At the heart of Beacon's mission is Professor Robert MacLaren, a distinguished academic leader in the world of ophthalmology and co-founder of Beacon Therapeutics. For the past ten years, Professor MacLaren has tirelessly explored the application of gene and cell therapies to combat sight loss across various complex conditions, including macular degeneration, a condition which affects an estimated 1 in 200 people in the UK by the age of 60. MacLaren’s ground-breaking work, emanating from the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), laid the foundation for Beacon Therapeutics.
'As a retinal specialist, I became interested in gene therapy when I noticed impressive advancements in the understanding of genetics, but nothing to treat genetic diseases causing blindness in young people,' explained Professor MacLaren, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Oxford. 'Genetic diseases are now the most common cause of untreatable blindness in young people and this motivates us to search for solutions,' said MacLaren. 'I was driven to bridge this gap by taking the science, developing it further and then testing it in clinical trials. This translational approach proved successful as it required both clinical expertise and scientific knowledge.'
This passion led to the creation of Nightstar Therapeutics, a spinout company created with Oxford University Innovation in 2014. Nightstar developed rapidly, licensing additional research programs and attracting over £75m in external investment. The company held its initial public offering on the NASDAQ within just three years, the fastest an Oxford University company had ever grown from spinout to publicly traded company. The flotation was later followed by an acquisition in 2019 by biotech firm Biogen for $800m – which also stands as a record merger and acquisition for a spinout born out of the University. Despite very promising results in clinical trials, Biogen decided to reduce its focus on ophthalmology to concentrate on neurological diseases, which has resulted in some of this vital intellectual property being returned to the University.