Oxford University Innovation
KE Deal of the Year Finalist: Nightstar - ‘Revolutionising the treatment of blinding eye diseases’
Nightstar is a leading clinical-stage gene therapy company focused on developing and commercializing novel, one-time treatments for patients suffering from rare inherited retinal diseases that would otherwise progress to blindness. From spinning out of Oxford University in 2013 to the announcement in March 2019 of a planned acquisition as one of the most valuable UK biotechs ever sold, the Nightstar story is truly inspiring. The incredible underpinning technology, the speed at which it has developed, and its potential to change lives is a prime example of how knowledge exchange activity can generate impact. At $877m, it will be the single biggest exit of an Oxford spinout to date. The acquisition by Biogen should see significant returns for the founding academics, institutions, research funders and investors as well as provide the vital resources to take the company’s potential products to market. Oxford University Innovation (OUI) has played an important role in the Nightstar story, from initial invention disclosures, filing patents, support in gaining translational funding, participation in advisory committees, establishing the company, negotiating investment and licences to technologies, managing the patent portfolio and supporting the company through rapid growth with increasing scrutiny from external parties at each investment round. Oxford University has also sponsored a phase II clinical trial. Nightstar has seen challenges familiar to many technology transfer projects. These include complex IP provenance, significant IP protection strategy requirements, appropriate commercial contracts in the context of cutting-edge science opening new commercial markets and the need for numerous and diverse stakeholders in order to achieve the ultimate goal of patient impact. OUI has worked hard over many years to overcome these challenges and the 2019 announcement of Biogen’s proposed acquisition of Nightstar represents a significant achievement.