedings could substantially increase our operating losses and reduce our resources available for development activities. We may not have sufficient financial or other resources to adequately conduct such litigation or proceedings. Some of our competitors may be able to sustain the costs of such litigation or proceedings more effectively than we can because of their substantially greater financial resources. Uncertainties resulting from the initiation and continuation of patent litigation or other proceedings could have an adverse effect on our ability to compete in the marketplace.
We may not identify relevant third-party patents or may incorrectly interpret the relevance, scope or expiration of a third-party patent, which might adversely affect our ability to develop, manufacture and market our product candidates.
We cannot guarantee that any of our or our licensors’ patent searches or analyses, including but not limited to the identification of relevant patents, analysis of the scope of relevant patent claims or determination of the expiration of relevant patents, are complete or thorough, nor can we be certain that we have identified each and every third-party patent and pending application in the United States, the UK, the EU and elsewhere that is relevant to or necessary for the commercialization of our product candidates in any jurisdiction. For example, in the United States, applications filed before November 29, 2000 and certain applications filed after that date that will not be filed outside the United States remain confidential until patents issue. Patent applications in the United States, the UK, the EU and elsewhere are published approximately 18 months after the earliest filing for which priority is claimed, with such earliest filing date being commonly referred to as the priority date. Therefore, patent applications covering our product candidates could be filed by others without our knowledge. Additionally, pending patent applications that have been published can, subject to certain limitations, be later amended in a manner that could cover our product candidates or the use of our product candidates. After issuance, the scope of patent claims remains subject to construction as determined by an interpretation of the law, the written disclosure in a patent and the patent’s prosecution history. Our interpretation of the relevance or the scope of a patent or a pending application may be incorrect, which may negatively impact our ability to market our product candidates. We may incorrectly determine that our product candidates are not covered by a third-party patent or may incorrectly predict whether a third party’s pending application will issue with claims of relevant scope. Our determination of the expiration date of any patent in the United States, the UK, the EU or elsewhere that we consider relevant may be incorrect, which may negatively impact our ability to develop and market our product candidates. Our failure to identify and correctly interpret relevant patents may negatively impact our ability to develop and market our product candidates.
If we fail to correctly identify or interpret relevant patents, we may be subject to infringement claims. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to successfully settle or otherwise resolve such infringement claims. If we fail in any such dispute, in addition to being forced to pay monetary damages, we may be temporarily or permanently prohibited from commercializing our product candidates. We might, if possible, also be forced to redesign our product candidates in a manner that no longer infringes third-party intellectual property rights. Any of these events, even if we were ultimately to prevail, could require us to divert substantial financial and management resources that we would otherwise be able to devote to our business.
Changes in patent laws or patent jurisprudence could diminish the value of patents in general, thereby impairing our ability to protect our product candidates.
Obtaining and enforcing patents in the biotechnology and genetic medicine industries involve both technological complexity and legal complexity. In addition, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, or the AIA, which was passed in September 2011, resulted in significant changes to the U.S. patent system.
An important change introduced by the AIA is that, as of March 16, 2013, the United States transitioned from a “first-to-invent” to a “first-to-file” system for deciding which party should be granted a patent when two or more patent applications are filed by different parties claiming the same invention. Under a “first-to-file” system, assuming the other requirements for patentability are met, the first inventor to file a patent application generally will be entitled to a patent on the invention regardless of whether another inventor had made the invention earlier. A third party that files a patent application in the USPTO after that date but before us could therefore be awarded a patent covering an invention of ours even if we made the invention before it was made by the third party. This will require us to be cognizant of the time from invention to filing of a patent application and diligent in filing patent applications, but circumstances could prevent us from promptly filing patent applications on our inventions.
In addition, a third party may attempt to use the USPTO procedures to invalidate our patent claims that would not have been invalidated if first challenged by the third party as a defendant in a district court action because of a lower evidentiary standard in USPTO proceedings compared to the evidentiary standard in U.S. federal courts necessary to invalidate a patent claim. An adverse determination in any such proceeding could reduce the scope of, or invalidate, our owned or in-licensed patent rights, allow third parties to commercialize our technology or products and compete directly with us, without payment to us, or result in our inability to manufacture or commercialize products without infringing third-party patent rights.
Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on several patent cases in recent years either narrowing the scope of patent protection available in certain circumstances or weakening the rights of patent owners in certain situations, and there are other open questions under patent law that courts have yet to decisively address. In addition to increasing uncertainty with regard to our ability to obtain patents in the future, this combination of events has created uncertainty with respect to the value of patents, once obtained. Depending on decisions by Congress, the federal courts and the USPTO, the laws and regulations governing patents could change in unpredictable ways and could weaken our ability to obtain new patents or to enforce our existing patents and patents that we might obtain in the future. In addition, the European patent system is relatively stringent in the type of amendments that are allowed during prosecution, but, the complexity and uncertainty of European patent laws has also increased in recent years. Complying with these laws and regulations could limit our ability to obtain new patents that may be important for our business.
We enjoy only limited geographical protection with respect to certain patents and we may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights throughout the world.
Filing, prosecuting and defending patents covering our product candidates in all countries throughout the world would be prohibitively expensive, and our intellectual property rights in some countries outside the United States can be less extensive than those in the United States. In-licensing patents covering our product candidates in all countries throughout the world may similarly be prohibitively expensive, if such opportunities are available at all. And in- licensing or filing, prosecuting and defending patents even in only those jurisdictions in which we develop or commercialize our product candidates may be prohibitively expensive or impractical. Competitors may use our and our licensors’ technologies in jurisdictions where we have not obtained patent protection or licensed patents to develop their own products and, further, may export otherwise infringing products to territories where we and our licensors have patent protection, but enforcement is not as strong as that in the United States, the UK or the EU. These products may compete with our product candidates, and our or our licensors’ patents or other intellectual property rights may not be effective or sufficient to prevent them from competing.
The laws of some jurisdictions do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as the laws or regulations in the United States, the UK and the EU, and many companies have encountered significant difficulties in protecting and defending proprietary rights in such jurisdictions. Moreover, the legal systems of certain countries, particularly certain developing countries, do not favor the enforcement of patents, trade secrets or other forms of intellectual property, which could make it difficult for us to prevent competitors in some jurisdictions from marketing competing products in violation of our proprietary rights generally. Proceedings to enforce our patent rights in foreign jurisdictions, whether or not successful, are likely to result in substantial costs and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business, and additionally could put at risk our or our licensors’ patents of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly, could increase the risk of our or our licensors’ patent applications not issuing, or could provoke third parties to assert claims against us. We may not prevail in any lawsuits that we initiate, while damages or other remedies may be awarded to the adverse party, which may be commercially significant. If we prevail, damages or other remedies awarded to us, if any, may not be commercially meaningful. Accordingly, our efforts, or the efforts of our licensors or collaborators, to enforce intellectual property rights around the world may be inadequate to obtain a significant commercial advantage from the intellectual property that we develop or license.
Patent terms may be inadequate to protect our competitive position on our product candidates for an adequate amount of time.
The term of any individual patent depends on applicable law in the country where the patent is granted. In the United States, provided all maintenance fees are timely paid, a patent generally has a term of 20 years from its application filing date or earliest claimed non-provisional filing date. Extensions may be available under certain circumstances, but the life of a patent and, correspondingly, the protection it affords is limited. Even if we or our licensors obtain patents covering our product candidates, when the terms of all patents covering a product expire, our business may become subject to competition from competitive medications, including generic medications. Given the amount of time required for the development, testing and regulatory review and approval of new product candidates, patents protecting such candidates may expire before or shortly after such candidates are commercialized. As a result, our owned and licensed patent portfolio may not provide us with sufficient rights to exclude others from commercializing products similar or identical to ours.
If we do not obtain patent term extension in the United States under the Hatch-Waxman Act and in foreign countries under similar legislation, thereby potentially extending the term of marketing exclusivity for our product candidates, our business may be harmed.
In the United States, a patent that covers an FDA-approved drug or biologic may be eligible for a term extension designed to restore the period of the patent term that is lost during the premarket regulatory review process conducted by the FDA. Depending upon the timing, duration and conditions of FDA marketing approval of our product candidates, one or more of our U.S. patents may be eligible for limited patent term extension under the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, or the Hatch-Waxman Act, which permits a patent term extension of up to five years for a patent covering an approved product as compensation for effective patent term lost during product development and the FDA regulatory review process. In the UK and the EU, our product candidates may be eligible for term extensions based on similar legislation. In each of these jurisdictions, however, we may not receive an extension if we fail to apply within applicable deadlines, fail to apply prior to expiration of relevant patents or otherwise fail to satisfy applicable requirements. Even if we are granted such extension, the duration of such extension may be less than our request. If we are unable to obtain a patent term extension, or if the term of any such extension is less than our request, the period during which we can enforce our patent rights for that product will be essentially shortened and our competitors may obtain approval to market competing products sooner. The resulting reduction in revenue from applicable products could be substantial.
Our proprietary rights may not adequately protect our technologies and product candidates, and do not necessarily address all potential threats to our competitive advantage.
The degree of future protection afforded by our intellectual property rights is uncertain because intellectual property rights have limitations, and may not adequately protect our business, or permit us to maintain our competitive advantage. The following examples are illustrative:
|●||others may be able to make products that are the same as or similar to our product candidates but that are not covered by the claims of the patents that we own or have exclusively licensed;|
|●||others, including inventors or developers of our owned or in-licensed patented technologies who may become involved with competitors, may independently develop similar technologies that function as alternatives or replacements for any of our technologies without infringing our intellectual property rights;|
|●||we or our licensors or our other collaboration partners might not have been the first to conceive and reduce to practice the inventions covered by the patents or patent applications that we own, license or will own or license;|
|●||we or our licensors or our other collaboration partners might not have been the first to file patent applications covering certain of the patents or patent applications that we or they own or have obtained a license, or will own or will have obtained a license;|
|●||we or our licensors may fail to meet obligations to the U.S. government with respect to in-licensed patents and patent applications funded by U.S. government grants, leading to the loss of patent rights;|
|●||issued patents that we own or exclusively license may not provide us with any competitive advantage, or may be held invalid or unenforceable, as a result of legal challenges by our competitors; and|
|●||our competitors might conduct research and development activities in countries where we do not have patent rights, or in countries where research and development safe harbor laws exist, and then use the information learned from such activities to develop competitive products for sale in our major commercial markets.|
Our reliance on third parties may require us to share our trade secrets, which increases the possibility that our trade secrets will be misappropriated or disclosed, and confidentiality agreements with employees and third parties may not adequately prevent disclosure of trade secrets and protect other proprietary information.
We consider proprietary trade secrets, confidential know-how and unpatented know-how to be important to our business. We may rely on trade secrets and confidential know-how to protect our technology, especially where patent protection is believed by us to be of limited value. However, trade secrets and confidential know-how are difficult to protect, and we have limited control over the protection of trade secrets and confidential know-how used by our licensors, collaborators and suppliers. Because we have relied in the past on third parties to manufacture our product candidates, because we may continue to do so in the future, and because we expect to collaborate with third parties on the development of our current product candidates and any future product candidates we develop, we may, at times, share trade secrets with them. We also conduct joint research and development programs that may require us to share trade secrets under the terms of our research and development partnerships or similar agreements. Under such circumstances, trade secrets and confidential know-how can be difficult to maintain as confidential.
To protect this type of information against disclosure or appropriation by competitors, our policy is to require our employees, consultants, contractors and advisors to enter into confidentiality agreements and, if applicable, material
transfer agreements, consulting agreements or other similar agreements with us prior to beginning research or disclosing proprietary information. These agreements typically limit the rights of the third parties to use or disclose our confidential information, including our trade secrets. However, current or former employees, consultants, contractors and advisers may unintentionally or willfully disclose our confidential information to competitors, and confidentiality agreements may not provide an adequate remedy in the event of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. We may also be subject to claims that our employees, consultants or independent contractors have wrongfully used or disclosed confidential information of their former employers or other third parties. The need to share trade secrets and other confidential information increases the risk that such trade secrets become known by our competitors, are inadvertently incorporated into the technology of others, or are disclosed or used in violation of these agreements. Given that our competitive position is based, in part, on our know-how and trade secrets, a competitor’s discovery of our trade secrets or other unauthorized use or disclosure would impair our competitive position and may have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations. Enforcing a claim that a third party obtained illegally and is using trade secrets and/or confidential know-how is expensive, time consuming and unpredictable, and the enforceability of confidentiality agreements may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Courts outside the United States are sometimes less willing to protect proprietary information, technology and know-how.
If our trademarks and trade names are not adequately protected, then we may not be able to build name recognition in our markets of interest and our business may be adversely affected.
If our trademarks and trade names are not adequately protected, then we may not be able to build name recognition in our markets of interest and our business may be adversely affected. Our trademark MeiraGTx has been registered in the EU, UK and United States. We may not be able to protect our rights to these trademarks and trade names, which we need to build name recognition among potential partners or customers in our markets of interest. At times, competitors may adopt trade names or trademarks similar to ours, thereby impeding our ability to build brand identity and possibly leading to market confusion. In addition, there could be potential trade name or trademark infringement claims brought by owners of other registered trademarks or trademarks that incorporate variations of our unregistered trademarks or trade names. Over the long term, if we are unable to successfully register our trademarks and trade names and establish name recognition based on our trademarks and trade names, then we may not be able to compete effectively and our business may be adversely affected. Our efforts to enforce or protect our proprietary rights related to trademarks, trade secrets, domain names, copyrights or other intellectual property may be ineffective and could result in substantial costs and diversion of resources and could adversely impact our financial condition or results of operations.
We may need to license or acquire additional intellectual property from third parties, and such intellectual property may not be available or may not be available on commercially reasonable terms.
The growth of our business may depend in part on our ability to acquire or in-license additional proprietary rights. For example, our programs may involve product candidates or equipment that may require the use of additional proprietary rights held by third parties. Our product candidates may also require specific formulations to work effectively and efficiently. These formulations may be covered by intellectual property rights held by others. We may develop products containing our compositions and pre-existing pharmaceutical compositions. These pharmaceutical products may be covered by intellectual property rights held by others. We may be required by the FDA, MHRA, EMA or other foreign regulatory authorities to provide a companion diagnostic test or tests with our product candidates. These diagnostic test or tests may be covered by intellectual property rights held by others. We may be unable to acquire or in-license any relevant third-party intellectual property rights that we identify as necessary or important to our business operations. We may fail to obtain any of these licenses at a reasonable cost or on reasonable terms, if at all, which would harm our business. We may need to cease use of the compositions or methods covered by such third-party intellectual property rights, and may need to seek to develop alternative approaches that do not infringe on such intellectual property rights which may entail additional costs and development delays, even if we were able to develop such alternatives, which may not be feasible. Even if we are able to obtain a license under such intellectual property rights, any such license may be non-exclusive, which may allow our competitors access to the same technologies licensed to us.
Risks Related to Employee Matters and Managing Growth
We will need to expand our organization, and we may experience difficulties in managing this growth, which could disrupt our operations.
As of December 31, 2021, we had 296 employees. We expect to continue to significantly expand our organization, including hiring and training significant numbers of employees and managerial personnel to staff our expanding manufacturing and supply chain operations in our new facilities in Ireland. We may have difficulty identifying, hiring and integrating new personnel. Future growth would impose significant additional responsibilities on our management, including the need to identify, recruit, maintain, motivate and integrate additional employees, consultants and contractors. Also, our management may need to divert a disproportionate amount of its attention away from our day-to-day activities and devote a substantial amount of time to managing these growth activities. We may not be able to effectively manage the expansion of our operations, which may result in weaknesses in our infrastructure, give rise to operational mistakes, loss of business opportunities, loss of employees and reduced productivity among remaining employees. Our expected growth could require significant capital expenditures and may divert financial resources from other projects, such as the development of product candidates. If our management is unable to effectively manage our growth, our expenses may increase more than expected, our ability to generate and/or grow revenues could be reduced, and we may not be able to implement our business strategy. Our future financial performance and our ability to commercialize our product candidates and compete effectively will depend, in part, on our ability to effectively manage any future growth. Our expected growth could require significant capital expenditures and may divert financial resources from other projects, such as the development of additional product candidates. If our management is unable to effectively manage our expected growth, our expenses may increase more than expected, our potential ability to generate revenue could be reduced and we may not be able to implement our business strategy. Many of the biotechnology companies that we compete against for qualified personnel and consultants have greater financial and other resources, different risk profiles and a longer history in the industry than we do. If we are unable to continue to attract and retain high-quality personnel and consultants, the rate and success at which we can discover and develop product candidates and operate our business will be limited.
Our future success depends on our ability to retain our key personnel and to attract, retain and motivate qualified personnel.
Our industry has experienced a high rate of turnover of management personnel in recent years. We are highly dependent on the development, regulatory, commercialization and business development expertise of Alexandria Forbes, Ph.D., our President and Chief Executive Officer, Rich Giroux, our Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer and Stuart Naylor, Ph.D., our Chief Development Officer, as well as the other principal members of our management, scientific and clinical teams. Although we have formal employment agreements with certain of our executive officers, these agreements do not prevent them from terminating their employment with us at any time and, for certain of our executive officers, entitle them to receive severance payments in connection with their voluntary resignation of employment.
If we lose one or more of our executive officers or key employees, our ability to implement our business strategy successfully could be seriously harmed. Furthermore, replacing executive officers and key employees may be difficult and may take an extended period of time because of the limited number of individuals in our industry with the breadth of skills and experience required to develop, gain regulatory approval of and commercialize product candidates successfully. Competition to hire from this limited pool is intense, and we may be unable to hire, train, retain or motivate these additional key personnel on acceptable terms given the competition among numerous pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for similar personnel. In addition, we rely on consultants and advisors, including scientific and clinical advisors, to assist us in formulating our research and development and commercialization strategy. Our consultants and advisors may be engaged by entities other than us and may have commitments under consulting or
advisory contracts with other entities that may limit their availability to us. If we are unable to continue to attract and retain high quality personnel, our ability to develop and commercialize product candidates will be limited.
Potential product liability lawsuits against us could cause us to incur substantial liabilities and limit commercialization of any products that we may develop.
The use of our product candidates in clinical trials and the sale of any products for which we obtain marketing approval exposes us to the risk of product liability claims. Product liability claims might be brought against us by consumers, health care providers, pharmaceutical companies or others selling or otherwise coming into contact with our products. On occasion, large judgments have been awarded in class action lawsuits based on products that had unanticipated adverse effects. If we cannot successfully defend against product liability claims, we could incur substantial liability and costs. In addition, regardless of merit or eventual outcome, product liability claims may result in:
|●||impairment of our business reputation and significant negative media attention;|
|●||withdrawal of participants from our clinical trials;|
|●||significant time, costs and diversion of management resources to defend the related litigation;|
|●||substantial monetary awards to patients or other claimants;|
|●||inability to commercialize our product candidates;|
|●||product recalls, withdrawals or labeling, marketing or promotional restrictions;|
|●||decreased demand for our product candidates, if approved for commercial sale; and|
|●||loss of revenue.|
Our insurance policies are expensive and protect us only from some business risks, which leaves us exposed to significant uninsured liabilities.
We do not carry insurance for all categories of risk that our business may encounter. Some of the policies we currently maintain include general liability, clinical trial liability, employment practices liability, property, auto, workers’ compensation, umbrella, cyber and directors’ and officers’ insurance. Any additional product liability insurance coverage we acquire in the future, may not be sufficient to reimburse us for any expenses or losses we may suffer. Moreover, insurance coverage is becoming increasingly expensive and restrictive, and in the future we may not be able to maintain insurance coverage at a reasonable cost or in sufficient amounts to protect us against losses due to liability. If we obtain marketing approval for our product candidates, we intend to acquire insurance coverage to include the sale of commercial products; however, we may be unable to obtain product liability insurance on commercially reasonable terms or in adequate amounts. A successful product liability claim or series of claims brought against us could cause our share price to decline and, if judgments exceed our insurance coverage, could adversely affect our results of operations and business, including preventing or limiting the commercialization of any product candidates we develop. We do not carry specific biological or hazardous waste insurance coverage, and our property, casualty and general liability insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for damages and fines arising from biological or hazardous waste exposure or contamination. Accordingly, in the event of contamination or injury, we could be held liable for damages or be penalized with fines in an amount exceeding our resources, and our clinical trials or regulatory approvals could be suspended.
Operating as a public company may make it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. As a result, it may be more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified
people to serve on our board of directors, our board committees or as executive officers. If we are unable to maintain existing insurance with adequate levels of coverage, any significant uninsured liability may require us to pay substantial amounts, which would adversely affect our cash position and results of operations.
Our employees and independent contractors, including consultants, vendors, and any third parties we may engage in connection with development and commercialization may engage in misconduct or other improper activities, including noncompliance with regulatory standards and requirements, which could harm our business.
Misconduct by our employees and independent contractors, including consultants, vendors, and any third parties we may engage in connection with development and commercialization, could include intentional, reckless or negligent conduct or unauthorized activities that violate: (i) applicable laws and regulations of the FDA, MHRA, EMA and other regulatory or governmental authorities, including those laws that require the reporting of true, complete and accurate information to such authorities; (ii) manufacturing standards; (iii) data privacy, security, fraud and abuse and other healthcare laws and regulations; or (iv) laws that require the reporting of true, complete and accurate financial information and data. Specifically, sales, marketing and business arrangements in the healthcare industry are subject to extensive laws and regulations intended to prevent fraud, misconduct, kickbacks, self-dealing and other abusive practices. These laws and regulations may restrict or prohibit a wide range of pricing, discounting, marketing and promotion, sales commission, customer incentive programs and other business arrangements. Activities subject to these laws could also involve the improper use or misrepresentation of information obtained in the course of clinical trials, creation of fraudulent data in preclinical studies or clinical trials or illegal misappropriation of drug product, which could result in regulatory sanctions and cause serious harm to our reputation. It is not always possible to identify and deter misconduct by employees and other third parties, and the precautions we take to detect and prevent this activity may not be effective in controlling unknown or unmanaged risks or losses or in protecting us from governmental investigations or other actions or lawsuits stemming from a failure to comply with such laws or regulations. Additionally, we are subject to the risk that a person or government could allege such fraud or other misconduct, even if none occurred. If any such actions are instituted against us, and we are not successful in defending ourselves or asserting our rights, those actions could have a significant impact on our business and results of operations, including the imposition of significant civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, monetary fines, disgorgements, possible exclusion from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, other U.S. federal healthcare programs or healthcare programs in other jurisdictions, integrity oversight and reporting obligations to resolve allegations of non-compliance, individual imprisonment, other sanctions, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and future earnings, and curtailment of our operations.
Our business and operations may suffer in the event of system failures and our systems and those of our business partners and service providers may be vulnerable to cybersecurity risks.
Our information technology systems, including manufacturing systems, as well as those of our business partners and service providers, are vulnerable to damage from computer viruses, unauthorized access, hardware and software failures, natural disasters, terrorism, war and telecommunication and electrical failures. If such an event were to occur, it could result in a material disruption of our product candidate development programs or manufacturing operations. For example, the loss of preclinical study or clinical trial data from completed, ongoing or planned trials could result in delays in our regulatory approval efforts and significantly increase our costs to recover or reproduce the data. A significant interruption to our manufacturing operations could delay the completion of clinical trials and increase the costs of those trials. To the extent that any disruption or security breach were to result in a loss of or damage to our data or applications, or inappropriate disclosure of personal, confidential or proprietary information, we could incur liability and the further development of our product candidates could be delayed.
In the ordinary course of our business, we, our business partners and our service providers collect, process and store sensitive data, including intellectual property, clinical trial data, proprietary business information, personal data and personally identifiable information of our clinical trial subjects and employees. The secure processing, maintenance and transmission of this information is critical to our operations. Increased cybersecurity threats pose a risk to this information, in addition to our and our business partners’ and service providers’ systems and networks. Attacks upon
information technology systems are increasing in their frequency, levels of persistence, sophistication and intensity, and are being conducted by sophisticated and organized groups, governments and individuals with a wide range of motives and expertise. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may also face increased cybersecurity risks due to our reliance on internet technology and the number of our employees who are working remotely, which may create additional opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities. Furthermore, because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access to, or to sabotage, systems change frequently and often are not recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or implement adequate preventative measures. We may also experience security breaches that may remain undetected for an extended period. Even if identified, we may be unable to adequately investigate or remediate incidents or breaches due to attackers increasingly using tools and techniques that are designed to circumvent controls, to avoid detection, and to remove or obfuscate forensic evidence.
Despite our security measures, our information technology and infrastructure may be vulnerable to cyber-attacks by hackers or internal bad actors, or breached due to employee error, a technical vulnerability, malfeasance or other disruptions that could have a negative impact, including loss or destruction of data (including confidential or critical business information). Although, to our knowledge, we have not experienced any such material security breach to date, we may experience cybersecurity incidents such as malware infections, ransomware, phishing attempts, thefts of personal, confidential, proprietary or other critical business information and other attempts at compromising our information technology that are typical for a company of our size in our market. Any security breach could compromise our networks and the information stored there could be accessed, publicly disclosed, lost or stolen. Any such access, disclosure or other loss of information could result in legal claims or proceedings, liability under laws that protect the privacy of personal information, significant regulatory penalties, and such an event could disrupt our operations, damage our reputation, result in significant expenses in implementing future security measures and cause a loss of confidence in us and our ability to conduct clinical trials, which could adversely affect our reputation and financial results, and delay clinical development of our product candidates.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has resulted in changes to regulatory requirements and has had and may continue to have a negative effect on global economic conditions, financial markets and our business, which could reduce the price of our shares.
Following a national referendum and enactment of legislation by the government of the UK, the UK formally withdrew from the EU on January 31, 2020, commonly referred to as “Brexit” and, following the expiry of the Brexit transitional period on December 31, 2020, the UK now operates under a distinct regulatory regime and certain EU laws now only apply to the UK in respect of Northern Ireland (as laid out in the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, including but not limited to MAs). The MHRA is now the UK’s standalone regulator. Although the UK and EU have reached an agreement on their future trading relationship pursuant to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or TCA, which has been provisionally applicable from January 1, 2021, the agreement does not cover all regulatory areas regarding supply of medicinal product, which will likely be subject to future bilateral discussions going forward and could further change the relationship between the UK and the EU in this regard.
EU laws which have been transposed into UK law through secondary legislation continue to be applicable as “retained EU law”. However, new legislation such as the EU Clinical Trials Regulation, (“EU CTR”) or in relation to orphan medicines will not be applicable. In addition, as there is no general power to amend the “retained EU law”, the UK government adopted the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021 in February 2021 which introduces delegated powers in favor of the Secretary of State or an “appropriate authority” to amend or supplement existing regulations in the area of medicinal products. This allows new rules to be introduced in the future by way of secondary legislation, which aims to allow flexibility in addressing regulatory gaps and future changes in the fields of human medicines and clinical trials of human medicines. The new UK legislation may diverge from EU law and require that we comply with separate procedures and standards, which may lead to additional costs and increase our overall risk exposure.
Brexit has created additional administrative burdens that are likely to result in disruptions to and uncertainty surrounding our planned clinical trials and activities in the UK and the EU, which may impact relationships with our
existing and prospective customers, partners, vendors and employees. Already, various benefits of membership no longer apply to the UK for clinical trials, such that, for example, UK sponsored trials that span several EU countries now need to have an individual or organization in the EU to act as a legal representative, or sponsor and it is unclear whether the UK will have access to new EU clinical trial databases such as the Clinical Trial Information System going forward, (the centralized EU Portal for clinical trial information storage). Additionally, new rules apply to the import of investigational medicinal products from the EU and EEA to Great Britain.
While agreement on the terms of the TCA has avoided a “no deal” Brexit scenario, and provides in principle for quota and tariff free trading of goods, it is nevertheless expected that the TCA will result in the creation of non-tariff barriers (such as increased shipping and regulatory costs and complexities) to the trade in goods between the UK and EU. Further, the TCA does not provide for the continued free movement of services between the UK and EU and also grants each of the UK and EU the ability, in certain circumstances, to unilaterally impose tariffs on one another. The TCA does provide for the mutual recognition of GMP, inspections of manufacturing facilities for medicinal products and GMP documents issued. However, it is important to note that significant regulatory gaps still exist and the TCA does not contain wholesale mutual recognition of UK and EU pharmaceutical regulations and product standards between the parties, for example, in relation to batch testing and pharmacovigilance, which remain subject to further discussions.
For MAs, an applicant for a centralized procedure MA must be established in the EU. After Brexit, companies established in the UK can no longer use the centralized procedure and instead must follow one of the UK national authorization procedures or one of the remaining post-Brexit international cooperation procedures (such as the Access Consortium) to obtain an MA to market products in the UK. The MHRA may rely on a decision taken by the European Commission on the approval of a new (centralized procedure) MA when determining an application for a Great Britain MA; or use the MHRA’s decentralized or mutual recognition procedures which enable MAs approved in EU member states (or Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) to be granted in Great Britain. Additionally, the ‘Unfettered Access Procedure’ enables a marketing authorization holder in Northern Ireland to seek recognition in Great Britain.
The full impact of these new arrangements and requirements, both on our existing processes and our ability to adjust our business and operations to operate successfully in the UK and EU, as well as more broadly on UK-EU cross-border trade and the economy, are expected to become clearer in the course of 2021. In particular, it remains to be seen whether the initial implementation of, and adjustment of UK-EU trading processes for, the TCA could disrupt or otherwise negatively impact our business and operations. These negative impacts could include amongst others a decrease in foreign direct investment in the UK, an increase of our costs, disruption of our supply chains, restrictions on our ability to access capital and depression on economic activity or economic instability, which could in turn lead to a reduction in asset valuations, currency exchange rates and credit ratings.
In addition, the TCA has imposed additional restrictions on the free movement of people between the UK and the EU, which could have a material adverse effect on us, since we compete in these jurisdictions for well qualified employees in all aspects of our business. Any impact on our ability to attract new employees and to retain existing employees in their current jurisdictions could decrease our competitiveness. Any of these factors could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects.
Risks Related to Our Ordinary Shares
The market price of our ordinary shares may be volatile and fluctuate substantially, which could result in substantial losses for purchasers of our ordinary shares.
Our share price is likely to be volatile. The stock market in general and the market for smaller biopharmaceutical companies in particular have experienced extreme volatility that has often been unrelated to the operating performance of particular companies. Additionally, the trading prices for our ordinary shares and the shares of other smaller biopharmaceutical companies have been and continue to be highly volatile as a result of the COVID-
19 pandemic. As a result of this volatility, you may not be able to sell your ordinary shares at or above your purchase price. The market price for our ordinary shares may be influenced by many factors, including:
|●||the success of competitive products or technologies;|
|●||actual or expected changes in our growth rate relative to our competitors;|
|●||results of clinical trials of our product candidates or those of our competitors;|
|●||developments related to our existing or any future collaborations;|
|●||regulatory or legal developments in the United States and other countries;|
|●||development of new product candidates that may address our markets and make our product candidates less attractive;|
|●||changes in physician, hospital or healthcare provider practices that may make our product candidates less useful;|
|●||announcements by us, our partners or our competitors of significant acquisitions, strategic partnerships, joint ventures, collaborations or capital commitments;|
|●||developments or disputes concerning patent applications, issued patents or other proprietary rights;|
|●||the recruitment or departure of key personnel;|
|●||the level of expenses related to any of our product candidates or clinical development programs;|
|●||failure to meet or exceed financial estimates and projections of the investment community or that we provide to the public;|
|●||the results of our efforts to discover, develop, acquire or in-license additional product candidates or products;|
|●||actual or expected changes in estimates as to financial results, development timelines, recommendations by securities analysts or shifting investor perceptions;|
|●||variations in our financial results or those of companies that are perceived to be similar to us;|
|●||changes in the structure of healthcare payment systems;|
|●||market conditions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors;|
|●||general economic, industry and market conditions;|
|●||changes in accounting principles; and|
|●||the other factors described in this “Item 1A. Risk Factors” section and elsewhere in this Form 10-K.|
In addition, the stock market in general, and Nasdaq and biopharmaceutical companies in particular, have experienced extreme price and volume fluctuations that have often been unrelated or disproportionate to the operating
performance of these companies. In the past, when the market price of a security has been volatile, holders of that security have sometimes instituted securities class action litigation against the issuer. This risk is especially relevant for us because biopharmaceutical companies have experienced significant stock price volatility in recent years and during the COVID-19 pandemic. If any of the holders of our ordinary shares were to bring such a lawsuit against us, we could incur substantial costs defending the lawsuit and the attention of our senior management would be diverted from the operation of our business. Any adverse determination in litigation could also subject us to significant liabilities. Broad market and industry factors may negatively affect the market price of our ordinary shares, as well as general economic, political and market conditions such as recessions, interest rate changes or international currency fluctuations, regardless of our actual operating performance. Further, a decline in the financial markets and related factors beyond our control may cause the price of our ordinary shares to decline rapidly and unexpectedly. If the market price of our ordinary shares does not exceed your purchase price, you may not realize any return on your investment in us and may lose some or all of your investment.
Our executive officers, directors and principal shareholders, if they choose to act together, have the ability to significantly influence all matters submitted to shareholders for approval.
As of December 31, 2021, our executive officers, directors and shareholders who owned more than 5% of our outstanding ordinary shares and their respective affiliates, in the aggregate, hold ordinary shares representing approximately 41.1% of our outstanding ordinary shares.
As a result, if these shareholders choose to act together, they would be able to significantly influence all matters submitted to our shareholders for approval, as well as our management and affairs. For example, these persons, if they choose to act together, would significantly influence the election of directors, the composition of our management and approval of any merger, consolidation, sale of all or substantially all of our assets or other business combination that other shareholders may desire. Any of these actions could adversely affect the market price of our ordinary shares.
We are an “emerging growth company” and a “smaller reporting company,” and the reduced disclosure requirements applicable to emerging growth companies and smaller reporting companies may make our ordinary shares less attractive to investors.
We are an “emerging growth company,” as defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (“JOBS Act”), and may remain an emerging growth company until the last day of the fiscal year following the fifth anniversary of our IPO. However, if certain events occur prior to the end of such five-year period, including if we become a “large accelerated filer,” our annual gross revenues exceed $1.07 billion or we issue more than $1.0 billion of non-convertible debt in any three-year period, we will cease to be an emerging growth company prior to the end of such five-year period. For so long as we remain an emerging growth company, we are permitted and intend to rely on exemptions from certain disclosure requirements that are applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies. These exemptions include:
|●||reduced disclosure obligations relating to the presentation of financial statements in the “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” disclosure in our periodic reports filed with the SEC;|
|●||not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements in the assessment of our internal control over financial reporting;|
|●||not being required to comply with any requirement that may be adopted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board regarding mandatory audit firm rotation or a supplement to the auditor’s report providing additional information about the audit and the financial statements;|
|●||reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation; and|
|●||exemptions from the requirements of holding a nonbinding advisory vote on executive compensation and shareholder approval of any golden parachute payments not previously approved.|
In addition, the JOBS Act provides that an emerging growth company can take advantage of an extended transition period for complying with new or revised accounting standards. This allows an emerging growth company to delay the adoption of these accounting standards until they would otherwise apply to private companies. We have elected to take advantage of this extended transition period.
We are also a smaller reporting company, and we will remain a smaller reporting company until the fiscal year following the determination that our voting and non-voting ordinary shares held by non-affiliates is more than $250 million measured on the last business day of our second fiscal quarter, or our annual revenues are more than $100 million during the most recently completed fiscal year and our voting and non-voting ordinary shares held by non-affiliates is more than $700 million measured on the last business day of our second fiscal quarter. Similar to emerging growth companies, smaller reporting companies are able to provide simplified executive compensation disclosure, are exempt from the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404, and have certain other reduced disclosure obligations, including, among other things, not being required to provide selected financial data, supplemental financial information or risk factors.
We may choose to take advantage of some, but not all, of the available exemptions for emerging growth companies and smaller reporting companies. We cannot predict whether investors will find our ordinary shares less attractive if we rely on these exemptions. If some investors find our ordinary shares less attractive as a result, there may be a less active trading market for our ordinary shares and our share price may be more volatile.
Anti-takeover provisions in our organizational documents and Cayman Islands law may discourage or prevent a change of control, even if an acquisition would be beneficial to our shareholders, which could depress the price of our ordinary shares and prevent attempts by our shareholders to replace or remove our current management.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain provisions that may discourage unsolicited takeover proposals that shareholders may consider to be in their best interests. Our board of directors is divided into three classes with staggered, three-year terms. Our board of directors has the ability to designate the terms of and issue preferred shares without shareholder approval. We are also subject to certain provisions under Cayman Islands law that could delay or prevent a change of control. Together these provisions may make more difficult the removal of management and may discourage transactions that otherwise could involve payment of a premium over prevailing market prices for our ordinary shares.
There may be difficulties in enforcing foreign judgments against our management or us.
Certain of our directors and management reside outside the United States. A significant portion of our assets and such persons’ assets are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for investors to effect service of process upon us within the United States or other jurisdictions, including judgments predicated upon the civil liability provisions of the federal securities laws of the United States.
In particular, investors should be aware that there is uncertainty as to whether the courts of the Cayman Islands or any other applicable jurisdictions would recognize and enforce judgments of U.S. courts obtained against us or our directors or management predicated upon the civil liability provisions of the securities laws of the United States or any state in the United States or entertain original actions brought in the Cayman Islands or any other applicable jurisdiction’s courts against us or our directors or officers predicated upon the securities laws of the United States or any state in the United States.
The rights of our shareholders differ from the rights typically offered to shareholders of a U.S. corporation.
Our corporate affairs and the rights of holders of ordinary shares are governed by Cayman Islands law, including the provisions of the Cayman Islands Companies Law (as amended), or the Companies Law, the common law of the Cayman Islands and by our memorandum and articles of association. We are also subject to the federal securities laws of the United States. The rights of shareholders to take action against the directors, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from English common law, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors under Cayman Islands law are different from what they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a different body of securities laws as compared to the United States, and certain states, such as Delaware, may have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholders derivative action in a Federal court of the United States.
As a result of all of the above, public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by management, members of the board of directors or controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a United States company.
We expect to be treated as resident in the UK for tax purposes, but may be treated as a dual resident company for UK tax purposes.
Our board of directors conducts our affairs so that the central management and control of the company is exercised in the UK. As a result, we expect to be treated as resident in the UK for UK tax purposes. Accordingly, we expect to be subject to UK taxation on our income and gains, except where an exemption applies.
However, we may be treated as a dual resident company for UK tax purposes. As a result, our right to claim certain reliefs from UK tax may be restricted, and changes in law or practice in the UK could result in the imposition of further restrictions on our right to claim UK tax reliefs.
We may be classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for U.S. federal income tax purposes, which could result in adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences to U.S. investors in our ordinary shares.
Based on the current and anticipated value of our assets, including goodwill, and the current and anticipated composition of our income, assets and operations, we do not believe we were a PFIC for the taxable year ended on December 31, 2021, and do not expect to be a PFIC for the current taxable year. However, the application of the PFIC rules is subject to uncertainty in several respects, and we cannot assure you that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or the IRS, will not take a contrary position. Furthermore, a separate determination must be made after the close of each taxable year as to whether we are a PFIC for that year. Accordingly, we cannot assure you that we were not a PFIC for our taxable year ended on December 31, 2021 or that we will not be a PFIC for our current taxable year or any future taxable year. A non-U.S. company will be considered a PFIC for any taxable year if (i) at least 75% of its gross income is passive income (including interest income), or (ii) at least 50% of the value of its assets (based on an average of the quarterly values of the assets during a taxable year) is attributable to assets that produce or are held for the production of passive income. The value of our assets generally is determined by reference to the market price of our ordinary shares, which may fluctuate considerably. In addition, the composition of our income and assets is affected by how, and how quickly, we spend any cash we raise. If we were to be classified as a PFIC for any taxable year during which a U.S. holder holds our ordinary shares, certain materially adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences could apply to such U.S. holder.
If a United States person is treated as owning at least 10% of our ordinary shares, such holder may be subject to adverse U.S. federal income tax consequences.
If a U.S. holder of our ordinary shares is treated as owning (directly, indirectly or constructively) at least 10% of the value or voting power of our ordinary shares, such U.S. holder may be treated as a “United States shareholder” with respect to each “controlled foreign corporation” in our group (if any). If our group includes one or more U.S. subsidiaries, certain of our non-U.S. subsidiaries could be treated as controlled foreign corporations (regardless of whether we are treated as a controlled foreign corporation). A United States shareholder of a controlled foreign corporation may be required to report annually and include in its U.S. taxable income its pro rata share of “Subpart F income,” “global intangible low-taxed income” and investments in U.S. property by controlled foreign corporations, regardless of whether we make any distributions. An individual that is a United States shareholder with respect to a controlled foreign corporation generally would not be allowed certain tax deductions or foreign tax credits that would be allowed to a United States shareholder that is a U.S. corporation. Failure to comply with these reporting obligations may subject you to significant monetary penalties and may prevent the statute of limitations from starting with respect to your U.S. federal income tax return for the year for which reporting was due. We cannot provide any assurances that we will assist investors in determining whether any of our non-U.S. subsidiaries is treated as a controlled foreign corporation or whether such investor is treated as a United States shareholder with respect to any of such controlled foreign corporations. Further, we cannot provide any assurances that we will furnish to any United States shareholders information that may be necessary to comply with the aforementioned reporting and tax payment obligations. U.S. holders of our ordinary shares should consult their tax advisors regarding the potential application of these rules to their investment in our ordinary shares.
Changes in tax laws or challenges to our tax position could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to complex tax laws that are subject to change or differing interpretations, including on a retroactive basis. Any such changes in tax laws, regulations and treaties, or the interpretation thereof, tax policy initiatives and reforms under consideration and the practices of tax authorities in jurisdictions in which we operate could adversely affect our tax position, including our effective tax rate or tax payments.
We have significant U.S. federal and state net operating losses, or NOLs, and UK carryforward tax losses which we may not be able to realize or which may be restricted under applicable law. We also benefit from certain tax incentive regimes, such as research and development tax credits. Any adverse change to these regimes, the application thereof or challenges to the tax position we have adopted under these rules could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
As of December 31, 2021, we had federal and state NOL carryforwards in the United States of $73.6 million and $73.3 million, respectively, and cumulative carryforward tax losses in the UK of $164.3 million, which we expect to be available to reduce future taxable income subject to any relevant restrictions (including those in the U.S. and UK that limit the percentage of taxable income that can be reduced by NOLs and carried forward losses). The U.S. federal and state NOLs incurred prior to January 1, 2018 in the amount of approximately $6.8 million and $6.7 million, respectively, will begin to expire in 2036. U.S. federal NOLs generated after December 31, 2017 are not subject to expiration but such NOLs may only offset 80% of taxable income for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020. As of December 31, 2021, we also had orphan drug and research and development credits in the U.S. in the amount of $6.7 million and research and development credits in the UK of $1.5 million. The UK carryforward tax losses will continue indefinitely, subject to relevant restrictions, under current UK legislation.
The NOLs and carryforward tax losses are subject to review and possible adjustment by the applicable tax authorities. Additionally, NOLs and UK carryforward tax losses, and research and development tax credits, may become subject to limitations in the event of certain cumulative changes in the ownership interest of significant shareholders, as determined under Sections 382 of the United States Internal Revenue Code, as well as the Corporation Tax Act 2010 Part 14 under the UK tax rules. This could limit the amount of NOLs or carryforward tax losses that we can utilize
annually to offset future taxable income or tax liabilities. We have conducted a review of changes in the ownership interest of significant shareholders and determined that as of December 31, 2020, there were no limitations in the UK. However, for U.S. federal tax purposes, we have determined that ownership changes occurred in August 2016 and June 2018. We are still in the process of determining the annual limitation on NOLs as a result of such ownership changes. Subsequent ownership changes and changes to the U.S. federal or state or UK tax rules in respect of the utilization of NOLs and carryforward tax losses may further affect the limitation in future years.
General Risk Factors
We may engage in acquisitions that could disrupt our business, cause dilution to our shareholders or reduce our financial resources.
We have, and may in the future, enter into transactions to acquire other businesses, products or technologies. If we do identify suitable candidates, we may not be able to make such acquisitions on favorable terms, or at all. Any acquisitions we make may not strengthen our competitive position, and these transactions may be viewed negatively by customers or investors. We may decide to incur debt in connection with an acquisition or issue our ordinary shares or other equity securities to the shareholders of the acquired company, which would reduce the percentage ownership of our existing shareholders. We could incur losses resulting from undiscovered liabilities of the acquired business that are not covered by the indemnification we may obtain from the seller. In addition, we may not be able to successfully integrate the acquired personnel, technologies and operations into our existing business in an effective, timely and nondisruptive manner. Acquisitions may also divert management attention from day-to-day responsibilities, increase our expenses and reduce our cash available for operations and other uses. We cannot predict the number, timing or size of future acquisitions or the effect that any such transactions might have on our operating results.
Exchange rate fluctuations may adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Owing to the international scope of our operations, fluctuations in exchange rates may adversely affect us, particularly between the U.S. dollar on the one hand, and the pound sterling and euro on the other hand. As a result, our business and the market price of our securities may be affected by such fluctuations, which may have a significant impact on our results of operations and cash flows from period to period. Currently, we do not have any exchange rate hedging arrangements in place
Our management team has broad discretion as to the use of the net proceeds from public and private equity or debt financings and the investment of these proceeds may not yield a favorable return. We may invest the proceeds in ways with which our shareholders disagree.
We have broad discretion in the application of any net proceeds we may receive pursuant to any past or future equity or debt financings. Shareholders may not agree with our decisions, and our use of the proceeds and our existing cash and cash equivalents may not improve our results of operation or enhance the value of our ordinary shares. Our failure to apply these funds effectively could have a material adverse effect on our business, delay the development of our product candidates and cause the market price of our ordinary shares to decline. In addition, until the net proceeds are used, they may be placed in investments that do not produce significant income or that may lose value. Additionally, our existing cash and cash equivalents are subject to general credit, liquidity, market and interest rate risks, which have been and may, in the future, be exacerbated by a U.S. and/or global financial crises. We may realize losses in the fair value of certain of our investments or a complete loss of these investments if the credit markets tighten, which would have an adverse effect on our results of operations, liquidity and financial condition.
We incur substantial costs as a result of operating as a public company, and our management is required to devote substantial time to new compliance initiatives and corporate governance practices.
As a public company, and particularly if we no longer qualify as an emerging growth company and smaller reporting company in the future, we incur and will continue to incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, The Nasdaq Global Select listing requirements and other applicable securities rules and regulations impose various requirements on public companies, including establishment and maintenance of effective disclosure and financial controls and corporate governance practices. Our management and other personnel need to devote a substantial amount of time to these compliance initiatives. Moreover, these rules and regulations increase our legal and financial compliance costs.
Pursuant to Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or Section 404, we are required to furnish a report by our management on our internal control over financial reporting. However, while we remain an emerging growth company, we will not be required to include an attestation report on internal control over financial reporting issued by our independent registered public accounting firm. To achieve compliance with Section 404, we engage in a process to document and evaluate our internal control over financial reporting, which is both costly and challenging. In this regard, we will need to continue to dedicate internal resources, potentially engage outside consultants, adopt a detailed work plan to assess and document the adequacy of internal control over financial reporting, continue steps to improve control processes as appropriate, validate through testing whether such controls are functioning as documented, and implement a continuous reporting and improvement process for internal control over financial reporting. Despite our efforts, there is a risk that we, or our independent registered public accounting firm if we no longer qualify as an emerging growth company, will not be able to conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is effective as required by Section 404. In addition, any testing by us conducted in connection with Section 404, or any subsequent testing by our independent registered public accounting firm, may reveal deficiencies in our internal controls over financial reporting that are deemed to be material weaknesses or that may require prospective or retroactive changes to our financial statements or identify other areas for further attention or improvement. If we identify one or more material weaknesses or determine we have inadequate internal controls, it could result in an adverse reaction in the financial markets due to a loss of confidence in the reliability of our financial statements.
If securities or industry analysts cease to publish research or reports about our business, or if they issue an adverse or misleading opinion regarding our ordinary shares, our share price and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ordinary shares relies in part on the research and reports that industry or securities analysts publish about us or our business. We do not control these analysts. Furthermore, if any of the analysts who cover us issue an adverse or misleading opinion regarding us, our business model, our intellectual property or our share performance, or if any of our preclinical studies or clinical trials and operating results fail to meet the expectations of analysts, our share price would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts ceases coverage of us or fails to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which in turn could cause our share price or trading volume to decline.
Expectations relating to environmental, social and governance factors may impose additional costs and expose us to new risks.
There is an increasing focus from the SEC, stock exchanges, certain investors and other stakeholders concerning corporate responsibility, specifically related to environmental, social and governance factors. The SEC is considering new disclosure requirements relating to environmental, social and governance factors, and the SEC recently approved new Nasdaq listing and disclosure requirements relating to board diversity that are applicable to us. Some investors may use these factors to guide their investment strategies and, in some cases, may choose not to invest in us if they believe our policies and disclosures relating to corporate responsibility are inadequate. Third-party providers of corporate responsibility ratings and reports on companies have varied and in some cases inconsistent standards. In addition, the
criteria by which companies’ corporate responsibility practices are assessed are evolving, which could result in greater expectations of us and cause us to undertake costly initiatives to satisfy such new criteria. Alternatively, if we elect not to or are unable to satisfy such new criteria or do not meet the criteria of a specific third-party provider, some investors may conclude that our policies with respect to corporate responsibility are insufficient. We may face reputational damage in the event that our corporate responsibility procedures or standards do not meet the standards set by various constituencies. Furthermore, if our competitors’ corporate responsibility performance is perceived to be greater than ours, potential or current investors may elect to invest with our competitors instead. In addition, in the event that we communicate or disclose certain initiatives and goals regarding environmental, social and governance matters, we could fail, or be perceived to fail, in our achievement of such initiatives or goals, or we could be criticized for the scope of such initiatives or goals or be subject to litigation for such failures. If we fail to satisfy the expectations of investors and other stakeholders or our initiatives are not executed as planned, our reputation and financial results could be adversely affected.
Because we do not anticipate paying any cash dividends on our ordinary shares in the foreseeable future, capital appreciation, if any, would be your sole source of gain.
Under Cayman Islands law, we may only make distributions by way of dividend out of profits, or out of our share premium account (provided that immediately following the date that the dividend is proposed to be paid we are able to pay our debts as they fall due in the ordinary course of business). We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our ordinary shares. We currently anticipate that we will retain future earnings for the development, operation and expansion of our business and do not anticipate declaring or paying any cash dividends for the foreseeable future. As a result, capital appreciation, if any, of our ordinary shares would be your sole source of gain on an investment in our ordinary shares for the foreseeable future. See the “Dividend Policy” section of this Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2021 for additional information.
ITEM 1B.UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Our principal office is located at 450 East 29th Street, New York, New York, USA, where we lease 22,721 square feet of office and laboratory space. We lease this office space under a lease that terminates on October 31, 2026.
We also own a long leasehold interest in the ground rights where our 29,000 square foot manufacturing facility is located, at 92 Britannia Walk, London, United Kingdom. The long leasehold interest expires in 2126, and there is no facility rent due.
Additionally, we lease an 11,306 square foot office facility located at 34-38 Provost Street, London, United Kingdom and 6,679 square feet of laboratory facilities at 15 Ebenezer Street, London, United Kingdom. The office space lease terminates on September 8, 2029 and the laboratory leases terminate on May 24, 2027. We also lease 10,126 square feet of office, laboratory and storage facilities at Paalbergweg 2-4, Amsterdam, Netherlands. The lease terminates on March 30, 2031.
In January 2021, we completed the acquisition of the buildings for our second cGMP viral vector manufacturing facility and our first cGMP plasmid and DNA production facility located in Buildings 2 and 3, Block K, Airport Avenue, Shannon Free Zone, Shannon, Ireland. The campus encompasses an aggregate of 150,000 square feet. We also entered into a lease for each property providing for a long leasehold interest of approximately 191 years.
ITEM 3.LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
We are not subject to any material legal proceedings.
ITEM 4.MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
ITEM 5.MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Our ordinary shares trade on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol “MGTX.”
Holders of Record
As of March 8, 2022, there were 64 holders of record. The actual number of shareholders of our ordinary shares is greater than this number of record holders and includes shareholders who are beneficial owners but whose ordinary shares are held in street name by brokers and other nominees. This number of holders of record also does not include shareholders whose ordinary shares may be held in trust by other entities.
We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our ordinary shares. We intend to retain future earnings, if any, to finance the operation and expansion of our business and do not anticipate paying any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. However, if we do pay a cash dividend on our ordinary shares in the future, we will only pay such dividend out of our profits or share premium (subject to solvency requirements) as permitted under Cayman Islands law.
Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities
On October 4, 2021 (the “Bullseye Closing Date”), we acquired Bullseye Therapeutics, Inc. (“Bullseye”), a company engaged in developing mechanisms to deliver retinal drugs and gene therapies to the eye. We entered into an agreement to acquire Bullseye pursuant to an Agreement and Plan of Merger (the “Bullseye Merger Agreement”) by and among the Company, Bullseye, BT Acquisition Sub, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Company (“Merger Sub 1”), BT Acquisition Sub 2, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Company (“Merger Sub 2”), the Bullseye stockholders named therein and the Bullseye stockholder representative, pursuant to which Merger Sub 1 was merged with and into Bullseye, with Bullseye being the surviving corporation (“Merger 1”) and, immediately following Merger 1, Bullseye was merged with and into Merger Sub 2, with Merger Sub 2 being the surviving corporation (together with Merger 1, the “Bullseye Merger”). As a result of the Bullseye Merger, Bullseye is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Company.
In connection with the acquisition of Bullseye, the consideration to Bullseye’s selling stockholders consisted of an aggregate of 80,276 of the Company’s ordinary shares of which (i) 12,040 ordinary shares were issued on the Bullseye Closing Date, (ii) 28,097 restricted ordinary shares were issued on the Bullseye Closing Date, with 50% of such restricted ordinary shares scheduled to vest on each of the first and second anniversaries of the Bullseye Closing Date, and (iii) 40,139 ordinary shares will be issued 18 months following the Bullseye Closing Date, provided that the shares described in clauses (ii) and (iii) are subject to certain indemnificati