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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

WASHINGTON, DC 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2017

OR

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

Commission File Number: 001-36370

 

APPLIED GENETIC TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION

(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)

 

Delaware

 

59-3553710

(State or Other Jurisdiction of

Incorporation or Organization)

 

(I.R.S. Employer

Identification No.)

14193 NW 119th Terrace

Suite 10

Alachua, Florida 32615

(Address of Principal Executive Offices, Including Zip Code)

(386) 462-2204

(Registrant’s Telephone Number, Including Area Code)

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Title of class

 

Name of exchange on which registered

Common Stock, $.001 par value

 

NASDAQ Global Market

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       No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.    Yes       No  

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.    Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted 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 and post such files).    Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§ 229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):

 

Large accelerated filer

 

 

Accelerated filer

 

 

 

 

 

Non-accelerated filer

 

  (Do not check if a smaller reporting company)

 

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 is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).    Yes       No  

The aggregate market value of the voting common shares held by non-affiliates of the registrant was approximately $154.8 million, computed by reference to the closing sale price of the common stock as reported by The NASDAQ Global Market on December 31, 2016, the last trading day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter.  The Company has no non-voting common shares.

The number of shares of the registrant’s common stock outstanding as of August 31, 2017 was 18,087,785.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Certain information required to be provided in Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K will be provided by an amendment to our Annual Report on Form 10-K/A (the “Annual Report Amendment”) to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on or before October 27, 2017 .

 

 

 


APPLIED GENETIC TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION

ANNUAL REPORT ON FORM 10-K

FOR FISCAL YEAR ENDED JUNE 30, 2017

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

Page

PART I

 

 

 

Item 1.

Business

 

1

Item 1A.

Risk Factors

 

27

Item 1B.

Unresolved Staff Comments

 

61

Item 2.

Properties

 

61

Item 3.

Legal Proceedings

 

61

Item 4.

Mine Safety Disclosures

 

61

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

Market For Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

61

Item 6.

Selected Financial Data

 

64

Item 7.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

 

65

Item 7A.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

 

79

Item 8.

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

80

Item 9.

Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

 

109

Item 9A.

Controls and Procedures

 

109

Item 9B.

Other Information

 

110

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

 

110

Item 11.

Executive Compensation

 

111

Item 12.

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

 

111

Item 13.

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

 

111

Item 14.

Principal Accountant Fees and Services

 

111

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

Exhibits and Financial Statement Schedules

 

111

 

 

 

 

SIGNATURES

 

117

 

 

 


CAUTIONARY NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

This Annual Report on Form 10-K, including the sections entitled “Business,” “Risk Factors” and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” contains forward-looking statements. These statements may relate to, but are not limited to, expectations of our future results of operations, business strategies and operations, financing plans, potential growth opportunities, potential market opportunities and the effects of competition, as well as assumptions relating to the foregoing. Forward-looking statements are inherently subject to risks and uncertainties, some of which cannot be predicted or quantified. These risks and other factors include, but are not limited to, those listed under “Risk Factors.” In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by terminology such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “expect,” “plan,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “predict,” “intend,” “potential,” “might,” “would,” “continue” or the negative of these terms or other comparable terminology. These statements are only predictions. Actual events or results may differ materially.

There may be events in the future that we are not able to accurately predict or control and that may cause our actual results to differ materially from the expectations we describe in our forward-looking statements. Except as required by applicable law, including the securities laws of the United States and the rules and regulations of the SEC, we do not plan to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K after we file it, whether as a result of any new information, future events or otherwise. Before you invest in our common stock, you should be aware that the occurrence of any of the events described in the “Risk Factors” section and elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K could harm our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition. Although we believe that the expectations reflected in the forward-looking statements are reasonable, we cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements.

As used herein, except as otherwise indicated by context, references to “we,” “us,” “our,” or the “Company” refer to Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation.

 

 

PART I

ITEM 1.

BUSINESS

Overview

Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation (“AGTC”) is a clinical-stage biotechnology company that uses a proprietary gene therapy platform to develop transformational genetic therapies for patients suffering from rare and debilitating diseases.  Our initial focus is in the field of ophthalmology, where we have active clinical programs in X-linked retinoschisis (XLRS), X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), and achromatopsia (ACHM) and a preclinical program in optogenetics.  In addition to ophthalmology, we have recently initiated preclinical programs in adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) and otology.  With a number of important clinical milestones on the horizon, we believe we are well positioned to advance multiple programs towards pivotal studies. In addition to our product pipeline, we have also developed broad technological capabilities both internally and through our collaborations with 4D Molecular Therapeutics (4DMT), Synpromics Limited (Synpromics), and the University of Florida, which provide us with expertise in vector design and manufacturing as well as synthetic promoter development and optimization. Finally, our partnership with Biogen, which includes our clinical XLRS and XLRP programs, a discovery program in ALD and two ophthalmology programs, validates our approach and technology, and provides us with cash runway to advance our wholly owned candidates.  

Our strategy

Our objective is to become a leader in developing and commercializing gene therapy treatments for patients with severe diseases, with an initial focus in ophthalmology, and thereby provide a better life for patients with these diseases. Our strategy to accomplish this goal is to:

 

Develop and commercialize gene therapies in orphan ophthalmology. Our lead product candidates are treatments for the severe orphan eye diseases XLRS, ACHM, and XLRP. Given the severity of these diseases and the current lack of treatment options, a one-time-treatment alternative that corrects the underlying genetic defect would provide superior long-term value for patients, their families and the healthcare system more broadly.

 

Expand our position in ophthalmology.

 

Continue our leadership position in orphan ophthalmology.  We have developed significant experience in the orphan ophthalmology space through our work on XLRS, ACHM, XLRP and Lebers Congenital Amourosis Type 2 (LCA2) and have significantly advanced our knowledge and experience through the programs that we have advanced to the clinic since our initial public offering.

 

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Seek opportunities for strategic partnerships and acquisitions in ophthalmology gene therapy.  On July 1, 2015, we entered into a broad collaboration and license agreement with Biogen to develop gene-based therapies for our XLRS and XLRP programs and three discovery programs. In February 2017, we entered into a collaboration agreement with Bionic Sight to develop an optogenetic product candidate for patients with advanced retinal disease. We will seek to develop a new optogenetic therapy that leverages our deep experience in gene therapy and ophthalmology and Bionic Sight's innovative neuro-prosthetic device and algorithm for retinal coding. We believe there may be additional opportunities for us to partner with companies and academic groups. We expect that our breadth of experience in research, manufacturing, clinical and regulatory matters will help us to identify and execute in-licenses, co-development agreements, intellectual property acquisitions or manufacturing agreements that would further extend our leadership position in ophthalmology gene therapy.

 

Extend our expertise in adeno-associated virus, or AAV, vector design, manufacturing and delivery. We believe that our understanding of our target indications and our robust internal expertise in viral vector design including the identification of novel capsids and the optimization of genes and promoters, physical vector delivery, vector manufacturing, clinical trial design and clinical trial conduct are significant competitive advantages. We intend to continue to devote substantial resources both internally and with others, such as our external research collaborations with 4DMT and University of Florida, to identify next generation capsids and to develop optimized promoters through our collaboration with Synpromics. We are also expanding our discovery capabilities to further enhance our ability to develop next generation products.

 

Expand our manufacturing capabilities.  We continue to invest in the development and expansion of our internal manufacturing capabilities.  Our new process development and pilot manufacturing facility is now operational, and as we advance further into clinical development we plan to further develop our internal manufacturing capabilities. We have decreased our dependence on a single contract manufacturer by qualifying and contracting with multiple backup contractors. Further, we continue to invest in process and analytical improvements that we expect to lead to higher manufacturing yields and robust quality control of our final products. We believe these investments will facilitate the more rapid advancement of our product candidates through regulatory approval while reducing risk, and will enhance the therapeutic and commercial potential of our gene therapy platform.  

 

Pursue orphan indications with high unmet medical need and strong probability of a streamlined clinical, regulatory and commercial pathway.  We will continue to focus on diseases for which the underlying genetic defect is well characterized and can be addressed by correcting or inserting a single gene, for which predictive animal models exist and for which clinical endpoints are objective and are accepted by the FDA. We believe that focusing on these types of indications will enable us to obtain data more rapidly and accelerate clinical studies and regulatory approval of our products. Given the relatively low prevalence of patients who have each of these orphan diseases and the strong key opinion leader communities and patient advocacy groups around them, we also believe these markets can be served with a small, targeted commercial infrastructure.  

 

Evaluate opportunities to leverage our gene therapy platform to address indications outside of ophthalmology.  We intend to develop and partner selectively to expand the scope of our pipeline and the utilization of our gene therapy platform beyond ophthalmology. The adaptability of our platform also presents an opportunity for us to selectively form collaborative alliances to expand our capabilities and product offerings into a range of genetically defined diseases and potentially to accelerate the development and commercialization of gene therapy products more broadly. Also, we have ongoing preclinical efforts in otology and a partnered programs in CNS for which we intend to use our platform capabilities to develop potential therapies.

Our Focus in Ophthalmology

Sight is critical to the human experience.  Many people fear blindness more than premature death.  Consequently, we have decided to focus our expertise in gene therapy on orphan diseases in ophthalmology.  These orphan indications have patient populations that are small enough to allow for clinical trials on a manageable scale but have a sufficient prevalence to provide substantial commercial opportunity.  By focusing initially on orphan ophthalmology product candidates, we are also able to leverage our experience and develop strong relationships within the relevant scientific and medical community.  Our clinical trials are conducted mainly at academic test centers and by working with the principal investigators and surgeons at these test centers, we have realized a number of important synergies.

 

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Our most advanced products consist of four ophthalmology development programs across three targets: XLRS caused by mutations in the RS1 gene, ACHM, caused by mutations in either the CNGB3 gene or the CNGA3 gene, and XLRP caused by mutations in the RPGR gene. These three inherited orphan diseases of the eye are caused by mutations in single genes that significantly affect visual function and currently lack effective medical treatments.

 

XLRS is characterized by abnormal splitting of the layers of the retina, resulting in poor visual function in young boys, which can progress to legal blindness in adult men. Additionally, approximately 40% of patients are at risk of vitreous hemorrhage or detachment.    Initial safety data from our Phase 1/2 clinical trial were presented in June 2017 and demonstrated that our product candidate was generally well tolerated and demonstrated across treatment groups.  According to a published study, the incidence rate for XLRS is between one in 5,000 and one in 20,000 males. Using an incidence rate of 1 in 11,500 and assuming half the population is male, we estimate that there are about 35,000 patients in the United States and Europe combined. We currently are enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial for our XLRS product candidate.

 

ACHM is characterized by the absence of cone photoreceptor function, resulting in extremely poor visual acuity, light sensitivity, day blindness and complete loss of color discrimination. According to a published study, the incidence rate for ACHM is approximately one in 30,000 people, and we therefore estimate that there are about 27,000 patients in the United States and Europe combined.  Of these patients, about 75% have the form of disease caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene or the CNGA3 gene.  We currently are enrolling patients in Phase 1/2 clinical trials for both our ACHM CNGB3 product candidate and our ACHM CNGA3 product candidate.

 

XLRP is a disease of the rod and cone photoreceptors characterized by progressive degeneration of the retina, which can lead to total blindness in adult men. According to a published study, the incidence rate for retinitis pigmentosa is about one in 4,000 people and we estimate that there are about 200,000 patients in the United States and Europe combined. It is estimated that about ten percent, or 20,000, of these people have XLRP. We filed an Investigational New Drug application (IND) with the FDA for this product candidate on August 9, 2017 and are initiating a Phase 1/2 clinical trial at multiple sites in the United States.

In addition to these clinical-stage ophthalmology programs, we have a pre-clinical program in collaboration with Bionic Sight to develop an optogenetic product candidate for patients with advanced retinal disease.  

Corporate History and Significant Milestones  

On April 1, 2014, we completed our initial public offering in which we sold 4,791,667 shares of common stock and now trade on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol AGTC.

On July 30, 2014, we completed a follow on public offering in which we sold 2,000,000 shares of common stock.

On June 4, 2015, we started enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 trial designed to test the safety and efficacy of our gene-therapy product candidate for the treatment of XLRS.  

In July 2015, we entered into a collaboration agreement with Biogen for the development and commercialization of product candidates in our XLRS and XLRP programs and for the option to license three discovery programs as well as certain access rights to our manufacturing system.

On May 26, 2016, we started enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 trial designed to test the safety and efficacy of our gene-therapy product candidate for the treatment of ACHM caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene.

In November 2016, we completed the manufacture of our XLRP product candidate clinical trial material, bringing the total number of batches of clinical trial material that we have produced to seven over a number of clinical trials and disease indications.

In February 2017, we entered into a collaboration agreement with Bionic Sight, LLC to develop a gene therapy treatment to be used with Bionic Sight’s innovative neuro-prosthetic device and algorithm for retinal coding.  Together we are working to develop an optogenetic therapy for patients with visual deficits or blindness due to retinal disease. This approach could be beneficial to a wide range of patients as it is independent of the patients’ specific genetic mutation.

In June 2017, we published the results of a follow up study demonstrating durability of treatment with our alpha-1 anti-trypsin product candidate.  The study showed that treatment with our alpha one anti-trypsin product candidate resulted in sustained expression of alpha one anti-trypsin for five years after intramuscular administration.  

 

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On July 27, 2017, we started enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 trial designed to test the safety and efficacy of our gene-therapy product candidate for the treatment of ACHM caused by mutations in the CNGA3 gene.

In August 2017, we filed an IND to conduct a Phase 1/2 clinical trial designed to test the safety and efficacy of our gene-therapy product candidate for the treatment of XLRP caused by mutations in the RPGR gene.

Our Strengths  

We believe the combination of our technology expertise and product development know-how position us well to be leaders in the gene therapy field. We believe our strengths include:

 

Product candidates in clinical development, including four ongoing Phase 1/2 clinical trials with sufficient capital to complete enrollment and initial data analysis on all four of these trials;

 

Significant relationships with key opinion leaders in the fields of ophthalmology, otology, CNS, and AAV production;

 

Robust preclinical product development pipeline including ophthalmology, otology and CNS disorders;

 

Biogen collaboration for the development and commercialization of two clinical programs (XLRS and XLRP) and rights for them to develop three additional discovery programs (ALD and two ophthalmology programs);

 

A collaboration with Bionic Sight for the development and commercialization of an optogenetic gene therapy and a neuroprosthetic device;

 

Proprietary gene therapy manufacturing system capable of making significant quantities of high quality viral vectors and execution on the system in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards over seven different clinical trials;

 

Product candidates which, to date, use recombinant AAV vector technology, which is a well-studied, versatile and efficient gene therapy approach;

 

Technical expertise in manufacturing and analytical techniques, synthetic promoter development, engineered capsids, optimized capsids and specialized formulation and delivery techniques; and

 

Initial safety data in our XLRS Phase 1/2 trial showing that our most advanced gene therapy candidate is generally safe and well tolerated across treatment groups.

Our gene therapy platform

Although the concept of gene therapy is relatively straightforward, the process of developing and manufacturing vectors capable of delivering the genetic material safely into a patient’s own cells is highly technical and demands significant expertise, experience and know-how.  Our approach to gene therapy product development is built on our core competencies in three key areas: vector design, vector manufacturing and vector delivery, each of which is described in further detail below. One of our key capabilities is our depth of understanding of the complex interplay between the clinical disease, the cells in the patient’s body that need treatment, the selection of a capsid and a promoter, the design of the gene construct and the physical administration method.  We have spent more than 15 years conducting research on the best combinations of these elements with the aim of developing safe and effective product candidates.

Vector Selection  Overview.  The success of a gene therapy platform is highly dependent on the vector selected. Our platform is based on the use of a modified version of the non-replicating AAV to deliver the correct DNA directly to the nucleus of the cells affected by the disease. As an underlying platform, we believe that AAV vectors are particularly well suited for treating our target diseases and have advantages over other viral vectors, such as adenovirus, herpes virus and lentivirus. These advantages include:

 

 

AAV is a small, simple non-enveloped virus with only two native genes, which makes the virus easy to engineer as an effective vector;

 

AAV is inherently stable and resistant to degradation;

 

AAV vectors are capable of delivering functional genes in a manner that supports long-term production of protein, leading to sustained therapeutic effect, without altering the patient’s native DNA;

 

AAV vectors have a demonstrated safety profile across multiple human clinical trials in several indications; and

 

AAV vectors are versatile, having the ability to carry therapeutic gene sequences of up to 4,000 base pairs in length into a patient’s cell. As more than 90% of human genes have coding sequences less than 3,000 base pairs in length, this allows AAV vectors to be used in a wide variety of indications.

 

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Vector design. After the selection of the vector type, there are other critical factors to be considered to maximize the safety and efficacy of the final gene therapy product:

 

 

Gene of Interest: The first step in vector design is to identify the therapeutic protein that we want the patient’s own cells to produce. The protein is expressed from a DNA sequence that defines the gene of interest.  In many cases the DNA sequence must be engineered to be stable during manufacturing and delivery.

 

Promoter: Production of the protein requires a promoter, which is a genetic element that drives expression. Certain promoters function well only in certain cell types, whereas other promoters function well in almost any cell type. We make our selection by comparing different promoters in the specific type of cells that are affected in each disease target, ideally in an animal whose physiology is close to that of humans, to find the promoter that best enables production of therapeutic levels of protein in that cell type.  Not only do we engineer these promoters in-house, we also work with a collaborator, Synpromics, that specializes in designing promoter elements to optimize therapeutic constructs for maximum expression with a smaller size, better expression and increased cell specificity.  

 

Capsid: after the promoter and gene of interest are selected, these elements must be packaged into the AAV capsid. There are thousands of variations of AAV capsids with different abilities to bind to and enter varying cell types. Not only do we engineer these capsids in-house, we also collaborate with commercial and academic researchers to develop novel capsids that efficiently enter the type of cells that are affected by each of our targeted diseases.

Vector manufacturing

We have developed a proprietary, high-yield vector manufacturing process using scalable technologies. While our manufacturing method uses the herpes virus as a helper in the first step of a four-step AAV vector manufacturing process, there is no herpes virus in the final product. Our propriety process for AAV manufacturing uses robust cell lines that are well characterized and have been included in several regulatory submissions in the United States and Europe. This process is highly efficient and selective, generating more packaged vector with higher fidelity of target sequences than other production systems. We have developed and transferred over 30 robust and quantitative product-specific assays consistent with expected requirements for regulatory approval, and we supplement our deep manufacturing experience with first-in-class characterization of the resulting candidate therapeutics.

Our manufacturing process has been reviewed by the FDA, the Irish Medicines Board, and the Israeli Ministry of Health and has been authorized for production of product candidates for use in clinical trials in the United States, Europe and Israel. To date we have successfully manufactured clinical trial material for seven different indications using three different manufacturing vendors, to ensure sufficient capacity, and believe we are the only AAV gene therapy company with this level of experience. Our manufacturing process is reproducible and scalable. Our new process development facility is operational and we are conducting equipment evaluation runs with multiple vendors to support development of commercial processes for our product candidates.  Further we have completed design work on an internal cGMP facility at our Florida headquarters.

We own or have licensed 64 issued patents and 12 pending patent applications covering our manufacturing technology. We believe that our core competency and intellectual property estate in vector manufacturing differentiate us competitively and provide a key element of our gene therapy platform.

Vector delivery

Our gene therapy platform allows for vector delivery by a variety of methods, and we select the method that is best suited for the disease and cell type that we are targeting.

In ophthalmology, the product candidate can best be delivered to cells in the eye by either injecting the product candidate into the vitreous of the eye, an intravitreal injection, or by injecting the product candidate under the retina, a subretinal injection. Our ongoing clinical trial for our XLRS product candidate uses intravitreal injection, which we also expect to use as the method of delivery for our optogenetic product candidate. We are using subretinal injection as the method of delivery for our ACHM and XLRP product candidates in our ongoing clinical trials.

Surgical techniques used to introduce AAV in otology indications include microinjection into the cochlea via an apical cochleostomy or through the round window membrane.   Like the eye, the inner ear sensory organ – the organ of Corti – is bathed by fluid-filled spaces, enabling accessible vector administration.

Once a product candidate is identified in our CNS discovery program, we expect it will be administered by intrathecal delivery, which is an injection into the spinal canal.

 

 

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Our Product Candidate Pipeline

The graphic below summarizes our current gene therapy programs:  

 

Our four most advanced product candidates address ophthalmology indications XLRS, ACHM B3, ACHM A3, and XLRP, which are orphan diseases of the eye that are caused by mutations in single genes, significantly affect visual function starting at birth and currently lack effective medical treatments. Ophthalmology is attractive to us as a clinical stage company because treatments for diseases affecting vision have clearly defined, objective clinical endpoints with validated measurement tools that are accepted by the United States FDA. Other orphan drug companies have spent considerable time and resources working with the FDA to identify acceptable clinical endpoints and develop measurement tools in sometimes ill-defined diseases. In ophthalmology four accepted endpoints—visual acuity, visual fields, contrast sensitivity and color vision—are well understood by clinicians.  In addition, the FDA consistently applies these endpoints and works with industry to provide guidance on how much improvement is required for clinical relevancy. We believe that these end points could help accelerate the process of clinical study and regulatory approval for our ophthalmic products.

Finally, through our internal research work and in collaboration with partners, we have obtained preliminary safety data in clinical trials using delivery routes by both intravitreal and subretinal injection. In June 2017, we released topline safety data from the dose escalation portion of our XLRS trial indicating that our product candidate delivered by intravitreal injection was generally safe and well tolerated across treatment groups.   Subretinal injections of AAV vectors have also been studied in other clinical trials conducted by us (wet AMD and LCA2) and there were no reports of serious adverse events attributed to the vector used in either of those studies. Although there were differences in clinical outcomes in the initial three patients enrolled in our ACHM B3 trial, these results were most likely due to differences in surgical technique rather than the candidate drug product.  We have made changes to our clinical study to address the differences in outcomes by using the same surgeon in the near term to treat patients in this trial.

Our lead programs

X-linked Retinoschisis (XLRS)

XLRS is an inherited retinal disease, meaning that children are born with the defective gene that causes poor visual function that significantly affects daily living activities.  XLRS is specifically caused by mutations in the RS1 gene, which is located on the X chromosome and encodes the retinoschisin, or RS1, protein. Retinoschisin is expressed and secreted primarily from photoreceptor cells and binds strongly and specifically to the surface of photoreceptor and bipolar cells in the retina. Mutated forms of retinoschisin are unable to bind properly, resulting in schisis, or splitting of the layers of the retina, primarily in the macula. The disease begins early in childhood, and affected boys typically have best-corrected visual acuity of 20/60 to 20/120 at initial diagnosis. Complications such as vitreous hemorrhage or retinal detachment occur in up to 40% of patients, especially in older patients. According to a published study, the incidence rate for XLRS is between one in 5,000 and one in 20,000 males. Using a conservative incidence rate of 1 in 11,500 and assuming half the population is male, we estimate that there are about 35,000 persons with XLRS in the United States and Europe combined with XLRS.

 

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The diagnosis of XLRS is made based on clinical findings and results of imaging studies and Electroretinogram (ERG). ERG is a clinical test that measures the electrical function of the retina. Clinical findings include reduced visual acuity and a characteristic spoke-wheel appearance of the macula when viewed by an ophthalmoscope, which is the instrument commonly used by ophthalmologists and optometrists to view the retina. Images obtained by optical coherence tomography, or OCT, a method of viewing layers of the eye somewhat like a sonogram, show spaces between the layers of the retina within the macula and fovea in most school-age boys with XLRS. These spaces mean that electrical signals cannot move from the photoreceptors to other retinal neurons and on to the brain, resulting in poor vision.

There is currently no approved treatment for. Management of disease manifestations includes low vision aids such as large-print textbooks, preferential seating in the front of the classroom and use of handouts with high contrast. Surgery may be required to address complications of vitreous hemorrhage or full-thickness retinal detachment, which occur in approximately 40% of patients.

Previous anecdotal evidence has indicated that treatment with carbonic anhydrase inhibitors may provide a reduction in the degree of schisis. However, data from our natural history study demonstrated that topical carbonic anhydrase inhibitors provided reduction in the degree of schisis in only some patients. In any case, the absence of controlled clinical trials makes interpretation of these data difficult. In addition, treatment with carbonic anhydrase inhibitors does not address the fundamental genetic defect in persons affected by XLRS. Neither carbonic anhydrase inhibitors nor any other medicinal products have been approved by regulatory agencies for treatment of XLRS.

Our XLRS product candidate

Our gene therapy approach involves using an AAV vector to insert a functional copy of the RS1 gene into the patient’s retinal cells, thereby inducing those cells to produce the normal retinoschisin protein. Our XLRS product candidate contains the RS1 gene and a promoter that has been shown to work well in primate retinal cells, and is packaged in a proprietary engineered AAV capsid that is able to efficiently enter target cells in the inner layers of the retina after intravitreal injection.

Preclinical proof of concept for our XLRS product candidate

In mouse models of XLRS, our gene therapy approach restores to normal the abnormal ERG response that is characteristic of XLRS. Mouse models of XLRS have been developed by deactivating, or knocking out, the RS1 gene. These “knockout” mice have clinical features similar to humans with XLRS, including reduced visual acuity, schisis cavities detected by OCT, and a markedly abnormal ERG response.

A study published in 2005 looked at staining for retinoschisin and for nuclei in retinal cells in a normal mouse, a RS1 knockout mouse in the absence of treatment, and a RS1 knockout mouse treated with an AAV-RS1 vector. The knockout mouse retina had no expression of retinoschisin and had splitting and disorganization of the layers of the retina. After treatment, RS1 staining was present in a normal fashion and the nuclear staining showed restoration of the organization of the cell layers in the retina. In another experiment, treatment by injection of an AAV vector expressing either mouse or human RS1 in these knockout mice improved visual function.

Because of the fragile nature of the patient’s eyes we concluded that intravitreal injection is the preferred route of administration for the AAV-RS1 vector. We therefore evaluated intravitreal injection of an AAV vector expressing a marker protein packaged in several different AAV capsids in monkeys and demonstrated that a vector packaged in an engineered capsid was able to target expression to the primate macula, which is the primary area in which retinoschisis occurs.

 

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Clinical development of our XLRS product candidate

We are currently enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial, the primary endpoint of which is safety. Secondary endpoints include efficacy analyses and biological activity.  The current clinical protocol, illustrated below, anticipates enrollment of up to 27 patients.  

The Phase 1/2 clinical trial is currently being conducted at six clinical sites that specialize in inherited retinal diseases. We have completed treatment of patients in groups 1a, 1b, 2 and 3 of the dose escalation phase of our Phase 1/2 clinical trial and we currently are enrolling adult patients in group 4 at the highest dose level and children between 6 and 18 in group 2b at the mid-dose group prior to making a decision to dose children between 6 and 18 at the highest dose level.

In June 2017, Mark Pennesi, M.D., Ph.D., one of our investigators, presented safety data at the Macula Society Annual Meeting from the first twelve patients, some of which have been followed for more than one year.  The data demonstrates that our XLRS product candidate has been generally well tolerated. We did observe mild to moderate ocular inflammation in the majority of patients in the treated eye, which resolved either without treatment or after treatment with topical or oral corticosteroids. We amended the protocol to provide for standard prophylactic corticosteroids versus the original protocol that allowed for treatment with corticosteroids only after inflammation was observed. No treatment related serious adverse events have been reported.

We have also completed a natural history study in persons affected by XLRS. The results from 56 participants with XLRS were evaluated on cross sectional and longitudinal measures of visual acuity, visual field sensitivity, microperimetry, cyst volume and ERG. The data suggest that patients with XLRS show a spectrum of visual function, with baseline visual acuity ranging from 0 to 82 ETDRS letters (average = 55.5; approximately 20/80). Changes in measures of visual function were minor and, in fact, stable over time and weakly correlated to changes in cyst volume or age.

In the patients dosed to date in our Phase 1/2 trial, we have continued to note variation in visual function from patient to patient.  We believe that in addition to the three patients initially enrolled in the high-dose group, the full group of patients in the expansion group need to be enrolled and followed for at least six months before meaningful conclusions can be drawn regarding biological activity. We expect to fully enroll this expansion group by the first quarter of 2018 and will present complete data after the last patient has been followed for six months.  To date, we have not seen evidence of biological activity in this group of patients, which is not unexpected given the small patient pool, the relatively short period of observation in the high dose group and the variability in the patient population.

Completion of the Phase 1/2 clinical trial and the natural history study will guide us, and our collaborator Biogen, in finalizing the design of a pivotal clinical trial. In the planned pivotal trial, we would expect to enroll between 40 and 75 patients who will be evaluated for changes in visual function over a 12-month period. If successful, we believe the results of this second trial could support submission of a Biologics License Application, or BLA, to the FDA in the United States and a Marketing Authorization Application, or MAA, to the EMA in Europe for our XLRS product candidate.

 

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As a part of our collaboration, Biogen has obtained worldwide commercialization rights for the XLRS program. We will be responsible for the clinical development program through product approval. Biogen will support the clinical development costs, subject to certain conditions, following the first-in-human study. We have an option to share development costs and profits after the initial clinical trial data are available.  

Achromatopsia (ACHM)

ACHM is an inherited retinal disease, meaning that children are born with the defective gene that causes poor visual function, which significantly affects daily activities.  ACHM is present from birth and throughout life and is characterized by a lack of cone photoreceptor function. Cone photoreceptors which are concentrated in the macula and the fovea, respond to moderate or bright intensity light and mediate fine visual acuity. Individuals with ACHM have markedly reduced visual acuity, photophobia or light sensitivity, and complete loss of color discrimination. Their only functioning photoreceptors are rod photoreceptors, which respond to low intensity light conditions and mediate night vision but cannot achieve fine visual acuity. Best-corrected visual acuity in persons affected by ACHM, even under subdued light conditions, is usually about 20/200, a level at which people are considered legally blind. They also experience extreme light sensitivity resulting in even worse visual acuity under normal daylight conditions, or day blindness.

ACHM can be caused by mutations in any of at least five genes that are required for normal cone photoreceptor function. The most common causes are mutations in the CNGB3 gene (about half of all cases) or CNGA3 gene (about one-fourth of all cases). These genes encode the CNGB3 and CNGA3 proteins, which combine to form a channel in the photoreceptor membrane that is required for phototransduction, the process of converting light into electrical signals that the brain can understand. According to published reports, the incidence rate for ACHM is approximately one in 30,000 people, and we therefore estimate that there are about 10,000 people in the United States and about 17,000 people in Europe with ACHM. Of these, about half, or a total of 13,500 in the United States and Europe combined, have the form of the disease caused by mutations in the CNGB3 gene and approximately 6,800 people have the form of the disease caused by mutations in the CNGA3 gene.

Our ACHM product candidates

Our gene therapy approach to treatment of ACHM involves using an AAV vector to insert a functional copy of the CNGB3 or CNGA3 gene into the patient’s photoreceptor cells. Our ACHM product candidates contain either the CNGB3 or the CNGA3 gene and a proprietary cone specific promoter that has been shown in preclinical studies to drive efficient gene expression in all three types of primate cone photoreceptors and restores cone photoreceptor function in dog, mouse and sheep models of ACHM.

Preclinical proof of concept for our ACHM product candidates

In mouse, dog and sheep models of ACHM, our product candidates were able to restore photoreceptor function, improve visual acuity and mitigate photophobia and day blindness.

ACHM naturally occurs in two breeds of dogs. Treatment by subretinal injection of an AAV vector expressing human CNGB3 restored cone function in both breeds of dogs. Cone-specific ERG responses were undetectable in these dogs before treatment but were clearly detected after treatment. Day blindness was demonstrated before treatment by testing the ability of the dogs to navigate a maze under progressively brighter conditions. Before treatment, it took the ACHM dogs progressively longer to navigate the maze as the ambient light increased from dim light to normal room lighting and even longer with normal outdoor daytime lighting. After treatment, the day blindness was substantially eliminated, and the treated ACHM dogs were able to navigate the maze under bright light conditions at almost the same speed as normal dogs.

Untreated ACHM dogs also demonstrated photophobia and day blindness when outdoors in daylight, which severely limited their ability to interact with people and objects in their environment. After treatment, there was a dramatic improvement in these important clinical manifestations of ACHM. The restored function persisted for more than 2.5 years (the longest duration tested).

In addition, a mouse model of ACHM was developed by knocking out the CNGB3 gene. Treatment by subretinal injection of an AAV vector expressing human CNGB3 in the knockout mice improved cone-specific ERG responses to nearly normal levels and improved visual acuity, as measured by their ability to follow a rotating pattern of vertical stripes of varying thickness.

There are also sheep models of ACHM caused by mutations in the CNGA3 gene. These sheep have clinical characteristics similar to human ACHM patients, with day blindness and absence of retinal cone function as measured by ERG. In collaboration with scientists at three academic centers in Israel, we conducted a preclinical study evaluating the safety and efficacy of our product candidate for CNGA3-related ACHM using one of the sheep models, which uses the same promoter and capsid used in our CNGB3 product candidate, administered by subretinal injection. Cone-specific ERG responses, which were undetectable in these sheep before treatment, were clearly detected after treatment. Day blindness was demonstrated before treatment by testing the ability of the sheep to

 

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navigate a maze under bright light conditions. After treatment, the day blindness was substantially reduced, and the treated sheep were able to navigate the maze under bright light conditions.  At both the higher and lower doses tested, the maze transit time was similar, and clearly improved over the pre-dose performance.

Humans and non-human primates (NHP), unlike lower mammals, have three sets of cones, so we also conducted studies in NHP to select both a capsid and promoter that would allow expression of the protein in all three primate cone types.  These studies showed that our proprietary promoter allowed for robust expression in red, green and blue cones.

Clinical development of our CNGB3-related ACHM product candidate

We are currently enrolling patients in a Phase 1/2 clinical trial in which the primary endpoint is safety. Secondary endpoints include efficacy analysis and biological activity. The current clinical protocol, illustrated below, anticipates enrollment of up to a total of 26 ACHM CNGB3 patients.

The Phase 1/2 clinical trial is being conducted at four clinical sites that specialize in inherited retinal diseases. An additional site is performing advanced optical testing on patients.

We are continuing to enroll the low dose group.  Due to differences in surgical technique in the first three patients, we expanded group 1 to include an additional two patients bringing the total number of patients treated in group 1 to five.  In order to minimize differences in surgical technique, we decided to use the same surgeon to treat the next two patients such that three of the first five patients will have been treated by the same surgeon. This surgeon will treat both additional patients prior to presenting data to the DSMC.

We have completed enrollment in a natural history study in persons affected by ACHM caused by CNGB3 mutations and results from the study will be presented in appropriate scientific meetings and publications.  

Completion of the Phase 1/2 clinical study and the natural history study will guide us in finalizing the design of a pivotal clinical trial.  In the planned pivotal trial, we expect that between 40 and 75 patients will be enrolled and evaluated for changes in visual function over a 12-month period following treatment. If successful, we believe the results of this pivotal trial could support our submission of a BLA to the FDA and of an MAA to the EMA for our ACHM-B3 product candidate.

 

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Clinical development of our CNGA3-related ACHM product candidate

A Phase 1/2 clinical trial in which the primary endpoint is safety is open and patient scheduling is ongoing. Secondary endpoints include efficacy analysis and biological activity. The current clinical protocol, illustrated below, anticipates enrollment of up to a total of 24 ACHM CNGA3 patients.

The Phase 1/2 clinical trial is being conducted at five sites that specialize in inherited retinal diseases, four of which are in the United States and one of which is in Israel. An additional site is performing advanced optical testing on patients. Based on our ACHM CNGB3 experience, we have made adjustments to this trial and intend to use the single surgeon discussed above with regard to our ACHM CNGB3 trial for the near term.  

We have nearly completed enrollment in a natural history study in persons affected by ACHM caused by CNGA3 mutations and results from the study will be presented in appropriate scientific meetings and publications.  

Completion of the Phase 1/2 clinical study and the natural history study will guide us in finalizing the design of a pivotal clinical trial.  In the planned pivotal trial, we expect that between 40 and 75 patients will be enrolled and evaluated for changes in visual function over a 12-month period following treatment. If successful, we believe the results of this pivotal trial could support our submission of a BLA to the FDA and of an MAA to the EMA for our ACHM-A3 product candidate.

X-linked Retinitis Pigmentosa (XLRP)

Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited retinal disease with progressive loss of vision, meaning children are born with defective genes that cause poor visual function that significantly affects daily activities and worsens over time. XLRP is commonly first observed in boys and young men who notice problems with vision under low light conditions, or night blindness, followed by a restriction of peripheral visual fields, or tunnel vision, leading to poor central vision and eventually to total blindness.

The incidence rate for retinitis pigmentosa is about one in 4,000 people, according to a published study, and we estimate that there are about 75,000 people in the United States and 125,000 people in Europe with retinitis pigmentosa, or 200,000 people in the United States and Europe. According to a published study, about 10% of cases of retinitis pigmentosa are XLRP, from which we therefore estimate that there are about 20,000 persons with XLRP in the United States and Europe combined.

Our XLRP product candidates

Our gene therapy approach to treatment of XLRP involves using an AAV vector to insert a functional copy of the RPGR gene into the patient’s photoreceptor cells. Our XLRP product candidates contain an optimized and stabilized RPGR gene and a promoter that has been shown in preclinical studies to drive efficient gene expression in primate rods, cones and photoreceptors and restores photoreceptor function dog and mouse models of XLRP.

Pre-clinical development of our XLRP Product

Preclinical studies in a dog model of XLRP caused by mutations in the RPGR gene demonstrated a reduction in the rate of disease progression in eyes that received a subretinal injection of an AAV vector expressing a codon-optimized form of the RPRG-

 

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ORF15 gene. A comparative dose range finding study of our XLRP product candidate in dogs demonstrated expression of the RPGR protein in both cone and rod photoreceptors, and improvement in structural and functional parameters associated with disease progression in this model. IND-enabling good laboratory practices, or GLP, toxicology studies have been completed in two relevant disease models (a dog model of the disease and in an RPGR knockout mouse model), providing guidance on the appropriate choice of dose levels to test in initial clinical studies.

Clinical development of our XLRP product candidate

On August 9, 2017, we filed an IND with the FDA in support of a Phase 1/2 trial for this product candidate.

The Phase 1/2 clinical trial is expected to be conducted at four clinical sites that specialize in inherited retinal diseases.  We are currently conducting site initiation activities at the four clinical sites.

We are conducting a natural history study in patients with XLRP caused by RPGR mutations. This study documents the progression of the disease in the absence of treatment and is providing important information about the best methods for measuring visual function and other parameters in these patients, which will guide us in the design of subsequent clinical trials in which our product candidate will be tested for safety and efficacy.

Completion of the Phase 1/2 clinical study and the natural history study will guide us, and our collaborator Biogen, in finalizing the design of a pivotal clinical trial.  In the planned pivotal trial, we expect that between 80 and 120 patients will be enrolled and evaluated for changes in visual function over a 24-month period following treatment. If successful, we believe the results of this pivotal trial could support our submission of a BLA to the FDA and of an MAA to the EMA for our XLRP product candidate.

As a part of our collaboration, Biogen obtained worldwide commercialization rights for our XLRP program. We will lead the clinical development program through the completion of first-in-human trials. Biogen will support the clinical development costs, subject to certain conditions, following the IND-enabling studies.  We have an option to share development costs and profits after the initial clinical trial data are available, and an option to co-promote the second of two products (XLRS and XLRP) to be approved in the United States.  

Advanced Retinal Disease

As part of our collaboration with Bionic Sight we are developing an optogenetic candidate treatment for individuals having retinitis pigmentosa (RP) who have lost light sensitivity.  RP is a large group of inherited retinal disorders in which progressive degeneration of photoreceptors or retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) leads to vision loss which is independent of a patients’ genetic mutation.  In Europe and the United States, about 200,000 patients suffer from RP and every year between 15,000 and 20,000 patients with RP suffer vision loss.  The clinical manifestations of affected individuals present first as defective dark adaptation or “night blindness,” followed by reduction of peripheral visual fields and, eventually, loss of central vision. While the photoreceptor cell layers of these patients degenerate, the ganglion cell layer remains intact.

 

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Optogenetics is a biological technique by which cells are modified to express light-sensitive proteins. These light sensitive proteins open or close in response to light and allow millisecond-scale temporal manipulation of electrical events. Therefore, optogenetics provides a way to manipulate the activity of cells by controlling these proteins with light.  A number of studies have been published on the effectiveness of these proteins for treating RP in animal models. Other studies have shown their effectiveness supplemented with a vision-enhancing device known as a retinal prosthesis. The device receives images, processes them, and then converts them into the same patterns of electrical pulses that the brain normally receives from normally functioning photoreceptors.

 

The candidate treatment being developed by AGTC and Bionic Sight is a recombinant AAV that expresses an optogenetic protein, ChronosFP, in the retinal ganglion cells. Light then activates the ChronosFP to send electrical signals from the retinal ganglion cells to the brain. Bionic Sight is developing a device with a retinal code that can provide light signals to the retinal ganglion cells that will result in an image the brain can recognize and may significantly enhance vision in patients who have received the optogenetic treatment.  Our collaborator, Bionic Sight, plans to file an IND for this product candidate for the treatment of RP in 2018.  

Other opportunities in ophthalmology

We believe our current gene therapy platform will enable us to develop and test new AAV vectors that carry gene sequences for other inherited diseases in ophthalmology (it is estimated that approximately 290 genes causing inherited retinal disease have been identified), and that by leveraging our work on our lead programs we can reduce the need for early research work. In this way, we anticipate being able to move products efficiently through preclinical studies and into clinical development. As an example, in January 2016 we announced a research effort in collaboration with the Blue Cone Monochromacy Family Foundation, in blue cone monochromacy (BCM), a rare genetic disease of the retina that almost exclusively affects males. We also believe that there are large-market ophthalmology diseases where AAV vectors may provide benefit, such as wet AMD.

Central Nervous System

Our collaboration with Biogen includes options for three discovery programs, two in ophthalmic diseases and one in a non-ophthalmic condition.  On February 8, 2016, we announced that Biogen had selected adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) as the indication for the non-ophthalmic discovery program.

ALD is an X-linked disorder of fatty acid metabolism that leads to accumulation of very long chain fatty acids in tissues throughout the body, mainly in the central nervous system and the adrenal gland. Clinically, ALD is a heterogeneous disorder with several distinct phenotypes, including rapidly declining neurological function and early death in young boys or progressive muscular weakness leading to lower limb paralysis in adults.  There are approximately 14,000 patients with ALD in the United States.  We are working with Biogen on vector design, animal model proof of concept and targeting studies in non-human primates in order to obtain data to support moving a potential product candidate to IND enabling studies.

Otology

We continue developing and improving our products through pre-clinical work in order to add to our clinical candidate pipeline.  On May 9, 2016, we announced a new initiative in the area of otology in which we will use our capabilities to develop potential gene therapy products that can address genetic causes of hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most common human sensory deficits and it is estimated that nearly half of the cases are suspected to have a genetic origin. Of the inherited forms of hearing loss, more than 300 genetic causes have been defined with the specific gene identified for more than 70.  Despite the impairment that can be caused by deafness, very little progress has been made in developing therapies that go beyond the temporary and partial solutions provided by hearing aids and cochlear implants. In multiple academic research studies, replacement of defective genes in animal models with normal copies has been shown to improve sound propagation in the auditory hair cells, making this a potentially promising application of AAV gene therapy. Additionally, the inner ear shares many of the characteristics that make ophthalmology attractive: it is anatomically well defined and is a small, well contained space where the target cells to be treated are easily identified.  In addition, the clinical outcome measures for treatments for hearing loss are well defined. Developing product candidates for conditions having these characteristics is a natural complement to our ophthalmology portfolio strategy as we apply our core capabilities and expertise to a new disease field. As part of our efforts in otology, we have formed a scientific advisory board to help guide our target selection and will announce product candidates when we formally begin development plans.

Research Programs

Additionally, in order to develop optimized next generation capsids to target specific cell populations within the human retina we continue to collaborate with 4DMT.  After extensive library screening in non-human primates, a shortlist of potential novel capsid variants with improved penetration after intravitreal injection, to all cell layers of the retina, in particular photoreceptors, are being

 

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further characterized. We have an option to enter into a licensing agreement if the confirmatory studies are successful. We also have a licensing arrangement with the University of Florida where we are screening their extensive library in a similar fashion.

We continue to collaborate with Synpromics to use their proprietary technology to develop and optimize synthetic promoters.  Promising novel synthetic promoter candidates specific for retinal cell types, such as RPE, have been identified and are undergoing further testing in vivo. We have an option to enter into a licensing agreement if the Synpromics develops improved promoters that we decide to use in our clinical candidates.

Manufacturing

Historically, there has been a lack of manufacturing infrastructure to enable the production of gene therapies in a reliable and reproducible manner at a commercially viable scale. The historical challenges for gene therapy manufacturing relate to the difficulty of developing constructs that provide the necessary helper functions, and in having systems that provide adequate yield, scalability and purity. We have made significant investments in developing improved manufacturing processes, which include the following:

 

Our proprietary manufacturing method for AAV production is highly efficient and selective, generating more packaged vector with higher fidelity of target sequences than other methods.

 

We have developed proprietary AAV vector manufacturing processes and techniques that produce a more purified and concentrated product candidate,

 

Our propriety platform for AAV production uses robust cell substrates that are well characterized and have been in several regulatory submissions in the US, Israel and Europe.

 

We do not need a specially cloned and isolated cell line for each of our disease targets; we instead use specially engineered replication-incompetent herpes simplex helpers, or HSV helpers, which are stable and straightforward to clone.

 

We have developed over 30 assays to accurately characterize our process and the HSV and AAV vectors we produce.

 

We have developed a purification system applicable to multiple AAV capsids.

 

We are investing in the development of mid- to large-scale manufacturing processes to enable the manufacture of our product candidates at commercial scale.

We believe these improvements and our continued investment in our manufacturing platform will enable us to develop best-in-class, next generation gene therapy products and that our viral vector production platform for AAV-based gene therapies offers significant benefits in comparison with the methods used by others to manufacture AAV vectors.

 

Strategic collaborations

We have formed strategic alliances in which both parties contribute expertise to enable the discovery and development of potential gene therapy product candidates. To access the substantial funding and other resources required to develop and commercialize gene therapy products, we intend to seek additional opportunities to form strategic alliances with collaborators who can augment our industry-leading gene therapy expertise.

On July 1, 2015, we entered into a broad collaboration and license agreement with Biogen to develop gene-based therapies for multiple ophthalmic diseases. Biogen made an upfront payment to us in the amount of $124.0 million, which included a $30.0 million equity investment and certain prepaid research and development expenditures. Biogen was granted a license to the XLRS and XLRP programs and the option to license discovery programs for two additional ophthalmic indications and one non-ophthalmic indication at the time of clinical candidate selection. In February 2016, we announced Biogen’s selection of adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, as the non-ophthalmic indication of the three discovery programs.  Under the collaboration, we are eligible to receive upfront and milestone payments exceeding $1 billion. This includes up to $472.5 million collectively for the two lead programs, which also will carry royalties in the high single digit to mid-teen percentages of annual net sales. In addition, Biogen may make payments up to $592.5 million across the discovery programs, along with royalties in the mid-single digits to low teen percentages of annual net sales for the discovery programs.  In October 2015, Biogen paid us an additional $5.0 million upon achievement of the first enrollment milestone for XLRS.

Biogen will also receive an exclusive license to use our proprietary manufacturing technology platform to make AAV vectors for up to six genes, three of which are chosen at our discretion, in exchange for payment of milestones and royalties.

On February 2, 2017, we entered into a strategic research and development collaboration agreement with Bionic Sight to develop therapies for patients with visual deficits and blindness due to retinal disease. Through the AGTC-Bionic Sight collaboration,

 

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the companies seek to develop a new optogenetic therapy that leverages AGTC’s deep experience in gene therapy and ophthalmology and Bionic Sight’s innovative neuro-prosthetic device and algorithm for retinal coding.

Under the agreement, AGTC made an initial $2.0 million payment to Bionic Sight for an equity interest in that company. This initial investment represents an approximate 5 percent equity interest in Bionic Sight. In addition to the initial investment, AGTC will contribute to ongoing research and development support costs through additional payments or other in-kind contributions.   These payments and contributions will be made over time, up to the date that Bionic Sight has received both investigational new drug clearance from the FDA and receipt of written approval from an internal review board to conduct clinical trials from at least one clinical site for that product.

AGTC will receive additional equity, based on the valuation in place at the beginning of the agreement, for its cash and in-kind research and development contributions and will be obligated to purchase additional equity in Bionic Sight for $4.0 million, upon the filing of an IND for the product at a pre-determined valuation.

We have also entered into an agreement with SAFC, one of our current contract manufacturing organizations, for cGMP manufacture of clinical grade material for third parties. This arrangement allows us to approach other gene therapy companies that might benefit from our manufacturing and vector design capabilities. Under such an arrangement, we could potentially license our manufacturing technology and receive upfront payments, milestones and royalties. SAFC would do the manufacturing of commercial grade material.

We will continue to in-license additional intellectual property to support our current programs, to establish new development programs and to support our manufacturing technology. Additionally, we will seek to partner with other commercial gene therapy companies and academic institutions to leverage our expertise in vector design, research, manufacturing and the regulatory process. The goal of these collaborations would be to forge strategic partnerships around technologies and programs that would fit with our current and future development pipeline. In general, we would seek new intellectual property, development programs in rare diseases, pipeline products where the regulatory pathway is understood, partners with strong scientific, clinical and management expertise, and programs that have synergy with our current knowledge base and product pipeline that would add to our industry leadership. We would also be looking at programs where the disease being treated has a large enough patient population that there would be adequate financial returns for the investment of resources.

Our relationship with the University of Florida

All of our scientific founders spent part of their careers at the University of Florida, or UF, and three are still UF faculty members. Since our inception we have licensed significant technology from and funded research at multiple labs at UF. Pursuant to four agreements, we have licensed three U.S. patents and multiple pending applications covering inventions made at UF. UF has multiple capabilities in genetic cloning, gene therapy manufacturing, novel capsid identification, animal model development and facilities for both small and large animal testing, and in certain instances we have benefited from the ability to conduct important research at UF without having to expand in-house facilities and personnel. We interact frequently with the Powell Gene Therapy Center at UF and have an excellent working relationship with the UF Office of Technology Licensing.

In May 2013, we and UF were jointly awarded an $8.3 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support development of our ACHM CNGB3 product candidate, with Dr. William Hauswirth, one of our scientific founders a Professor and holder of the Rybaczki-Bullard Chair in the Department of Ophthalmology at UF, as principal investigator. As a sub-awardee, we expect to receive approximately $3.8 million over five years under this grant.  As of June 30, 2017, we have received payments in the aggregate amount of $2.8 million under this grant.

Our relationships with patient advocacy groups and academic centers

We have long believed that when developing products to treat orphan indications it is important to form strong relationships with patient advocacy groups, and we have done this successfully with both the Foundation Fighting Blindness, or FFB, and the Alpha-1 Foundation. Both organizations are well known for their advocacy of patients’ interests in obtaining diagnosis, developing treatments and providing for reimbursement. Both actively support research into treatment, and we have been awarded three research grants totaling $1.6 million from the FFB and one grant of $0.3 million from the Alpha-1 Foundation. More importantly, both organizations have been instrumental in assisting us in forming ties with disease experts, recruiting patients into clinical trials and helping us to understand the needs, wants and concerns of patients.  We also have relationships with other advocacy organizations such as Achroma Corp, the BCM Family Foundation, MOMS For Sight, Curing Retinal Blindness Foundation, Sofia Sees Hope, National Organization for Rare Disorders, ALD Connect, The Alpha-one Project and Global Genes.

In addition, we have formed strong relationships with key academic centers across the United States that have core competencies in gene therapy, orphan ophthalmology and AAT deficiency. These centers conduct sponsored research, act as advisors

 

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and collaborate with us on grant proposals. Since our inception, we have been awarded a variety of grant funding, either independently or with our collaborators. This funding has provided peer-reviewed scientific validation of our programs and has facilitated critical early stage research for our lead product candidates.

Intellectual property

We strive to protect and enhance the proprietary technology, inventions, and improvements that are commercially important to the development of our business, including seeking, maintaining and defending patent rights, whether developed internally or licensed from third parties and seeking patent term extensions where available. We also rely on trade secrets relating to our proprietary technology platform and on know-how, continuing technological innovation and in-licensing opportunities to develop, strengthen and maintain our proprietary position in the field of gene therapy that may be important for the development of our business. In addition to IP and trade secrets, we also will rely on regulatory protection afforded through orphan drug designations, data exclusivity and market exclusivity for our products, when possible.

Our commercial success may depend in part on our ability to obtain and maintain patent and other proprietary protection for commercially important technology, inventions and know-how related to our business; defend and enforce our patents; preserve the confidentiality of our trade secrets; and operate without infringing the valid enforceable patents and proprietary rights of third parties. Our ability to stop third parties from making, using, selling, offering to sell or importing our products may depend on the extent to which we have rights under valid and enforceable patents or trade secrets that cover these activities. With respect to both licensed and company-owned intellectual property, we cannot be sure that patents will be granted with respect to any of our pending patent applications or with respect to any patent applications filed by us in the future, nor can we be sure that any of our existing patents or any patents that may be granted to us in the future will be commercially useful in protecting our commercial products and methods of manufacturing the same.

We have developed or in-licensed numerous patents and patent applications and possess substantial know-how and trade secrets relating to the development, commercialization and manufacture of gene therapy products. Our proprietary intellectual property, including patent and non-patent intellectual property, is generally directed to, for example, certain genes and promoters, methods of transferring genetic material into cells, processes to manufacture our AAV-based product candidates and other proprietary technologies and processes related to our lead product candidates.

As of August 21, 2017, our patent portfolio included approximately 63 patents and patent applications that we own and approximately 54 patents and patent applications that we have licensed. More specifically, we own seven U.S. patents, seven pending U.S. applications, 24 foreign patents and 25 foreign patent applications. We have licensed six U.S. patents, two pending U.S. applications, 35 foreign patents and 11 pending foreign patent applications. Of the patents and patent applications that we own or license, 77 cover methods to manufacture AAV vectors, the longest lived and most significant of which is expected to expire in 2025. Two of the patents and 18 of the patent applications that we own are directed to small cone promoters and uses thereof. A patent issuing from this group could have an expiration date in 2034.

Our objective is to continue to expand our portfolio of patents and patent applications in order to protect our gene therapy product candidates and AAV manufacturing process. Our owned and licensed patent portfolio includes patents and patent applications directed to our XLRS, ACHM, and XLRP programs, as well as our foundational AAV production platform. See also “—License agreements.

In addition to the above, we have established expertise and development capabilities focused in the areas of preclinical research and development, manufacturing and manufacturing process scale-up, quality control, quality assurance, regulatory affairs and clinical trial design and implementation. We believe that our focus and expertise will help us develop products based on our proprietary intellectual property and to expand our intellectual property portfolio.

The term of individual patents depends upon the legal term of the patents in the countries in which they are obtained. In most countries in which we file, the patent term is 20 years from the date of filing the non-provisional application. In the United States, a patent’s term may be lengthened by patent term adjustment, which compensates a patentee for administrative delays by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in granting a patent, or may be shortened if a patent is terminally disclaimed over an earlier-filed patent. The issued patents that are material to our business are expected to expire on various dates from 2018 to 2029.

The term of a patent that covers an FDA-approved drug may also be eligible for patent term extension, which permits patent term restoration of a U.S. patent as compensation for the patent term lost during the FDA regulatory review process. The Hatch-Waxman Act permits a patent term extension of up to five years beyond the expiration of the patent. The length of the patent term extension is related to the length of time the drug is under regulatory review. A patent term extension cannot extend the remaining term of a patent beyond a total of 14 years from the date of product approval and only one patent per approved drug may be extended. Moreover, a patent can only be extended once, and thus, if a single patent is applicable to multiple products, it can only be extended

 

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based on one product. Similar provisions are available in Europe and other foreign jurisdictions to extend the term of a patent that covers an approved drug. When possible, depending upon the length of clinical trials and other factors involved in the filing of a BLA, we expect to apply for patent term extensions for patents covering our product candidates and their methods of use.

We may rely, in some circumstances, on trade secrets to protect our technology. However, trade secrets can be difficult to protect. We seek to protect our proprietary technology and processes, in part, by entering into confidentiality agreements with our employees, consultants, scientific advisors and contractors. We also seek to preserve the integrity and confidentiality of our data and trade secrets by maintaining physical security of our premises and physical and electronic security of our information technology systems. While we have confidence in these individuals, organizations and systems, agreements or security measures may be breached, and we may not have adequate remedies for any breach. In addition, our trade secrets may otherwise become known or be independently discovered by competitors. To the extent that our consultants, contractors or collaborators use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related or resulting know-how and inventions.

License agreements

We have rights to use and exploit multiple technologies disclosed in issued and pending patents under licenses from other entities. We consider the commercial terms of these licenses, which provide for modest milestone and royalty payments, and their provisions regarding diligence, insurance, indemnification and other similar matters, to be reasonable and customary for our industry.

Information about our principal licenses is set forth below.

The University of Florida

We currently have three agreements with the University of Florida Research Foundation, or UFRF, an affiliate of UF, of which the principal licenses are as follows:

 

A joint license from UFRF and Johns Hopkins University, or JHU, signed in October 2003 relates to a particular HSV construct and various compositions thereof. We have an exclusive license in all fields of use.

Under the terms of this license, we made cash and stock-based up-front payments to UFRF and JHU and are required to make payments ranging from the mid-five figures to the low-six figures based upon development, regulatory and commercial milestones for any products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property. Assuming that we meet each of the specified development, regulatory and commercial milestones not more than once for each product, which we expect will be the case, the maximum aggregate milestone payments payable under this license with respect to any individual product that we commercialize will be $0.5 million. We will also be required to pay a royalty on net sales of products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property in the low-single digits. We have the right to sublicense our rights under this agreement, and we will be required to pay a percentage of such license income in the low-double digits. We are required to make annual maintenance payments in the low four figures under this license, which payments are creditable against royalty payments on a year-by-year basis.

This license will terminate upon the earlier to occur of the expiration of all of the patents subject to the license and the date on which royalty payments, once commenced, cease for more than three calendar quarters. Additionally, UFRF and JHU may terminate this license upon certain breaches by us of the terms of the license and we may terminate the license at any time by submitting written notice to UFRF.

The longest-lived patent covered by this license is expected to expire in 2022.

 

Two licenses from UFRF, signed in September and November 2012, respectively, relate to the use of engineered AAV capsids. We have an exclusive license to the patents covered by the November 2012 license in the fields of ACHM, XLRS and XLRP and a semi-exclusive license in all other fields of orphan ophthalmology. We have a non-exclusive license in all fields of use with respect to the patents covered by the September 2012 license. Currently these patents are most useful for ACHM, XLRS and XLRP but could be important for treating a wide variety of diseases as the mutant capsids have been shown to be able to enter cells more effectively than standard AAV capsids.

Under the terms of these licenses, we made cash up-front payments to UFRF and are required to make payments ranging from the mid-five figures to the low-six figures based upon development, regulatory and commercial milestones for any products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property. Assuming that we meet each of the specified development, regulatory and commercial milestones not more than once for each product, which we expect will be the case, the maximum aggregate milestone payments payable under these licenses with respect to any individual product that we commercialize will be $0.6 million. We will also be required to pay a royalty on net sales of products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property in the low-single digits. We have the right to sublicense our rights under these agreements, and we will be required to pay a percentage of such license income in the mid-single digits. We are required to make

 

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annual maintenance payments in the mid four figures under these licenses, which payments are creditable against royalty payments on a year-by-year basis.

These licenses will continue until the expiration of all of the patents subject to the licenses, provided or, if later, a date specified in the license. Additionally, UFRF may terminate this license upon certain breaches by us of the terms of the licenses and we may terminate the licenses at any time by submitting written notice to UFRF.

The longest-lived patent covered by these licenses is expected to expire in 2029. There are also patent applications pending under these licenses.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham  

A license agreement from the UAB Research Foundation affiliated with The University of Alabama at Birmingham signed in 2006, relates to one U.S. patent with claims covering the use of HSV helpers to produce AAV vectors. The patent is expected to expire in 2025. Effective in July 2015, we modified the license from co-exclusive to exclusive.

Under the terms of this license, we made a cash up-front payment to the UAB Research Foundation, and we will be required to make payments ranging from the mid-five figures to the low-six figures based upon development and regulatory milestones for any products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property. Assuming that we meet each of these development and regulatory milestones not more than once for each product, which we expect will be the case, the maximum aggregate milestone payments payable under this license with respect to any individual product that we commercialize will be $0.5 million. We will also be required to pay a royalty on net sales of products covered by the in-licensed intellectual property in the low-single digits. We have the right to sublicense our rights under this agreement, and we will be required to pay a percentage of such license income in the mid-single digits. We are required to make annual maintenance payments in the mid-four figures under this license, which payments are creditable against royalty payments on a year-by-year basis.

This license will terminate upon the expiration of all of the patents subject to the license. Additionally, the UAB Research Foundation may terminate this license upon certain breaches by us of the terms of the license and we may terminate the license at any time by submitting written notice to the UAB Research Foundation.

Collaborations with 4DMT and Synpromics

We continue to collaborate with 4DMT and Synpromics in order to develop optimized capsids to target specific cell populations and novel synthetic promoters, respectively.

Competition

The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are characterized by intense and rapidly changing competition to develop new technologies and proprietary products, and any product candidates that we successfully develop and commercialize will have to compete with existing therapies and new therapies that may become available in the future. While we believe that our proprietary technology estate and scientific expertise in the gene therapy field provide us with competitive advantages, we face potential competition from many different sources, including larger and better-funded pharmaceutical, specialty pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as from academic institutions and governmental agencies and public and private research institutions that may develop potentially competitive products or technologies.

Currently there are no approved products for any of our lead orphan ophthalmology indications of XLRS, ACHM and XLRP, although at least one company is developing a candidate gene therapy treatment intended to treat each indication. We believe the key competitive factors that will affect the success of our product candidates, if approved, are likely to be their 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.

Government regulation

Biological products, including gene therapy products, are subject to regulation under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, or FD&C Act, and the Public Health Service Act, or PHS Act, and other federal, state, local and foreign statutes and regulations. Both the FD&C Act and the PHS Act and their corresponding regulations govern, among other things, the testing, manufacturing, safety, efficacy, labeling, packaging, storage, record keeping, distribution, reporting, advertising and other promotional practices involving biological products. Before clinical testing of biological products may begin, we must submit an IND which must go into effect, and each clinical trial protocol for a gene therapy product candidate is reviewed by the FDA and, in some instances, the NIH, through its Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, or RAC. FDA approval of a BLA also must be obtained before marketing of biological products. The process of obtaining regulatory approvals and the subsequent compliance with appropriate federal, state, local and

 

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foreign statutes and regulations require the expenditure of substantial time and financial resources and we may not be able to obtain the required regulatory approvals.

Within the FDA, the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, or CBER, regulates gene therapy products.  CBER works closely with the NIH and its RAC, which makes recommendations to the NIH on gene therapy issues and engages in a public discussion of scientific, safety, ethical and societal issues related to proposed and ongoing gene therapy protocols. The FDA and the NIH have published guidance documents with respect to the development and submission of gene therapy protocols. The FDA also has published guidance documents related to, among other things, gene therapy products in general, their preclinical assessment, observing subjects involved in gene therapy studies for delayed adverse events, potency testing, and chemistry, manufacturing and control information in gene therapy INDs.

Ethical, social and legal concerns about gene therapy, genetic testing and genetic research have led to the enactment of legislation such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and could result in additional regulations restricting or prohibiting the processes we may use. Federal and state agencies, congressional committees and foreign governments have expressed interest in further regulating biotechnology. More restrictive regulations or claims that our products are unsafe or pose a hazard could prevent us from commercializing any products. New government requirements may be established that could delay or prevent regulatory approval of our product candidates under development. It is impossible to predict whether legislative changes will be enacted, regulations, policies or guidance changed, or interpretations by agencies or courts changed, or what the impact of such changes, if any, may be.

Recent developments in regulation of gene therapy

In 2017, the FDA approved a gene therapy product called Kymriah.  Although this is the only gene therapy product that has been approved in the United States, the FDA has provided guidance for the development of gene therapy products. For example, the FDA has established the Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies, or OCTGT, within CBER, to consolidate the review of gene therapy and related products, and the Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee, or CTGTAC, to advise CBER on its reviews. In addition, the FDA has issued a growing body of clinical guidelines, chemistry, manufacturing and control, or CMC, guidelines and other guidelines, all of which are intended to facilitate industry’s development of gene therapy products. As a result of those guidelines and the increasing number of gene therapy products in clinical development, we believe that a number of gene therapy products will be submitted to the FDA for approval over the next several years.

In Europe, two gene therapy products have been approved.  In 2012, the EMA approved a gene therapy product called Glybera, which is the first gene therapy product approved by regulatory authorities anywhere in the Western world.  Most recently, Strimvelis became the second gene therapy product approved by the EMA.

United States biological products development process

The process required by the FDA before a biological product candidate may be marketed in the United States generally involves the following:

 

completion of nonclinical laboratory tests and animal studies according to good laboratory practices, or GLP, requirements and applicable requirements for the humane use of laboratory animals or other applicable regulations;

 

submission to the FDA of an IND, which must become effective before human clinical trials may begin;

 

performance of adequate and well-controlled human clinical trials according to good clinical practice, or GCP, standards and IND and human subject protection regulations, and requirements to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of human research subjects and their health information, to establish the safety and efficacy of the proposed biological product candidate for its intended use;

 

submission to the FDA of a Biologics License Application, or BLA, for marketing approval that includes substantial evidence of safety, purity, and potency from results of nonclinical testing and clinical trials;

 

satisfactory completion of an FDA inspection of the manufacturing facility or facilities where the biological product candidate is produced to assess compliance with GMP requirements, to assure that the facilities, methods and controls are adequate to preserve the biological product candidate’s identity, strength, quality and purity;

 

potential FDA audit of the nonclinical and clinical trial sites that generated the data in support of the BLA; and

 

FDA review and approval, or licensure, of the BLA prior to any commercial marketing or sale of the product candidate in the United States.

 

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Before testing any biological product candidate, including a gene therapy product candidate, 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 GLP requirements.

When a gene therapy trial is conducted at, or sponsored by, institutions receiving NIH funding for recombinant DNA research, along with the submission of an IND to the FDA, the protocol and related documentation is submitted to and the trial is registered with the NIH Office of Science Policy, or OSP, pursuant to the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules, or NIH Guidelines. Compliance with the NIH Guidelines is mandatory for investigators at institutions receiving NIH funds for research involving recombinant DNA, however many companies and other institutions not otherwise subject to the NIH Guidelines voluntarily follow them. The oversight bodies at the initial clinical site(s) (Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)) are responsible for recommending whether or not the clinical study requires public review by the RAC, a federal advisory committee, which discusses protocols that raise novel or particularly important scientific, safety or ethical considerations. This recommendation is included with the protocol and related documentation submitted to the OSP as part of the trial registration process. The OSP may agree or disagree with that recommendation.  Should the oversight bodies recommend public RAC review and the OSP concurs, the protocol will then be reviewed at one of the NIH RAC’s quarterly meetings for which information must be submitted at least eight weeks in advance. RAC proceedings and reports are posted to the OBA web site and may be accessed by the public.

The clinical trial sponsor must submit the results of the preclinical tests, together with manufacturing information, analytical data, any available clinical data or literature and a proposed clinical protocol, to the FDA as part of the IND. Some preclinical testing may continue even after the IND is submitted. The IND automatically becomes effective 30 days after receipt by the FDA, although IND sponsors generally wait until the FDA affirmatively provides notice that the agency has no issues with the IND. If 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. With gene therapy protocols, if the FDA allows the IND to proceed, and the trial oversight bodies and the OSP decide that full public review of the protocol is warranted, initiation of the protocol will be delayed until after completion of the RAC review process. 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. Accordingly, we cannot be sure that submission of an IND will result in the FDA allowing clinical trials to begin, or that, once begun, issues will not arise that suspend or terminate such trials.

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 trial 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, 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 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 GCP standards, human subject protection requirements, and FDA’s investigational new drug 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 trial 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. Clinical trials also must be reviewed by an institutional biosafety committee, or IBC, a local institutional committee that reviews and oversees basic and clinical research conducted at that institution. The IBC assesses the safety of the research and identifies any potential risk to public health or the environment.

Human clinical trials are typically conducted in three sequential phases that may overlap, be combined, or be bifurcated into two parts:

 

Phase 1.  The biological product candidate is initially introduced into healthy human subjects and tested for safety. In the case of some product candidates for severe or life-threatening diseases, especially when the product candidate may be too inherently toxic to ethically administer to healthy volunteers, the initial human testing is often conducted in patients.

 

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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 candidate 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 candidate and provide an adequate basis for product approval and labeling.

Post-approval clinical trials, sometimes referred to as Phase 4 clinical trials, may be required as a condition of approval or may be recommended after initial marketing approval if required. 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. Depending on the type of product and mechanism of action, the FDA may recommend 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 10 years of annual queries, either in person or by questionnaire, of trial subjects.

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 suspected adverse reactions, 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 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. Similarly, an IRB can suspend or terminate approval of a clinical trial 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.

Human gene therapy products are a new category of therapeutics. Although the FDA recently approved Kymriah, the first gene therapy product in the United States, gene therapy remains a relatively new and expanding area of novel therapeutic interventions. Consequently, there can be no assurance as to the length of the trial period, the number of patients the FDA will require to be enrolled in the trials in order to establish the safety, efficacy, purity and potency of human gene therapy products, or that the data generated in these trials will be acceptable to the FDA to support marketing approval. The NIH and the FDA have a publicly accessible database, the Genetic Modification Clinical Research Information System, which includes information on gene transfer trials and serves as an electronic tool to facilitate the reporting and analysis of adverse events on these trials. Over the last several years the FDA has issued helpful guidance on development of gene therapy products and shown a willingness to work closely with developers, especially with those working in orphan disease areas.

Concurrent with clinical trials, companies usually complete additional animal studies 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 candidate in commercial quantities in accordance with GMP requirements. To help reduce the risk of the introduction of adventitious agents with the use of biological products, the PHS Act 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.

United States 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 of the biological product candidate. The BLA must include results of product development, laboratory and animal studies, human trials, information on the manufacture and composition of the product candidate, 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 candidate is safe and effective. 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 candidate for an indication for which orphan designation has been granted. The testing and approval processes require substantial time and effort and there can be no assurance that the FDA will accept the BLA for filing and, even if filed, that any approval will be granted on a timely basis, if at all.

 

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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. According to the FDA’s fee schedule for fiscal year 2017, which becomes effective October 1, 2016, the user fee for an application requiring clinical data, such as a BLA, is $2,038,100. PDUFA also imposes an annual product fee for biologics ($97,750) and an annual establishment fee ($512,200) on facilities used to manufacture prescription biologics. Fee waivers or reductions are available in certain circumstances, including a waiver of the application fee for the first application filed by a small business. Additionally, no user fees are assessed on BLAs for product candidates designated as orphan drugs, unless the product candidate 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 also is subject to 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 reviews the BLA to determine, among other things, whether the proposed product candidate is safe and potent, or effective, for its intended use, and has an acceptable purity profile, and whether the product candidate is being manufactured in accordance with GMP regulations to assure and preserve the product candidate’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. A REMS may be imposed to ensure safe use of the drug, 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. 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 candidate is manufactured. The FDA will not approve the product candidate unless it determines that the manufacturing processes and facilities are in compliance with GMP requirements and adequate to assure consistent production of the product candidate within required specifications. Additionally, before approving a BLA, the FDA may inspect one or more clinical sites to assure that the clinical trials were conducted in compliance with IND trial requirements and GCP requirements. To assure GMP 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. Data obtained from clinical trials are not always conclusive and the FDA may interpret data differently than we interpret the same data. 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 a product candidate receives regulatory approval, the approval may be significantly limited to specific diseases and dosages or the indications for use may otherwise be limited, which could restrict the commercial value of the product candidate. Further, the FDA may require that certain contraindications, warnings or precautions be included in the product labeling. The FDA may impose restrictions and conditions on product distribution, prescribing, or dispensing in the form of a REMS, or otherwise limit the scope of any approval. In addition, the FDA may require post marketing clinical trials, sometimes referred to as Phase 4 clinical trials, designed to further assess a biological product’s safety and effectiveness, and testing and surveillance programs to monitor the safety of approved products that have been commercialized.

One of the performance goals agreed to by the FDA under the PDUFA is to review 90% of standard BLAs in 10 months and 90% of priority BLAs in six months, whereupon a review decision is to be made. The FDA does not always meet its PDUFA goal dates for standard and priority BLAs and its review goals are subject to change from time to time. The review process and the PDUFA goal date may be extended by three months if the FDA requests or the BLA sponsor otherwise provides additional information or clarification regarding information already provided in the submission within the last three months before the PDUFA goal date.

Orphan drug designation

Under the Orphan Drug Act, the FDA may grant orphan designation to a drug or biological product candidate intended to treat a rare disease or condition, which is defined as a disease or condition that affects fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, or

 

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more than 200,000 individuals in the United States if there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing and making a drug or biological product available in the United States for this type of disease or condition will be recovered from sales of the product candidate. Orphan product designation must be requested before submitting an NDA or 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 product designation does not convey any advantage in or shorten the duration of the regulatory review and approval process.

If a product candidate that has orphan designation subsequently receives the first FDA approval for the disease or condition for which it has such designation, the product is entitled to orphan product exclusivity, which means that the FDA may not approve any other applications to market the same drug or biological product for the same indication for seven years; however, the FDA has not yet established what characteristics of a gene therapy product are relevant to determining whether two gene therapy products would be considered the same for purposes of orphan drug market exclusivity.  The FDA may approve a second drug or biological product during an exclusivity period in limited circumstances, such as a showing of clinical superiority to the product with orphan exclusivity. 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 does not have 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. Orphan drug status in the European Union has similar, but not identical, benefits.

Expedited development and review programs

The FDA has a Fast Track program that is intended to expedite or facilitate the process for reviewing new drugs and biological 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 for the disease or condition. Fast Track designation applies to the combination of the product candidate and the specific indication for which it is being studied. The sponsor of a new drug or biologic may request the FDA to designate the drug or biologic as a Fast Track product candidate at any time during the clinical development of the product candidate. Unique to a Fast Track product candidate, 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.

Any product candidate submitted to the FDA for marketing, including under a Fast Track program, may be eligible for other types of FDA programs intended to expedite development and review, such as priority review and accelerated approval. Any product candidate is eligible for priority review if it has the potential to provide safe and effective therapy where no satisfactory alternative therapy exists or 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 drug or biological product candidate designated for priority review in an effort to facilitate the review, and aims to review such applications within six months as opposed to ten months for standard review. Additionally, a product candidate may be eligible for accelerated approval. Drug or 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 receive accelerated approval, which means that they may be approved on the basis of adequate and well-controlled clinical trials establishing that the product candidate 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 drug or biological product candidate receiving accelerated approval perform adequate and well-controlled post-marketing clinical trials. 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.

Lastly, under the provisions of the new Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, or FDASIA, enacted in 2012, a sponsor can request designation of a product candidate as a “breakthrough therapy.” A breakthrough therapy is defined as a drug that is intended, alone or in combination with one or more other drugs, to treat a serious or life-threatening disease or condition, and preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies on one or more clinically significant endpoints, such as substantial treatment effects observed early in clinical development. Drugs designated as breakthrough therapies are also eligible for accelerated approval and receive the same benefits as drugs with Fast Track designation. The FDA must take certain actions, such as holding timely meetings and providing advice, intended to expedite the development and review of an application for approval of a breakthrough therapy.

 

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Fast Track designation, priority review, accelerated approval and breakthrough therapy designation do not change the standards for approval but may expedite the development or approval process.

Post-approval requirements

Maintaining compliance with applicable federal, state, and local statutes and regulations requires the expenditure of substantial time and financial resources. Rigorous and extensive FDA regulation of biological products continues after approval, particularly with respect to GMP requirements. We will rely, and expect to continue to rely, on third parties for the production of clinical and commercial quantities of any products that we may commercialize. Manufacturers of our products are required to comply with applicable requirements in the GMP regulations, including quality control and quality assurance and maintenance of records and documentation. Other post-approval requirements applicable to biological products include reporting of GMP 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 may also be subject to official lot release. In this case, 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.

We also must comply with the FDA’s advertising and promotion requirements, such as the prohibition of preapproval promotion, requirements 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”), limitations on industry-sponsored scientific and educational activities, and promotional activities involving the internet. 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. Any agency or judicial enforcement action could have a material adverse effect on us.

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 GMPs and other laws. Accordingly, manufacturers must continue to expend time, money, and effort in the area of production and quality control to maintain GMP 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.

United States patent term restoration and marketing exclusivity

Depending upon the timing, duration and specifics of product development and the FDA review of a BLA, some 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, commonly referred to as the Hatch-Waxman Amendments. The Hatch-Waxman Amendments permit a patent restoration term of up to five years as compensation for patent term lost during product development and the FDA regulatory review process. However, patent term restoration cannot extend the remaining term of a patent beyond a total of 14 years from the product’s approval date. The patent term restoration period is generally one-half the time between the effective date of an IND and the submission date of a BLA plus the time between the submission date of a BLA and the approval of that application. Only one patent applicable to an approved biological product is eligible for the extension and the application for the extension must be submitted prior to the expiration of the patent. The United States Patent and Trademark Office, in consultation with the FDA, reviews and approves the application for any patent term extension or restoration. In the future, we may apply for restoration of patent term for one or more of our currently owned or licensed patents to add patent life beyond its current expiration date, depending on the expected length of the clinical trials and other factors involved in the filing of the relevant BLA.

A biological product can 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

 

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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.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, or Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, includes a subtitle called the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, which created an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products shown to be similar to, or interchangeable with, an FDA-licensed reference biological product. This amendment to the PHS Act attempts to minimize duplicative testing. 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 and, for products administered multiple times, the biologic and the reference biologic may be 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, structure of biological products, as well as the process by which such products are manufactured, pose significant hurdles to implementation that are still being worked out by the FDA.

A reference biologic is granted twelve years of exclusivity from the time of first licensure of the reference product. On April 10, 2013, President Obama released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 and proposed to cut this twelve-year period of exclusivity down to seven years. He also proposed to prohibit additional periods of exclusivity for brand biologics due to minor changes in product formulations, a practice often referred to as “evergreening.” The first biologic product submitted under the biosimilar abbreviated approval pathway that is determined to be interchangeable with the reference product has exclusivity against other biologics submitting under the abbreviated approval pathway for the lesser of (i) one year after the first commercial marketing, (ii) 18 months after approval if there is no legal challenge, (iii) 18 months after the resolution in the applicant’s favor of a lawsuit challenging the biologics’ patents if an application has been submitted, or (iv) 42 months after the application has been approved if a lawsuit is ongoing within the 42-month period.

Pharmaceutical Coverage, Pricing and Reimbursement

Sales of our products, when and if approved for marketing, will depend, in part, on the extent to which our products will be covered by third-party payors, such as federal, state, and foreign government health care programs, commercial insurance and managed healthcare organizations. These third-party payors are increasingly reducing reimbursements for medical products, drugs and services. 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. Adoption of price controls and cost containment measures, and adoption of more restrictive policies in jurisdictions with existing controls and measures, could further limit our net revenue and results. Decreases in third-party reimbursement for our product candidates or a decision by a third-party payor not to cover our product candidates could reduce physician usage of our products once approved and have a material adverse effect on our sales, results of operations and financial condition.  Given the potential for long term durable therapeutic benefit from the single administration of a gene therapy product, the question of appropriate pricing and method of payment, including annuity payments and “pay for performance” schemes, is currently an active discussion and, depending on outcome, could affect the use of our products and our financial performance.

Other Healthcare Laws

Although we currently do not have any products on the market, we may be subject to additional healthcare regulation and enforcement by the federal government and by authorities in the states and foreign jurisdictions in which we conduct our business. Such laws include, without limitation, state and federal anti-kickback, fraud and abuse, false claims, privacy and security and physician sunshine laws and regulations, many of which may become more applicable to us if our product candidates are approved and we begin commercialization. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of such laws or any other governmental regulations that apply to us, we may be subject to penalties, including, without limitation, civil and criminal penalties, damages, fines, the curtailment or restructuring of our operations, exclusion from participation in federal and state healthcare programs and imprisonment, any of which could adversely affect our ability to operate our business and our financial results.

Employees

As of June 30, 2017, we had 72 full-time employees, 46 of whom have Ph.D., M.D. or other post-graduate degrees. Of these full-time employees, 53 are engaged in research and development activities and 19 are engaged in finance, human resources, facilities and general management.

All of our personnel are co-employees of AGTC and a professional human resource service organization, TriNet HR Corporation, or TriNet. Under our agreement with TriNet, TriNet is a co-employer of our personnel, and is responsible for

 

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administering all payroll functions, including tax withholding, and providing health insurance and other benefits for these individuals. We reimburse TriNet for these costs and pay TriNet an administrative fee for its services. We are responsible for, and control, all aspects of the hiring, retention, compensation, management and supervision of our personnel. We consider the terms of our contract with TriNet to be reasonable and customary and believe this arrangement provides substantial benefit to us, in the form of lower costs for employee benefits and a reduced administrative burden on us.

We have no collective bargaining agreements with our employees and we have not experienced any work stoppages. We consider our relations with our employees to be good.

Corporate information

We were incorporated in Florida in January 1999 and reincorporated in Delaware in October 2003. On April 1, 2014, we completed our initial public offering of our common stock, which is traded on The NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol “AGTC.” Our principal executive offices are located at 14193 NW 119th Terrace, Suite 10, Alachua, Florida 32615, and our telephone number is (386) 462-2204. Our corporate website address is www.agtc.com. Information contained on or accessible through our website is not a part of this annual report.

We use “AGTC” and the double helix logo as trademarks in the United States and other countries. As of June 30, 2016, these trademarks have been registered in the United States, European Union and Japan.

This annual report contains references to our trademarks and to trademarks belonging to other entities. Solely for convenience, trademarks and trade names referred to in this annual report, including logos, artwork, and other visual displays, may appear without the or ™ symbols, but such references are not intended to indicate that we will not assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our rights or the rights of the applicable licensor to these trademarks and trade names. We do not intend our use or display of other companies’ trade names or trademarks to imply a relationship with, or endorsement or sponsorship of us by, any such companies.

Implications of being an emerging growth company

As a company with less than $1 billion in revenue during our last fiscal year, we qualify as an “emerging growth company” as defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, or the JOBS Act. As an emerging growth company, we may take advantage of specified reduced disclosure and other requirements that are otherwise applicable generally to public companies. These provisions include:

 

only two years of audited financial statements, in addition to any required unaudited interim financial statements, with correspondingly reduced “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” disclosure;

 

reduced disclosure about our executive compensation arrangements;

 

no non-binding advisory votes on executive compensation or golden parachute arrangements; and

 

exemption from the auditor attestation requirement in the assessment of our internal controls over financial reporting.

We may take advantage of these exemptions for up to five years from the date of our initial public offering of common stock or such earlier time that we are no longer an emerging growth company. We would cease to be an emerging growth company if we have more than $1 billion in annual revenue, we have more than $700 million in market value of our stock held by non-affiliates or we issue more than $1 billion of non-convertible debt over a three-year period. We may choose to take advantage of some, but not all, of the available exemptions.

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 certain accounting standards until those standards would otherwise apply to private companies. We have irrevocably elected not to avail ourselves of this exemption from new or revised accounting standards and, therefore, we will be subject to the same new or revised accounting standards as other public companies that are not emerging growth companies.

 

 

 

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Item 1A.

Risk Factors

You should carefully consider the risks and uncertainties described below, together with the information included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K and other documents we file with the SEC. The risks and uncertainties described below are those that we have identified as material, but are not the only risks and uncertainties facing us. Our business is also subject to general risks and uncertainties that affect many other companies, such as overall U.S. and non-U.S. economic and industry conditions including a global economic slowdown, geopolitical events, changes in laws or accounting rules, fluctuations in interest and exchange rates, terrorism, international conflicts, major health concerns, natural disasters or other disruptions of expected economic and business conditions. Additional risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or that we currently believe are immaterial also may impair our business operations and liquidity.

Risks related to our financial condition and capital requirements

We have incurred significant losses since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur significant losses for the foreseeable future.

We are a clinical-stage biotechnology company, and we have not yet generated revenues from product sales. With the exception of the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017, in which we reported net income of $1.7 million due in part to the amortization associated with our collaboration agreement with Biogen, we have incurred losses from operations in each year since our inception in 1999. We reported net losses of $1.4 million and $24.3 million for each of the fiscal years ended June 30, 2016 and 2015, respectively.  As of our most recent fiscal year ended June 30, 2017, we had an accumulated deficit of $88.3 million. Our prior losses, combined with expected future losses, have had and may continue to have an adverse effect on our stockholders’ equity and working capital.

We have devoted most of our financial resources to research and development, including our clinical and preclinical development activities. To date, we have financed our operations primarily through the sale of equity securities and, to a lesser extent, through research grants from third parties or milestone payments from a collaborator. The amount of our future net losses will depend, in part, on the rate of our future expenditures and our ability to obtain funding through equity or debt financings, strategic collaborations or additional grants. We anticipate that it will be several years, if ever, before we have a product candidate ready for commercialization. Even if we obtain regulatory approval to market a product candidate, our future revenues will depend upon the size of any markets in which our product candidates have received approval, and our ability to achieve sufficient market acceptance, reimbursement from third-party payors and adequate market share for our product candidates in those markets.

We expect to continue to incur significant expenses and increasing operating losses for the foreseeable future. We anticipate that our expenses will increase substantially if and as we:

 

continue our research and preclinical and clinical development of our product candidates;

 

expand the scope of our current clinical trials for our product candidates;

 

initiate additional preclinical studies, clinical trials or other studies for our product candidates;

 

further develop our gene therapy platform, including the process for design, delivery and manufacturing of our vectors for our product candidates;

 

change or add additional manufacturers or suppliers;

 

seek regulatory and marketing approvals for our product candidates that successfully complete clinical trials;

 

establish a sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure to commercialize any products for which we may obtain marketing approval;

 

seek to identify and validate additional product candidates;

 

acquire or in-license other product candidates and technologies;

 

make milestone or other payments under any in-license agreements;

 

maintain, protect and expand our intellectual property portfolio;

 

attract and retain skilled personnel;

 

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create additional infrastructure to support our operations as a public company and our product development and planned future commercialization efforts; and

 

experience any delays or encounter issues with any of the above.

The net losses we incur may fluctuate significantly from quarter to quarter and year to year, such that a period-to-period comparison of our results of operations may not be a good indication of our future performance. In any particular quarter or quarters, our operating results could be below the expectations of securities analysts or investors, which could cause our stock price to decline.

Our ability to generate revenue from product sales is highly uncertain and we may never achieve or sustain profitability, which could depress the market price of our common stock, and could cause you to lose part or all of your investment.

All of our revenue generated to date has come from research grants from third parties or license fees or milestone payments from collaborations. Our ability to generate substantial revenue and achieve profitability depends on our ability, alone or with strategic collaboration partners such as Biogen and Bionic Sight, to successfully complete the development of, and obtain the regulatory approvals necessary to commercialize, our product candidates. We do not anticipate generating revenues from product sales for at least the next several years, if ever. If any of our product candidates fail in clinical trials or do not gain regulatory approval, or if any of our product candidates, if approved, fail to achieve market acceptance, we may never become profitable. Even if we achieve profitability in the future, we may not be able to sustain profitability in subsequent periods. Our ability to generate future revenues from product sales depends heavily on our success in:

 

completing research and preclinical and clinical development of our product candidates;

 

seeking and obtaining regulatory and marketing approvals for product candidates for which we complete clinical trials;

 

establishing and maintaining supply and manufacturing relationships with third parties that can provide adequate (in amount and quality) products and services to support clinical development and the market demand for our product candidates, if approved;

 

launching and commercializing product candidates for which we obtain regulatory and marketing approval, either by collaborating with a partner or, if launched independently, by establishing a sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure;

 

obtaining and maintaining adequate coverage and reimbursement from third-party payors for our product candidates;

 

obtaining market acceptance of our product candidates and gene therapy as a viable treatment option;

 

addressing any competing technological and market developments;

 

implementing additional internal systems and infrastructure, as needed;

 

identifying and validating new gene therapy product candidates;

 

negotiating favorable terms in any collaboration, licensing or other arrangements into which we may enter;

 

maintaining, protecting and expanding our portfolio of intellectual property rights, including patents, trade secrets and know-how; and

 

attracting, hiring and retaining qualified personnel.

Even if one or more of the product candidates that we develop is approved for commercial sale, we anticipate incurring significant costs associated with commercializing any approved product candidate, particularly to the extent that we seek to commercialize any product for an indication, such as wet AMD, that has a patient population significantly larger than those addressed by our current lead product candidates. Our expenses could increase beyond expectations if we are required by the FDA, the EMA or other regulatory agencies, domestic or foreign, to perform clinical trials and other studies in addition to those that we currently anticipate. Even if we are able to generate revenues from the sale of any approved products, we may not become profitable and may need to obtain additional funding to continue operations. Our failure to become and remain profitable would depress the market price of our common stock and could impair our ability to raise capital, expand our business, diversify our product offerings or continue our operations.

 

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In order to obtain regulatory approval for and commercialize our product candidates, we will need to raise additional funding in the future, which may not be available on acceptable terms, or at all. Failure to obtain necessary capital when needed may force us to delay, limit or terminate our product development efforts or other operations.

Other than our product candidates for the treatment of XLRS, ACHM CNGB3 and ACHM CNGA3, all of our lead programs in orphan ophthalmology and otology are currently in preclinical development. Developing gene therapy products is expensive, and we expect our research and development expenses to increase substantially as we advance our current product candidates in clinical trials and as we undertake preclinical studies of new product candidates.

Our operations have consumed substantial amounts of cash since inception. As of June 30, 2017, and 2016, our cash and cash equivalents and investments amounted to $138.4 million and $172.7 million, respectively. Our research and development expenses were $26.2 million, $38.9 million and $16.5 million for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively. We believe that our existing cash and cash equivalents at June 30, 2017 will be sufficient to enable us to advance planned preclinical studies and clinical trials for our lead product candidates for at least the next two years. In order to complete the process of obtaining regulatory approval for our lead product candidates and to build the sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure that we believe will be necessary to commercialize our lead product candidates, if approved, we will require substantial additional funding. Also, our current operating plan may change as a result of many factors currently unknown to us, and we may need to seek additional funds sooner than planned, through public or private equity or debt financings, government or other third-party funding, marketing and distribution arrangements and other collaborations, strategic alliances and licensing arrangements, or a combination of these approaches.

Any such fundraising efforts may divert our management from their day-to-day activities, which may adversely affect our ability to develop and commercialize our product candidates. In addition, financing may not be available to us in the future in sufficient amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all. Moreover, the terms of any financing may adversely affect the holdings or the rights of our stockholders and the issuance of additional securities, whether equity or debt, by us, or the possibility of such issuance, may cause the market price of our shares to decline. The sale of additional equity or convertible securities would dilute all of our stockholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in increased fixed payment obligations and a portion of our operating cash flows, if any, being dedicated to the payment of principal and interest on such indebtedness, and we may be required to agree to certain restrictive covenants, such as limitations on our ability to incur additional debt, limitations on our ability to acquire, sell or license intellectual property rights and other operating restrictions that could adversely impact our ability to conduct our business. We could also be required to seek funds through arrangements with collaborative partners or otherwise at an earlier stage than otherwise would be desirable or on terms that are less favorable than might otherwise be available, and we may be required to relinquish or license on unfavorable terms rights to some of our technologies or product candidates or otherwise agree to terms unfavorable to us, any of which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects and cause the price of our common stock to decline.

If we are unable to obtain needed funding on a timely basis, we may be required to significantly curtail, delay or discontinue one or more of our research or development programs or the commercialization of any product candidates or be unable to expand our operations or otherwise capitalize on our business opportunities, as desired, which could materially affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects and cause the price of our common stock to decline.

 

Risks related to the discovery and development of our product candidates

All of our product candidates are in preclinical or clinical development. Clinical drug development is expensive, time consuming and uncertain, and we may ultimately not be able to obtain regulatory approvals for the commercialization of some or all of our product candidates.

The research, testing, manufacturing, labeling, approval, selling, marketing and distribution of drug products are subject to extensive regulation by the FDA and other regulatory authorities, which regulations differ from country to country. Our product candidates are in various stages of development and are subject to the risks of failure typical of drug development. The development and approval process is expensive and can take many years to complete, and its outcome is inherently uncertain. We have not submitted an application for or received marketing approval for any of our product candidates. We have limited experience in conducting and managing the later-stage clinical trials necessary to obtain regulatory approvals, including approval by the FDA. To receive regulatory approval, we must, among other things, demonstrate with substantial evidence from clinical trials that the product candidate is safe, pure and effective for each indication for which approval is sought, and failure can occur in any stage of development. Satisfaction of the approval requirements typically takes several years and the time needed to satisfy them may vary substantially, based on the type, complexity and novelty of the pharmaceutical product. We cannot predict if or when we might receive regulatory approvals for any of our product candidates currently under development.

 

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The FDA and foreign regulatory authorities also have substantial discretion in the drug approval process. The number and types of preclinical studies and clinical trials that will be required for regulatory approval varies depending on the product candidate, the disease or condition that the product candidate is designed to address, and the regulations applicable to any particular product candidate. 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, and there may be varying interpretations of data obtained from preclinical studies or clinical trials, either of which may cause delays or limitations in the approval or the decision not to approve an application. Regulatory agencies can delay, limit or deny approval of a product candidate for many reasons, including:

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with the design or implementation of our clinical trials;

 

we may be unable to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities that a product candidate is safe and effective for its proposed indication;

 

the results of clinical trials may not meet the level of statistical or clinical significance required by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities for approval;

 

the patients recruited for a particular clinical program may not be sufficiently broad or representative to assure safety in the full population for which we seek approval;

 

the results may not confirm the positive results from earlier preclinical studies or clinical trials;

 

we may be unable to demonstrate that a product candidate’s clinical and other benefits outweigh its safety risks;

 

the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with our interpretation of data from preclinical studies or clinical trials;

 

the data collected from clinical trials of our product candidates may not be sufficient to the satisfaction of FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities to support the submission of a biologics license application, or BLA, or other comparable submission in foreign jurisdictions or to obtain regulatory approval in the United States or elsewhere;

 

regulatory agencies might not approve or might require changes to our manufacturing processes or facilities; or

 

regulatory agencies may change their approval policies or adopt new regulations in a manner rendering our clinical data insufficient for approval.

Any delay in obtaining or failure to obtain required approvals could materially adversely affect our ability to generate revenue from the particular product candidate, which likely would result in significant harm to our financial position and adversely impact our stock price. Furthermore, any regulatory approval to market a product may be subject to limitations on the indicated uses for which we may market the product. These limitations may limit the size of the market for the product.

We are not permitted to market our product candidates in the United States or in other countries until we receive approval of a BLA from the FDA or marketing approval from applicable regulatory authorities outside the United States. Obtaining approval of a BLA can be a lengthy, expensive and uncertain process. If we fail to obtain FDA approval to market our product candidates, we will be unable to sell our product candidates in the United States, which will significantly impair our ability to generate any revenues. In addition, failure to comply with FDA and non-U.S. regulatory requirements may, either before or after product approval, if any, subject our company to administrative or judicially imposed sanctions, including:

 

restrictions on our ability to conduct clinical trials, including full or partial clinical holds on ongoing or planned trials;

 

restrictions on the products, manufacturers or manufacturing process;

 

warning letters;

 

civil and criminal penalties;

 

injunctions;

 

suspension or withdrawal of regulatory approvals;

 

product seizures, detentions or import bans;

 

voluntary or mandatory product recalls and publicity requirements;

 

total or partial suspension of production;

 

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imposition of restrictions on operations, including costly new manufacturing requirements; and

 

refusal to approve pending BLAs or supplements to approved BLAs.

Even if we do receive regulatory approval to market a product candidate, any such approval may be subject to limitations on the indicated uses for which we may market the product. It is possible that none of our existing product candidates or any product candidates we may seek to develop in the future will ever obtain the appropriate regulatory approvals necessary for us or our collaborators to commence product sales. Any delay in obtaining, or an inability to obtain, applicable regulatory approvals would prevent us from commercializing our product candidates, generating revenues and achieving and sustaining profitability.

Our gene therapy product candidates are based on a novel technology, which makes it difficult to predict the time and cost of product candidate development and subsequently obtaining regulatory approval. At the moment, only one gene therapy product has been approved in the United States and only two such products have been approved in Europe.

We have concentrated our product research and development efforts on our gene therapy platform, and our future success depends on the successful development of this approach. There can be no assurance that any development problems we experience in the future related to our gene therapy platform will not cause significant delays or unanticipated costs, or that such development problems can be solved. We may also experience unanticipated problems or delays in expanding our manufacturing capacity or transferring our manufacturing process to commercial partners, which may prevent us from completing our clinical trials or commercializing our products on a timely or profitable basis, if at all.

In addition, the clinical trial requirements of the FDA, the EMA and other regulatory agencies 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 such product candidates. The regulatory approval process for novel product candidates such as ours can be more expensive and take longer than for other, better known or extensively studied pharmaceutical or other product candidates.

Regulatory requirements governing gene and cell therapy products have changed frequently and may continue to change in the future. For example, the FDA has established the Office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene 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 conducted at institutions that receive funding for recombinant DNA research from the United States National Institutes of Health, or the NIH, are also subject to review by the NIH Office of Biotechnology Activities’ Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, or the RAC. Although the FDA decides whether individual gene therapy protocols may proceed, the RAC review process can delay the initiation of a clinical trial, even if the FDA has reviewed the trial design and details and approved its initiation. Conversely, the FDA can put an IND on clinical hold even if the RAC has provided a favorable review of the drug. Also, before a clinical trial can begin at an NIH-funded institution, that institution’s institutional review board, or IRB, and its Institutional Biosafety Committee, or IBC, have to review the proposed clinical trial to assess the safety of the trial. In addition, adverse developments in clinical trials of gene therapy products conducted by others may cause the FDA or other regulatory bodies to change the requirements for approval of any of our product candidates.

These regulatory review committees and advisory groups and the new guidelines they promulgate may lengthen the regulatory review process, require us to perform additional studies, increase our development costs, lead to changes in regulatory positions and interpretations, delay or prevent approval and commercialization of these product candidates or lead to significant post-approval limitations or restrictions. As we advance our product candidates, we will be required to consult with these regulatory and advisory groups, and comply with applicable guidelines. If we fail to do so, we may be required to delay or discontinue development of our product candidates. These additional processes may result in a review and approval process that is longer than we otherwise would have expected for orphan ophthalmology product candidates. Delay or failure to obtain, or unexpected costs in obtaining, the regulatory approval necessary to bring a potential product to market could decrease our ability to generate sufficient product revenue to maintain our business.

Success in animal studies or early clinical trials may not be indicative of results obtained in later trials.

Trial designs and results from animal studies or previous clinical trials are not necessarily predictive of our future clinical trial designs or results, and interim results of a clinical trial are not necessarily indicative of final results. Our product candidates may also fail to show the desired safety and efficacy in clinical development despite demonstrating positive results in animal studies or having successfully advanced through initial clinical trials. There can be no assurance that the success we achieved in the animal studies for our lead product candidates will result in success in our clinical trials of those product candidates.

There is a high failure rate for drugs and biological products proceeding through clinical trials. A number of companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have suffered significant setbacks in later stage clinical trials even after achieving promising results in earlier stage clinical trials. Data obtained from preclinical and clinical activities are subject to varying

 

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interpretations, which may delay, limit or prevent regulatory approval. In addition, we may experience regulatory delays or rejections as a result of many factors, including due to changes in regulatory policy during the period of our product candidate development.

We may find it difficult to enroll patients in our clinical trials, which could delay or prevent clinical trials of our product candidates.

Identifying and qualifying patients to participate in clinical trials of our product candidates is critical to our success. The timing of our clinical trials depends on the speed at which we can recruit patients to participate in testing our product candidates as well as completion of required follow-up periods. If patients are unwilling to participate in our gene therapy studies because of negative publicity from adverse events in the biotechnology or gene therapy industries or for other reasons, including competitive clinical trials for similar patient populations, the timeline for recruiting patients, conducting studies and obtaining regulatory approval of our product candidates may be delayed. For example, trials using early versions of lentiviral 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. If there are delays in accumulating the required number of clinical events in trials for our product candidates where clinical events are a primary endpoint, there may be delays in completing the trial. These delays could result in increased costs, delays in advancing our product candidates, delays in testing the effectiveness of our technology or termination of the clinical trials altogether.

We may not be able to identify, recruit and enroll a sufficient number of patients, or those with the required or desired characteristics to achieve diversity in a trial, to complete our clinical trials in a timely manner.  For example, enrolling eligible patients in novel orphan drug trials can be challenging and we have encountered slower-than-expected enrollment in our phase 1/2 clinical trial for our XLRS product candidate as a result of patients not meeting one or more study eligibility criteria.    Challenges such as these in enrolling a sufficient number of patients to conduct our clinical trials as planned, may cause us to delay, limit or terminate ongoing or planned clinical trials, any of which would have an adverse effect on our business. We could also encounter delays if physicians encounter unresolved ethical issues associated with enrolling patients in clinical trials of our product candidates

In particular, each of the conditions for which we plan to evaluate our product candidates are rare genetic disorders with limited patient pools from which to draw for clinical trials. The eligibility criteria of our clinical trials will further limit the pool of available trial participants.

Patient enrollment is affected by factors including:

 

severity of the disease under investigation;

 

design of the clinical trial protocol;

 

size and nature of the patient population;

 

eligibility criteria for the trial in question;

 

perceived risks and benefits of the product candidate under trial;

 

proximity and availability of clinical trial sites for prospective patients;

 

availability of competing therapies and clinical trials;

 

clinicians’ and patients’ perceptions as to the potential advantages of the drug being studied in relation to other available therapies, including any new drugs that may be approved for the indications we are investigating;

 

efforts to facilitate timely enrollment in clinical trials;

 

patient referral practices of physicians; and

 

our ability to monitor patients adequately during and after treatment.

We plan to seek initial marketing approval for our product candidates in the United States and the European Economic Area, or EEA. We may not be able to initiate or continue clinical trials if we cannot enroll a sufficient number of eligible patients to participate in the clinical trials required by the FDA, the EMA or other foreign regulatory authorities. Our ability to successfully initiate, enroll and complete a clinical trial in any foreign country is subject to numerous risks unique to conducting business in foreign countries, including:

 

difficulty in establishing or managing relationships with contract research organizations, or CROs, and physicians;

 

different standards for conducting clinical trials;

 

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our inability to locate qualified local consultants, physicians and partners; and

 

the potential burden of complying with a variety of foreign laws, medical standards and regulatory requirements, including the regulation of pharmaceutical and biotechnology products and treatments.

We may encounter substantial delays in our clinical trials or we may fail to demonstrate safety and efficacy to the satisfaction of applicable regulatory authorities.

Before obtaining marketing approval from regulatory authorities for the sale of our product candidates, we must conduct extensive clinical trials to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of such product candidates in humans. Clinical testing is expensive, time-consuming and uncertain as to outcome. We cannot guarantee that any clinical trials will be conducted as planned or completed on schedule, if at all. Our clinical trials have and may continue to be delayed by the necessity to re-test study agent, the decision to use a single surgeon to treat all patients in our ACHM CNGB3 and ACHM CNGA3 trials in the near-term and a protocol amendment that required approval by institutional review boards at the clinical sites.  A failure of one or more clinical trials can occur at any stage of testing.

Events that may prevent successful or timely completion of clinical development include:

 

delays in raising, or inability to raise, sufficient capital to fund the planned clinical trials;

 

inability to generate sufficient preclinical, toxicology, or other data to support the initiation of human clinical trials;

 

delays in reaching a consensus with regulatory agencies on trial design;

 

identifying, recruiting and training suitable clinical investigators;

 

delays in reaching agreement on acceptable terms with prospective CROs and clinical trial sites, the terms of which can be subject to extensive negotiation and may vary significantly among different CROs and trial sites;

 

delays in obtaining required IRB approval at each clinical trial site;

 

delays in recruiting suitable patients to participate in our clinical trials;  

 

delays due to changing standard of care for the diseases we are targeting;

 

adding new clinical trial sites;

 

imposition of a clinical hold by regulatory agencies, after review of an IND application or equivalent application or an inspection of our clinical trial operations or trial sites;

 

failure by our CROs, other third parties or us to adhere to clinical trial requirements;

 

loss of product due to shipping delays or delays in customs in connection with delivery to foreign countries for use in clinical trials;

 

failure to perform in accordance with the FDA’s good clinical practices, or GCP requirements or applicable regulatory guidelines in other countries;

 

delays in the manufacture, testing, release, import or export for use of sufficient quantities of our product candidates for use in clinical trials by our vendors, such as the vendor testing errors previously experienced in our ongoing clinical trials;

 

failure by us or our vendors to manufacture our product candidate in accordance with the FDA’s good manufacturing practice, or GMP, requirements or applicable regulatory guidelines in other countries;

 

delays by us or our contract vendors in the testing, validation and delivery of our product candidates to the clinical trial sites;

 

delays in having patients complete participation in a trial or return for post-treatment follow-up;

 

clinical trial sites deviating from trial protocol or clinical trial sites or patients dropping out of a trial;

 

occurrence of serious adverse events associated with the product candidate that are viewed to outweigh its potential benefits;

 

changes in regulatory requirements and guidance that require amending or submitting new clinical protocols;

 

the costs of clinical trials of our product candidates may be greater than we anticipate; or

 

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 drug development programs.

 

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Further, a clinical trial may be suspended or terminated by us, our collaborators, the IRBs, in the institutions in which such trials are being conducted, the Data Safety Monitoring Board, or DSMB, for such trial, or by the FDA or other regulatory authorities 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 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 product candidate, changes in governmental regulations or administrative actions or lack of adequate funding to continue the clinical trial. In appropriate circumstances, we may also elect to temporarily suspend an ongoing clinical trial to further study unexpected results, even if those results would not require us to formally suspend the trial under the applicable regulatory requirements or clinical protocols.  Such temporary suspension could include further testing of trial materials and the need to review subject responses to ensure safety. If we experience termination of, or delays in the completion of, any clinical trial of our product candidates, the commercial prospects of our product candidates will be harmed, and our ability to generate product revenues from any of these product candidates will be delayed. Furthermore, 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.

Any inability to successfully complete preclinical and clinical development could result in additional costs to us or impair our ability to generate revenues from product sales, regulatory and commercialization milestones and royalties. In addition, if we or our third-party collaborators make manufacturing or formulation changes to product candidates, we or they may need to conduct additional trial to bridge the modified product candidates to earlier versions. Clinical trial delays could also shorten any periods during which we may have the exclusive right to commercialize our product candidates or allow our competitors to bring products to market before we do, which could impair our ability to successfully commercialize our product candidates and may harm our business and results of operations.

If the results of our clinical trials are inconclusive or if there are safety concerns or adverse events associated with our product candidates, we may:

 

be delayed in obtaining marketing approval for our product candidates, if at all;

 

obtain approval for indications or patient populations that are not as broad as intended or desired;

 

obtain approval with labeling that includes significant use or distribution restrictions or safety warnings;

 

be subject to changes with the way the product is administered;

 

be required to perform additional clinical trials to support approval or be subject to additional post-marketing testing requirements;

 

have regulatory authorities withdraw their approval of the product or impose restrictions on its distribution in the form of a modified risk evaluation and mitigation strategy;

 

be subject to the addition of labeling statements, such as warnings or contraindications;

 

be sued; or

 

experience damage to our reputation.

Any of these events could prevent us from achieving or maintaining market acceptance of our product candidates and impair our ability to commercialize our product candidates.

Our product candidates may cause undesirable side effects or have other properties that could delay or prevent their regulatory approval, limit the commercial profile of an approved label, or result in significant negative consequences following any potential marketing approval.

As with many pharmaceutical and biological products, treatment with our product candidates may produce undesirable side effects or adverse reactions or events. These adverse events may occur despite our belief that our AAV vectors have an improved safety profile over prior such treatments.

Known adverse side effects that could occur with treatment with AAV vectors include an immunologic reaction to the capsid protein or gene at early time points after administration. In previous clinical trials involving AAV viral vectors for gene therapy, some subjects experienced serious adverse events, including the development of T-cell response due to immune response against the vector capsid proteins. If our vectors demonstrate a similar effect, or other adverse events, we may be required to halt or delay further clinical development of our product candidates. In addition, theoretical adverse side effects of AAV vectors include replication and spread of the virus to other parts of the body and insertional oncogenesis, which is the process whereby the insertion of a functional gene near a gene that is important in cell growth or division results in uncontrolled cell division, also known as cancer, which could potentially enhance the risk of malignant transformation. Potential procedure-related adverse events, including inflammation, can also occur and

 

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have, in fact, been observed in our XLRS and ACHM CNGB3 trials. There is also 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, our clinical trials could be suspended or terminated and the FDA, the EMA or other foreign regulatory authorities could order us to cease further development of or deny approval of our product candidates for any or all targeted indications. The product-related side effects could affect patient recruitment or the ability of enrolled patients to complete the trial. If we elect or are required to delay, suspend or terminate any clinical trial of any of our product candidates, the commercial prospects of such product candidates will be harmed and our ability to generate product revenues from any of these product candidates will be delayed or eliminated. Any of these occurrences may harm our business, financial condition and prospects significantly.

Additionally, if any of our product candidates receive marketing approval, the FDA could require us to adopt a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS, to ensure that the benefits outweigh its risks, which may include, among other things, a medication guide outlining the risks of gene therapies for distribution to patients and a communication plan to health care practitioners. Furthermore, if we or others later identify undesirable side effects caused by our product candidate, a number of potentially significant negative consequences could result, including:

 

regulatory authorities may withdraw approvals of such product candidate;

 

regulatory authorities may require additional warnings on the label;

 

we may be required to create a medication guide outlining the risks of such side effects for distribution to patients;

 

we may be required to change the way a product candidate is administered or conduct additional clinical trials;

 

we could be sued and held liable for harm caused to patients; and

 

our reputation may suffer.

Any of these events could prevent or delay us from achieving or maintaining market acceptance of our product candidates and could significantly harm our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.

We may be unable to obtain orphan product designation or exclusivity for some of our product candidates. If our competitors are able to obtain orphan product exclusivity for their products that are the same as our product candidates, we may not be able to have competing products approved by the applicable regulatory authority for a significant period of time.

Regulatory authorities in some jurisdictions, including the United States and Europe, may designate drugs for relatively small patient populations as orphan drugs. Under the Orphan Drug Act of 1983, the FDA may designate a product candidate as an orphan drug if it is intended to treat a rare disease or condition, which is generally defined as having a patient population of fewer than 200,000 individuals diagnosed annually 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 European Union, the EMA’s Committee for Orphan Medicinal Products, or COMP, grants orphan drug designation to promote the development of products that are intended for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of a life-threatening or chronically debilitating condition affecting not more than 5 in 10,000 persons in the European Union Community. Additionally, designation is granted for products intended for the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of a life-threatening, seriously debilitating or serious and chronic condition and when, without incentives, it is unlikely that sales of the drug in the European Union would be sufficient to justify the necessary investment in developing the drug or biological product. Our product candidates for the treatment of XLRS, ACHM (in the form caused by mutations in the CNGB3 and CNGA3 genes) have been granted orphan drug designations by the FDA, and our product candidates for the treatment of XLRS, ACHM (in the form caused by mutations in the CNGB3 and CNGA3 genes), XLRP (in the form caused by mutations in the RPGR gene) and have been granted orphan medicinal product designation by the European Commission. We may request orphan drug designation for our other product candidates in the future but there can be no assurances that the FDA will grant any of our product candidates such designation. Additionally, the designation by the FDA of any of our product candidates as an orphan drug does not guarantee that the FDA will accelerate regulatory review of or ultimately approve that product candidate.

Generally, if a product candidate with an orphan drug designation subsequently receives the first marketing approval for the indication for which it has such designation, the product is entitled to a period of marketing exclusivity, which precludes the EMA or the FDA from approving another marketing application for the same drug and indication for that time period, except in limited circumstances. The FDA has not defined the meaning of “same drug” specifically for gene therapy products and it is possible that the FDA could conclude that no two gene therapy products could be considered the same.  The applicable period is seven years in the United States and 10 years in Europe. The European exclusivity period can be reduced to six years if a product no longer meets the criteria for orphan drug designation or if the product is sufficiently profitable so that market exclusivity is no longer justified. Orphan drug exclusivity may be lost if the FDA or EMA determines that the request for designation was materially defective or if the

 

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manufacturer is unable to assure sufficient quantity of the product to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition, or if a gene product considered to be the same as our product candidate is superior in certain respects.

Even if we obtain orphan drug exclusivity for a product candidate, that exclusivity may not effectively protect the product candidate from competition because different drugs can be approved for the same condition. In the United States, even after an orphan drug is approved, the FDA can subsequently approve another drug for the same condition if the FDA concludes that the later drug is clinically superior in that it is shown to be safer, more effective or makes a major contribution to patient care.

Even if we complete the necessary clinical trials, we cannot predict when or if we will obtain regulatory approval to commercialize a product candidate or the approval may be for a narrower indication than we expect.

We cannot commercialize a product candidate until the appropriate regulatory authorities have reviewed and approved the product candidate. Even if our product candidates demonstrate safety and efficacy in clinical trials, the regulatory agencies may not complete their review processes in a timely manner, or we may not be able to obtain regulatory approval. Additional delays may result if an FDA Advisory Committee or other regulatory authority recommends non-approval or restrictions on approval. In addition, we may experience delays or rejections based upon additional government regulation from future legislation or administrative action, or changes in regulatory agency policy during the period of product development, clinical trials and the review process. Regulatory agencies also may approve a product candidate for fewer or more limited indications than requested, may not approve the price we intend to charge for our product candidate, may impose significant limitations in the form of narrow indications, warnings, precautions or contra-indications with respect to conditions of use or may grant approval subject to the performance of costly post-marketing clinical trials. In addition, regulatory agencies may not approve the labeling claims that are necessary or desirable for the successful commercialization of our product candidates. Any of the foregoing scenarios could materially harm the commercial prospects for our product candidates.

Even if we obtain regulatory approval for a product candidate, our products will remain subject to regulatory scrutiny.

Even if we obtain regulatory approval in a jurisdiction for our product candidates, they will be subject to ongoing regulatory requirements for manufacturing, labeling, packaging, storage, advertising, promotion, sampling, record-keeping, and submission of safety and other post-market information. Any regulatory approvals that we receive for our product candidates may also be subject to limitations on the approved indicated uses for which the product may be marketed or to the conditions of approval, or contain requirements for potentially costly post-marketing testing, including Phase 4 clinical trials, and surveillance to monitor the safety and efficacy of the product. For example, the holder of an approved BLA is obligated to monitor and report adverse events and any failure of a product to meet the specifications in the BLA. FDA guidance advises that patients treated with some types of gene therapy undergo follow-up observations for potential adverse events for as long as 15 years. The holder of an approved BLA must also submit new or supplemental applications and obtain FDA approval for certain changes to the approved product, product labeling or manufacturing process. Advertising and promotional materials must comply with FDA rules and are subject to FDA review, in addition to other potentially applicable federal and state laws.

In addition, product manufacturers and their facilities are subject to payment of user fees and continual review and periodic inspections by the FDA and other regulatory authorities for compliance with GMP requirements and adherence to commitments made in the BLA or foreign marketing application. If we or a regulatory agency discovers previously unknown problems with a product such as adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or problems with the facility where the product is manufactured or disagrees with the promotion, marketing or labeling of that product, a regulatory agency may impose restrictions relative to that product, the manufacturing facility or us, including requiring recall or withdrawal of the product from the market or suspension of manufacturing.

If we fail to comply with applicable regulatory requirements following approval of any of our product candidates, a regulatory agency may:

 

issue a warning letter asserting that we are in violation of the law;

 

seek an injunction or impose civil or criminal penalties or monetary fines;

 

suspend or withdraw regulatory approval;

 

suspend any ongoing clinical trials;

 

refuse to approve a pending BLA or comparable foreign marketing application (or any supplements thereto) submitted by us or our strategic partners;

 

restrict the marketing or manufacturing of the product;

 

seize or detain product or otherwise require the withdrawal of product from the market;

 

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refuse to permit the import or export of products; or

 

refuse to allow us to enter into supply contracts, including government contracts.

Any government investigation of alleged violations of law could require us to expend significant time and resources in response and could generate negative publicity. The occurrence of any event or penalty described above may inhibit our ability to commercialize our product candidates and generate revenues.

In addition, the FDA’s policies may change and additional government regulations may be enacted that could prevent, limit or delay regulatory approval of our product candidates. We 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 abroad. 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 and we may not achieve or sustain profitability, which would adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.

Even if we obtain and maintain approval for our product candidates from the FDA, we may never obtain approval for our product candidates outside of the United States, which would limit our market opportunities and adversely affect our business.

Approval of a product candidate in the United States by the FDA does not ensure approval of such product candidate by regulatory authorities in other countries or jurisdictions, and approval by one foreign regulatory authority does not ensure approval by regulatory authorities in other foreign countries or by the FDA. Sales of our product candidates outside of the United States will be subject to foreign regulatory requirements governing clinical trials and marketing approval. Even if the FDA grants marketing approval for a product candidate, comparable regulatory authorities of foreign countries must also approve the manufacturing and marketing of the product candidates in those countries. Approval procedures vary among jurisdictions and can involve requirements and administrative review periods different from, and greater than, those in the United States, including additional preclinical studies or clinical trials. In many countries outside the United States, a product candidate must be approved for reimbursement before it can be approved for sale in that country. In some cases, the price that we intend to charge for our products, if approved, is also subject to approval. We intend to submit a marketing authorization application to the EMA for approval in the EEA, but obtaining such approval is a lengthy and expensive process and the EMA has its own procedures for approval of product candidates. Even if a product candidate is approved, the FDA or the EMA, as the case may be, may limit the indications for which the product may be marketed, require extensive warnings on the product labeling or require expensive and time-consuming clinical trials or reporting as conditions of approval. Regulatory authorities in countries outside of the United States and the EEA also have requirements for approval of product candidates with which we must comply prior to marketing in those countries. Obtaining foreign regulatory approvals and compliance with foreign regulatory requirements could result in significant delays, difficulties and costs for us and could delay or prevent the introduction of our product candidates in certain countries.

Further, clinical trials conducted in one country may not be accepted by regulatory authorities in other countries and regulatory approval of a product candidate in one country does not ensure approval in any other country, while a failure or delay in obtaining regulatory approval in one country may have a negative effect on the regulatory approval process in others. Also, regulatory approval for any of our product candidates may be withdrawn. If we fail to comply with the regulatory requirements in international markets and/or receive applicable marketing approvals, our target market will be reduced and our ability to realize the full market potential of our product candidates will be harmed and our business will be adversely affected.

Risks related to our reliance on third parties

We expect to rely on third parties to conduct aspects of our product manufacturing and protocol development, and these third parties may not perform satisfactorily.

We do not expect to independently conduct all aspects of our vector production, product manufacturing, protocol development, and monitoring and management of our ongoing and planned preclinical and clinical programs. We have expanded our internal capabilities to include a full-scale pilot facility to facilitate continued improvement in our manufacturing process.  We have completed the design phase for a cGMP facility at our Florida headquarters to support later stage clinical development. We currently rely, and expect to continue to rely, to a significant degree, on third parties for the production of our clinical trial materials. In such cases, we expect to control only certain aspects of their activities.

Under certain circumstances, these third parties may be entitled to terminate their engagements with us or we may seek to terminate our engagement with them. Because of the complexities inherent in gene therapy manufacturing, we expect that any engagement by us of a new third-party manufacturer for our product candidates would take a substantial amount of time to establish.  Accordingly, if we need to enter into alternative arrangements, it could delay our product development activities. We are currently negotiating with and conducting pilot work at three alternative third-party manufacturers to expand our capacity and mitigate risk.  

 

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Our reliance on these third parties for research and development activities will reduce our control over these activities but will not relieve us of our responsibility to ensure compliance with all required regulations and study and trial protocols. If these third parties do not successfully carry out their contractual duties, meet expected deadlines or conduct our studies in accordance with regulatory requirements or our stated study and trial plans and protocols, or if there are disagreements between us and these third parties, we will not be able to complete, or may be delayed in completing, the preclinical studies and clinical trials required to support future IND submissions and approval of our product candidates. In some such cases, we may need to locate an appropriate replacement third-party relationship, which may not be readily available or on acceptable terms, which would cause additional delay with respect to the approval of our product candidates and would thereby have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

In addition, reliance on third-party manufacturers entails risks to which we would not be subject if we manufactured the product candidates ourselves, including:

 

the inability to negotiate manufacturing agreements with third parties under commercially reasonable terms;

 

delays in the production of our product candidates associated with transitioning to a new third-party manufacturer;

 

reduced control as a result of using third-party manufacturers for all aspects of manufacturing activities;

 

termination or nonrenewal of manufacturing agreements with third parties in a manner or at a time that is costly or damaging to us; and

 

disruptions to the operations of our third-party manufacturers or suppliers caused by conditions unrelated to our business or operations, including the bankruptcy of the manufacturer or supplier.

Any of these events could lead to clinical trial delays or failure to obtain regulatory approval, or impact our ability to successfully commercialize future product candidates. Some of these events could be the basis for FDA action, including injunction, recall, seizure or total or partial suspension of product manufacture.

We and our contract manufacturer are subject to significant regulatory oversight with respect to manufacturing our products. The manufacturing facilities on which we rely may not continue to meet regulatory requirements and may have limited capacity.

All parties involved in the preparation of therapeutics for clinical trial or commercial sale 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 GMP requirements. 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 on a timely basis and must adhere to the FDA’s GMP requirements enforced by the FDA through its facilities inspection program. 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. In addition, the regulatory authorities may, at any time, audit or inspect a manufacturing facility involved with the preparation of our product candidates 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 approval of the products will not be granted.

The regulatory authorities also may, at any time following approval of a product for sale, audit our manufacturing facilities or those of our third-party manufacturers. 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 our third-party manufacturers 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 manufacturing facility. Any such remedial measures imposed upon us or third parties with whom we contract could materially harm our business.

As described above in “Business,” we have encountered delays in clinical trial material availability as a result of difficulties in proper testing. If we or any of our third-party manufacturers or testing contractors fail to maintain regulatory compliance, the FDA can impose regulatory sanctions including, among other things, refusal to approve a pending application for a new product candidate, or revocation of a pre-existing approval. Such an occurrence may cause our business, financial condition and results of operations to be materially harmed.

 

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Additionally, if supply from an approved manufacturer is interrupted, there could be a significant disruption in commercial supply of our products. While we are currently working to establish a relationship with alternative third-party manufacturers, we do not currently have a backup manufacturer of our product candidate supply for clinical trials or commercial sale.  Because of the complexities inherent in our gene therapy manufacturing, we expect that there will be a significant period of time following our engagement of an alternative third-party manufacturer before that manufacturer will be in a position to provide an adequate supply of our product candidates for our clinical trials.  In addition, any alternative manufacturer will also need to be qualified through a BLA supplement which could result in further delay. The regulatory agencies may also require additional trials 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.

We expect to rely on third parties to conduct and supervise our clinical trials, and if these third parties perform in an unsatisfactory manner, it may harm our business.

We expect to continue to rely on academic research institutions and other CROs along with clinical trial sites to ensure our clinical trials are conducted properly and on time. While we will have agreements governing their activities, we will have limited influence over their actual performance and will control only certain aspects of our CROs’ activities. Nevertheless, we will be responsible for ensuring that each of our clinical trials is conducted in accordance with the applicable protocol, legal, regulatory and scientific standards, and our reliance on the CROs does not relieve us of our regulatory responsibilities.

We and our CROs are required to comply with the FDA’s and other regulatory authorities’ GCP, GMP and good laboratory practice, or GLP, requirements for conducting, recording and reporting the results of our preclinical studies and clinical trials to assure that the data and reported results are credible and accurate and that the rights, integrity and confidentiality of clinical trial participants are protected. The FDA enforces these requirements through periodic inspections of study sponsors, principal investigators and clinical trial sites. If we or our CROs fail to comply with applicable GCP requirements, the clinical data generated in our future clinical trials may be deemed unreliable and the FDA may require us to perform additional clinical trials before approving any marketing applications. Upon inspection, the FDA may determine that our clinical trials did not comply with GCP requirements, which may render the data generated in those trials unreliable. In addition, our future clinical trials will require a sufficient number of test subjects to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of our product candidates. Accordingly, if our CROs fail to comply with these regulations or fail to recruit a sufficient number of patients, we may be required to repeat such clinical trials, which would delay the regulatory approval process.

Our CROs are not our employees, and, except for remedies available to us under our agreements with such CROs, we are therefore unable to directly monitor whether or not they devote sufficient time and resources to our clinical and nonclinical programs. Our CROs 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 CROs do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or obligations, fail to meet expected deadlines, or if the quality or accuracy of the 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 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 would be harmed, our costs could increase, and our ability to generate revenues could be delayed.

Switching or adding CROs involves substantial cost and requires extensive 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 carefully manage our relationships with our CROs, there can be no assurance that we will not encounter similar challenges or delays in the future or that these delays or challenges will not have a material adverse impact on our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.

We also expect to rely on other third parties to store and distribute our vectors and products for any clinical trials that we may conduct. Any performance failure on the part of our distributors could delay clinical development, regulatory review or marketing approval of our product candidates or commercialization of our products, if approved, producing additional losses and depriving us of potential product revenue.

Collaborations with third parties, such as our collaboration with Biogen, may be important to our business. If these collaborations are not successful, our business could be adversely affected.

 

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We have a collaboration with Biogen to develop, seek regulatory approval for and commercialize gene therapy products to treat XLRS and XLRP.  The collaboration agreement also provides for discovery programs targeting three indications whereby we will conduct discovery, research and development activities for those additional drug candidates through the stage of clinical candidate designation, after which, Biogen may exercise an option to continue to develop, seek regulatory approval for and commercialize the designated clinical candidate.   In addition, under our manufacturing agreement with Biogen, we granted Biogen an exclusive license to use our proprietary technology platform outside of the collaboration to make AAV vectors for up to three available genes and three additional genes that we may approve in our discretion.  An unsuccessful outcome in pending and future clinical trials for which Biogen is responsible could be harmful to the public perception and prospects of our gene therapy platform.

Our license relationships with Biogen and any other current collaboration or collaboration we enter into in the future, may pose a number of risks, including the following:

 

collaborators have significant discretion in determining the efforts and resources that they will apply to these collaborations;

 

collaborators may not perform their obligations as expected;

 

exclusivity rights we negotiate with our collaborators may be unenforceable in certain jurisdictions;

 

collaborators may not pursue development and commercialization of any product candidates that achieve regulatory approval or may elect not to continue or renew development or commercialization programs based on clinical trial results, changes in the collaborators’ strategic focus or available funding, or external factors, such as an acquisition, that divert resources or create competing priorities;

 

collaborators may delay clinical trials, provide insufficient funding for a clinical trial program, stop a clinical trial or abandon a product candidate, repeat or conduct new clinical trials or require a new formulation of a product candidate for clinical testing;

 

collaborators may decide not to continue the development of collaboration products and could independently develop, or develop with third parties, products that compete directly or indirectly with our products or product candidates if the collaborators believe that competitive products are more likely to be successfully developed or can be commercialized under terms that are more economically attractive than ours;

 

product candidates discovered in collaboration with us may be viewed by our collaborators as competitive with their own product candidates or products, which may cause collaborators to cease to devote resources to the commercialization of our product candidates;

 

take-over or step-in rights granted to a collaborator with respect to one or more of our product candidates, may cause us to have limited control over future development activities and/or realize diminished economic or other benefits upon the ultimate commercialization of that product candidate;

 

a collaborator with marketing, distribution and commercialization rights to one or more of our product candidates that achieve regulatory approval may not commit sufficient resources to the marketing and distribution of any such product candidate;

 

if we fail to obtain orphan product designation for a partnered product, we may realize diminished economic benefit upon the ultimate commercialization of that product candidate;

 

restrictions and commitments contained in collaborations may have the effect of preventing us from independently undertaking development and other efforts that may appear to be attractive to us;

 

disagreements with collaborators, including disagreements over proprietary rights, contract interpretation or the preferred course of development of any product candidates, might cause delays or termination of the research, development or commercialization of such product candidates, might lead to additional responsibilities for us with respect to such product candidates, or might result in litigation or arbitration, any of which would be time-consuming and expensive;

 

collaborators may not properly maintain or defend our intellectual property rights or may use our proprietary information in such a way as to invite litigation that could jeopardize or invalidate our intellectual property or proprietary information or expose us to potential litigation;

 

collaborators may infringe the intellectual property rights of third parties, which may expose us to litigation and potential liability;

 

collaborations may be terminated at the convenience of the collaborator or for a material breach by either party, and, if a collaboration is terminated, we could be required to make payments to the collaborator or have our potential payments under the collaboration reduced; and  

 

in the event of the termination of a collaboration, we could be required to raise additional capital to pursue further development or commercialization of the product candidates returned to us by our former collaborator.

 

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If our collaborations do not result in the successful development and commercialization of products or if one of our collaborators terminates its agreement with us, we may not receive any future research funding or milestone or royalty payments under the collaboration. If we do not receive the funding we expect under these agreements, our development of our gene therapy platform and product candidates could be delayed and we may need additional resources to develop product candidates and gene therapy platform. As a result of these or other factors, we may not receive the benefits that we expect from our collaborations.

In the event Biogen terminates the collaboration for a material breach by us, we will be restricted from competing with Biogen for two years in the terminated programs with Biogen having the right, in lieu of termination, to elect to maintain the license from us and reduce the royalties and milestones in a manner specified in the agreement.  

Additionally, subject to its contractual obligations to us, if one of our collaborators is involved in a business combination, the collaborator might deemphasize or terminate the development or commercialization of any product candidate licensed to it by us. If one of our collaborators terminates its agreement with us, we may find it more difficult to attract new collaborators and our perception in the business and financial communities could be adversely affected.  

We may in the future determine to collaborate with other pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for development and potential commercialization of product candidates other than those covered by our collaboration with Biogen. These relationships or those like them may require us to incur non-recurring and other charges, increase our near- and long-term expenditures, issue securities that dilute our existing stockholders or disrupt our management and business. In addition, we could face significant competition in seeking appropriate collaborators and the negotiation process is time-consuming and complex. Our ability to reach a definitive collaboration agreement with any such new party will depend, among other things, upon our assessment of the collaborator’s resources and expertise, the terms and conditions of the proposed collaboration and the proposed collaborator’s evaluation of a number of factors. Moreover, we may not be successful in our efforts to establish a strategic partnership or other alternative arrangements for our product candidates because our research and development pipeline may be insufficient, our product candidates may be deemed to be at too early of a stage of development for collaborative effort and third parties may not view our product candidates as having the requisite potential to demonstrate safety and efficacy. If we license product candidates, we may not be able to realize the benefit of such transactions if we are unable to successfully integrate them with our existing operations and company culture. We cannot be certain that, following a strategic transaction or license, we will achieve the revenues or specific net income that justifies such transaction.

If we are unable to reach agreements with suitable collaborators on a timely basis, on acceptable terms, or at all, we may have to curtail the development of a product candidate, reduce or delay its development program or one or more of our other development programs, delay its potential commercialization or reduce the scope of any sales or marketing activities, or increase our expenditures and undertake development or commercialization activities at our own expense. If we elect to fund and undertake development or commercialization activities on our own, we may need to obtain additional expertise and additional capital, which may not be available to us on acceptable terms or at all. If we fail to enter into collaborations and do not have sufficient funds or expertise to undertake the necessary development and commercialization activities, we may not be able to further develop our product candidates or bring them to market or continue to develop our gene therapy platform and our business may be materially and adversely affected.

Our reliance on third parties requires us to share our trade secrets, which increases the possibility that a competitor will discover them or that our trade secrets will be misappropriated or disclosed.

Because we rely on third parties to manufacture our viral vectors and our product candidates, and because we collaborate with various organizations and academic institutions on the advancement of our gene therapy platform, we must, at times, share trade secrets with them. We seek to protect our proprietary technology in part by entering into confidentiality agreements and, if applicable, material transfer agreements, collaborative research agreements, consulting agreements or other similar agreements with our collaborators, advisors, employees and consultants 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, such as trade secrets.

Despite the contractual provisions employed when working with 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 proprietary 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 a material adverse effect on our business.

In addition, these agreements typically restrict the ability of our collaborators, advisors, employees and consultants to publish data potentially relating to our trade secrets. Our academic collaborators typically have rights to publish data, provided that we are notified in advance and may delay publication for a specified time in order to secure our intellectual property rights arising from the collaboration. In other cases, publication rights are controlled exclusively by us, although in some cases we may share these rights with other parties. We also conduct joint research and development programs that may require us to share trade secrets under the terms

 

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of our research and development partnerships or similar agreements. Despite our efforts to protect our trade secrets, our competitors may discover our trade secrets, either through breach of these agreements, independent development or publication of information including our trade secrets in cases where we do not have proprietary or otherwise protected rights at the time of publication. A competitor’s discovery of our trade secrets would impair our competitive position and have an adverse impact on our business.

Risks related to commercialization of our product candidates

If we are unable to establish sales and marketing capabilities or enter into agreements with third parties to market and sell our product candidates, we may be unable to generate any revenues.

We currently have no sales and marketing organization and have no experience selling and marketing our product candidates. To successfully commercialize any products that may result from our development programs, we will need to develop these capabilities, either on our own or with others. The establishment and development of our own sales force or the establishment of a contract sales force to market any products we may develop will be expensive and time-consuming, particularly to the extent that we seek to commercialize any product for an indication, such as wet AMD, that has a patient population significantly larger than those addressed by our current lead product candidates, and could delay any product launch. Moreover, we cannot be certain that we will be able to successfully develop this capability. We may enter into collaborations with other entities to utilize their mature marketing and distribution capabilities, but we may be unable to enter into marketing agreements on favorable terms, if at all. If our future collaborators do not commit sufficient resources to commercialize our future products, if any, and we are unable to develop the necessary marketing capabilities on our own, we will be unable to generate sufficient product revenue to sustain our business. We will be competing with many companies that currently have extensive and well-funded marketing and sales operations to recruit, hire, train and retain marketing and sales personnel. We also face competition in our search for third parties to assist us with the sales and marketing efforts of our product candidates. 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.

We face intense competition and rapid technological change and the possibility that our competitors may develop therapies that are more advanced or effective than ours, which may adversely affect our financial condition and our ability to successfully commercialize our product candidates.

The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are characterized by intense and rapidly changing competition to develop new technologies and proprietary products, and any product candidates that we successfully develop and commercialize will have to compete with existing therapies and new therapies that may become available in the future. While we believe that our proprietary technology estate and scientific expertise in the gene therapy field provide us with competitive advantages, we face potential competition from many different sources, including larger and better-funded pharmaceutical, specialty pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as from academic institutions and governmental agencies and public and private research institutions that may develop potentially competitive products or technologies.

Currently there are no approved products for any of our lead orphan ophthalmology indications of XLRS, ACHM and XLRP. We believe the key competitive factors that will affect the success of our product candidates, if approved, are likely to be their 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.

A number of companies have announced that they are working on AAV-based gene therapy technology and there are companies developing gene therapies in the field of orphan ophthalmology, on which we are currently focused, which have programs that are at the clinical and pre-clinical stages. Other companies could also potentially seek to enter this field.

Many of our potential competitors, alone or with their strategic partners, have substantially greater financial, technical and human resources than we do and significantly greater experience in the discovery and development of product candidates, obtaining FDA and other regulatory approvals of treatments and the commercialization of those treatments. To the extent that we develop product candidates for indications with larger patient populations, such as wet AMD, we expect to experience particularly intense competition from larger and better funded pharmaceutical companies. Mergers and acquisitions in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries may result in even more resources being concentrated among a smaller number of our competitors. 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. Our competitors also may obtain FDA 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. Additionally, market exclusivity provisions for products with orphan designation could severely limit the sales potential for any of our product candidates that do not gain first-to-market approval.

 

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The insurance coverage and reimbursement status of newly-approved products is uncertain. Failure to obtain or maintain adequate coverage and reimbursement for our products, if approved, could limit our ability to market those products and decrease our ability to generate revenue.

We expect the cost of a single administration of gene therapy products such as those we are developing to be substantial, when and if they achieve regulatory approval. We expect that coverage and reimbursement by governmental and private payors will be essential for most patients to be able to afford these treatments. Accordingly, sales of our product candidates will depend substantially, both domestically and abroad, on the extent to which the costs of our product candidates will be paid by health maintenance, managed care, pharmacy benefit and similar healthcare management organizations, or reimbursed by government authorities, private health coverage insurers and other third-party payors. Coverage and reimbursement by a third-party payor may depend upon a number of factors, including the third-party payor’s determination that use of a product is:

 

a covered benefit under its health plan;

 

safe, effective and medically necessary;

 

appropriate for the specific patient;

 

cost-effective; and

 

neither experimental nor investigational.

Obtaining coverage and reimbursement for a product from governmental and private payors is a time-consuming and costly process that could require us to provide to the payor supporting scientific, clinical and cost-effectiveness data for the use of our products. We may not be able to provide data sufficient to receive a positive coverage determination. If coverage and reimbursement are not available, or are available only to limited levels, we may not be able to successfully commercialize our product candidates. Even if coverage is provided, the approved reimbursement amount may not be high enough to allow us to establish or maintain pricing sufficient to realize a sufficient return on our investment.

There is significant uncertainty related to third-party 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 and reimbursed. The Medicare and Medicaid programs increasingly are used as models for how private payors and other governmental payors develop their coverage and reimbursement policies for drugs and biologics. Currently, no gene therapy products have been approved for coverage under the Medicare program. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, the agency responsible for administering the Medicare program, covers some items and services nationally through National Coverage Determinations. More frequently, coverage determinations for new products are made by the individual Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) that operate the program on a day-to-day basis in their awarded geographic jurisdictions. It is difficult to predict what CMS or the local MACs will decide with respect to coverage and reimbursement for fundamentally novel products such as ours, as there is no body of established practices and precedents for these new products. Moreover, Medicare reimbursement is determined in part based on where the drug or biologic is administered. Drugs or biologics administered in the inpatient setting are bundled along with other services into Diagnosis Related Groups for payment purposes. In the outpatient setting drugs and biologics such as our product candidates are generally reimbursed at Average Sales Price (ASP) + 6 %. Outside of the United States, agencies in Europe may be more conservative than CMS with respect to reimbursement. For example, a number of cancer drugs have been approved for reimbursement in the United States and have not been approved for reimbursement in certain European countries. It is difficult to predict at this time what third-party payors will decide with respect to the coverage and reimbursement for our product candidates.

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, Canada, and other countries has 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. In general, the prices of medicines under such systems are substantially lower than in the United States. 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 and delay their commercial launch. Accordingly, in markets outside the United States, the reimbursement for our products may be reduced or delayed compared with the United States and may be insufficient to generate commercially reasonable revenues 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 new products approved 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 any of our product candidates, due to the trend toward managed healthcare, the increasing influence of health maintenance organizations and potential legislative changes on both the federal and state levels. The downward pressure on healthcare

 

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costs in general, particularly prescription drugs and surgical procedures and other treatments, has become very intense. As a result, increasingly high barriers are being erected to the entry of new products.

Negative public opinion and increased regulatory scrutiny of gene therapy and genetic research may damage public perception of our product candidates or adversely affect our ability to conduct our business or obtain regulatory approvals for our product candidates.

Gene therapy remains a novel technology, with only one gene therapy product approved to date in the United States and only two gene therapy products approved to date in Europe. Public perception may be influenced by claims that gene therapy is unsafe, and gene therapy may not gain the acceptance of the public or the medical community. In particular, our success will depend upon physicians specializing in the treatment of those diseases that our product candidates target prescribing treatments that involve the use of our product candidates in lieu of, or in addition to, existing treatments they are already familiar with 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 we may develop. For example, trials using early versions of lentiviral 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 lentiviral vectors, our product candidates use a viral delivery system. Adverse events in our clinical trials or the clinical trials of other gene therapy companies, 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, stricter labeling requirements for those product candidates that are approved and a decrease in demand for any such product candidates.

Healthcare legislative reform measures may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.

In the United States, there have been and continue to be a number of legislative initiatives to contain healthcare costs. For example, in March 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act or 2010, or the ACA, was passed, which substantially changes the way health care is financed by both governmental and private insurers, and significantly impacts the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. The ACA, among other things, subjects biologic products to potential competition by lower-cost biosimilars, addresses 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, increases the minimum Medicaid rebates owed by manufacturers under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program and extends the rebate program to individuals enrolled in Medicaid managed care organizations, establishes annual fees and taxes on manufacturers of certain branded prescription drugs, and subjects additional drugs to lower pricing under the 340B drug pricing program by adding new entities to the program.

In addition, other legislative changes have been proposed and adopted in the United States since the ACA was enacted. On August 2, 2011, the Budget Control Act of 2011 among other things, created measures for spending reductions by Congress. A Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, tasked with recommending a targeted deficit reduction of at least $1.2 trillion for the years 2013 through 2021, was unable to reach required goals, thereby triggering the legislation’s automatic reduction to several government programs. This includes aggregate reductions of Medicare payments to providers up to 2% per fiscal year, which went into effect on April 1, 2013. We expect that additional state and federal healthcare reform measures will be adopted in the future, any of which could limit the amounts that federal and state governments will pay for healthcare products and services, which could result in reduced demand for our product candidates or additional pricing pressures.

Some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act have yet to be fully implemented, while certain provisions have been subject to judicial and Congressional challenges, and we expect there to be further challenges in the future. On January 20, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order directing federal agencies with authorities and responsibilities under the ACA to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision of the ACA that would impose a fiscal burden on states or a cost, fee, tax, penalty or regulatory burden on individuals, healthcare providers, health insurers, or manufacturers of pharmaceuticals or medical devices. In May 2017, following the passage of the budget resolution for fiscal year 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation known as the American Health Care Act, which, if enacted, would amend or repeal significant portions of the ACA. The U.S. Senate has not adopted the American Health Care Act as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives or other legislation to amend or replace elements of the ACA. Thus, it is uncertain when or if the American Health Care Act will become law. In the coming years, additional legislative and regulatory changes could be made to governmental health programs that could significantly impact our business.  The implications of these actions for our and our partners’ business and financial condition, if any, are not yet clear.

 

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The commercial success of any of our product candidates will depend upon its degree of market acceptance by physicians, patients, third-party payors and others in the medical community.

Ethical, social and legal concerns about gene therapy and genetic research could result in additional regulations restricting or prohibiting the products and processes we may use. Even with the requisite approvals from the FDA in the United States and other government bodies internationally, the commercial success of our product candidates will depend in part on the medical community’s, patients’, and third-party payors’ acceptance of gene therapy products in general, and our product candidates in particular, as medically necessary, cost-effective, and safe. Any product that we bring to the market may not gain market acceptance by physicians, patients, third-party payors and others in the medical community. If these products do not achieve an adequate level of acceptance, we may not generate significant product revenue and may not become profitable. The degree of market acceptance of our product candidates, if approved for commercial sale, will depend on a number of factors, including:

 

the efficacy and safety of such product candidates as demonstrated in clinical trials;

 

the potential and perceived advantages of product candidates over alternative treatments;

 

the clinical indications for which the product candidate is approved;

 

the safety of product candidates seen in a broader patient group, including its use outside the approved indications;

 

the prevalence and severity of any side effects;

 

product labeling or product insert requirements of the FDA or other regulatory authorities, including any limitations or warnings contained in a product’s approved labeling;

 

the cost of treatment relative to alternative treatments;

 

relative 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;

 

label limitations required by regulatory authorities, which could limit size of market;

 

the timing of market introduction of competitive products;

 

publicity concerning our products or competing products and treatments; and

 

sufficient third-party insurance coverage and reimbursement.

Even if a potential product displays a favorable efficacy and safety profile in preclinical studies and clinical trials, market acceptance of the product will not be fully known until after it is launched. Our efforts to educate the medical community and third-party payors on the benefits of the product candidates may require significant resources and may never be successful. Such efforts to educate the marketplace may require more resources than are required by the conventional technologies marketed by our competitors. If any of our product candidates is approved but fails to achieve market acceptance among physicians, patients, or health care payors, we will not be able to generate significant revenues from such product, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.

If we obtain approval to commercialize our product candidates outside of the United States, a variety of risks associated with international operations could materially adversely affect our business.

If any of our product candidates are approved for commercialization, we may enter into agreements with third parties to market them on a worldwide basis or in more limited geographical regions. We expect that we will be subject to additional risks related to entering into international business relationships, including:

 

different regulatory requirements for approval of drugs and biologics in foreign countries;

 

the potential for so-called parallel importing, which is what happens when a local seller, faced with high or higher local prices, opts to import goods from a foreign market (with low or lower prices) rather than buying them locally;

 

challenges enforcing our contractual and intellectual property rights, especially in those foreign countries that do not respect and protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as the United States;

 

unexpected changes in tariffs, trade barriers and regulatory requirements;

 

economic weakness, including inflation, or political instability in particular foreign economies and markets;

 

compliance with tax, employment, immigration and labor laws for employees living or traveling abroad;

 

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foreign currency fluctuations, which could result in increased operating expenses and reduced revenues, and other obligations incident to doing business in another country;

 

difficulties staffing and managing foreign operations;

 

workforce uncertainty in countries where labor unrest is more common than in the United States;

 

potential liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 or comparable foreign regulations;

 

production shortages resulting from any events affecting raw material supply or manufacturing capabilities abroad; and

 

business interruptions resulting from geopolitical actions, including war and terrorism, or natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods and fires.

These and other risks associated with our international operations may materially adversely affect our ability to attain or maintain profitable operations.

We may not be successful in our efforts to identify or discover additional product candidates.

The success of our business depends primarily upon our ability to identify, develop and commercialize product candidates based on our gene therapy platform. Although certain of our product candidates are currently in clinical or preclinical development, we may fail to identify other potential product candidates for clinical development for a number of reasons. For example, our research methodology may be unsuccessful in identifying potential product candidates or our potential product candidates may be shown to have harmful side effects or may have other characteristics that may make the products unmarketable or unlikely to receive marketing approval.

If any of these events occur, we may be forced to abandon our development efforts with respect to a particular product candidate, which would have a material adverse effect on our business and could potentially cause us to cease operations. Research programs to identify new product candidates require substantial technical, financial and human resources. We may focus our efforts and resources on potential programs or product candidates that ultimately prove to be unsuccessful.

Risks related to our business operations

We incur significant increased costs as a result of operating as a public company, and our management devotes substantial time to new compliance initiatives.

As a public company, we have incurred and will continue to incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. In addition, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, and The NASDAQ Global Market impose various requirements on public companies. In July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or the Dodd-Frank Act, was enacted. There are significant corporate governance and executive compensation related provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act that require the SEC to adopt additional rules and regulations in these areas. Stockholder activism, the current political environment and the current high level of government intervention and regulatory reform may lead to substantial new regulations and disclosure obligations, which may lead to additional compliance costs and impact the manner in which we operate our business in ways we cannot currently anticipate.

We may not be successful in complying with these obligations, and compliance with these obligations could be time-consuming and expensive. If these requirements divert the attention of our management and personnel from other business concerns, they could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Moreover, these rules and regulations will increase our legal and financial compliance costs and will make some activities more time-consuming and costly. For example, we expect that these rules and regulations may make it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, which in turn could make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified members of our board of directors. The increased costs will decrease our net income or increase our net loss, and may require us to reduce costs in other areas of our business or increase the prices of our products or services.

We have identified material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting, and if we are unable to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting, investors could lose confidence in our financial statements and our company which could have a material adverse effect on our business and our stock price.

Our management previously determined that as of June 30, 2016, 2015 and 2014, we had material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting, which related to the design and operation of our closing and financial reporting processes and our

 

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accounting for debt, equity and convertible instruments (as described in our Annual Reports on Form 10-K for such fiscal years).  Management has determined that as of June 30, 2017, a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting related to the design and operation of our closing and financial reporting processes still existed, as described in Item 9A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.  

If we fail to maintain effective internal controls in the future, it could result in a material misstatement of our financial statements, which could cause investors to lose confidence in our financial statements and our company or cause our stock price to decline. Our independent registered public accounting firm has not assessed the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting and, under the JOBS Act, will not be required to provide an attestation report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting so long as we qualify as an emerging growth company, which may increase the risk that weaknesses or deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting go undetected.

If we are unable to manage expected growth in the scale and complexity of our operations, our performance may suffer.

If we are successful in executing our business strategy, we will need to continue to expand our managerial, operational, financial and other systems and resources to manage our operations, continue our research and development activities, and, in the longer term, build a sales force and commercial infrastructure to support commercialization of any of our product candidates that are approved for sale. Future growth would impose significant added responsibilities on members of management. It is possible that our management, finance, development personnel, systems and facilities currently in place may not be adequate to support this future growth. Our need to effectively manage our operations, growth and products requires that we continue to develop more robust business processes and improve our systems and procedures in each of these areas and to attract and retain sufficient numbers of talented employees. We may be unable to successfully implement these tasks on a larger scale and, accordingly, may not achieve our research, development and growth goals.

We may enter into or seek to enter into business partnerships, combinations and/or acquisitions which may be difficult to integrate, disrupt our business, divert management attention or dilute stockholder value.

A key element of our strategy is to enter into business partnerships, combinations and/or acquisitions. We have limited experience in making acquisitions, which are typically accompanied by a number of risks, including:

 

the difficulty of integrating the operations and personnel of the acquired companies;

 

the potential disruption of our ongoing business and distraction of management;

 

potential unknown liabilities and expenses;

 

the failure to achieve the expected benefits of the combination or acquisition;

 

the maintenance of acceptable standards, controls, procedures and policies; and

 

the impairment of relationships with employees as a result of any integration of new management and other personnel.

If we are not successful in completing acquisitions that we may pursue in the future, we would be required to reevaluate our business strategy and we may have incurred substantial expenses and devoted significant management time and resources in seeking to complete the acquisitions. In addition, we could use substantial portions of our available cash as all or a portion of the purchase price, or we could issue additional securities as consideration for these acquisitions, which could cause our stockholders to suffer significant dilution.

Our future success depends on our ability to retain key employees, consultants and advisors and to attract, retain and motivate qualified personnel.

We are highly dependent on our executive officers, the loss of whose services may adversely impact the achievement of our objectives. Recruiting and retaining other qualified employees, consultants and advisors for our business, including scientific and technical personnel, will also be critical to our success. There is currently a shortage of skilled executives and scientific personnel in our industry, which is likely to continue. As a result, competition for skilled personnel is intense and the turnover rate can be high. We may not be able to attract and retain personnel on acceptable terms given the competition among numerous pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for individuals with similar skill sets. In addition, failure to succeed in preclinical studies or clinical trials may make it more challenging to recruit and retain qualified personnel. The inability to recruit or loss of the services of any executive, key employee, consultant or advisor may impede the progress of our research, development and commercialization objectives.

In order to induce valuable employees to remain at AGTC, in addition to salary and cash incentives, we have provided stock options that vest over time. The value to employees of stock options that vest over time may be significantly affected by movements in

 

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our stock price that are beyond our control, and may at any time be insufficient to counteract more lucrative offers from other companies.

Despite our efforts to retain valuable employees, members of our management, scientific and development teams have in the past and may in the future terminate their employment with us. The loss of the services of any of our executive officers or other key employees and our inability to find suitable replacements could potentially harm our business, prospects, financial condition or results of operations. We do not maintain “key man” insurance policies on the lives of these individuals or any of our other employees. Our success also depends on our ability to continue to attract, retain and motivate highly skilled junior, mid-level, and senior managers as well as junior, mid-level, and senior scientific and medical personnel.

Many of the other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that we compete against for qualified personnel have greater financial and other resources, different risk profiles and a longer history in the industry than we do. They may also provide more diverse opportunities and better chances for career advancement. Some of these characteristics may be more appealing to high quality candidates than what we can offer. If we are unable to continue to attract and retain high quality personnel, the rate and success at which we can discover, develop and commercialize product candidates will be limited.

Our employees, principal investigators, consultants and commercial partners may engage in misconduct or other improper activities.

We are exposed to the risk that our employees, CROs, principal investigators, consultants and commercial partners may engage in fraudulent conduct or other illegal activity or may fail to disclosure unauthorized activities to us. Misconduct by these parties could include intentional, reckless and/or negligent failures to comply with:

 

the laws and regulations of the FDA and non-U.S. regulators, including those laws requiring the reporting of true, complete and accurate information to such regulatory bodies;

 

manufacturing standards we have established;

 

healthcare fraud and abuse laws and regulations in the United States and similar foreign laws; or

 

laws requiring the accurate reporting of financial information or data or the disclosure of unauthorized activities to us.

In particular, 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. Such misconduct could also involve the improper use of information obtained in the course of clinical trials, which could result in regulatory sanctions and cause serious harm to our reputation. We have adopted a code of conduct applicable to all of our employees, but it is not always possible to identify and deter employee misconduct, 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 these laws or regulations. 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, including the imposition of significant fines or other sanctions.

 

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We may be subject, directly or indirectly, to federal and state healthcare fraud and abuse laws, false claims laws and health information privacy and security laws. If we are unable to comply, or have not fully complied, with such laws, we could face substantial penalties.

Our operations may be directly, or indirectly through our prescribers, customers and purchasers, subject to various federal and state fraud and abuse laws. If we obtain FDA approval for any of our product candidates and begin commercializing those products in the United States, many of these laws will become more directly applicable to our operations, including, without limitation, the federal Health Care Program Anti-Kickback Statute, the federal civil and criminal False Claims Acts and Physician Payments Sunshine Act and regulations. These laws may impact, among other things, our proposed sales, marketing and educational programs. In addition, we may be subject to patient privacy laws by both the federal government and the states in which we conduct our business. The laws that may affect our ability to operate include, but are not limited to:

 

the federal Health Care Program Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits, among other things, persons or entities from knowingly and willfully soliciting, receiving, offering or paying any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe, or rebate), directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind in return for, the purchase, recommendation, leasing or furnishing of an item or service reimbursable under a federal healthcare program, such as the Medicare and Medicaid programs;

 

federal civil and criminal false claims laws and civil monetary penalty laws, which prohibit, among other things, individuals or entities from knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, claims for payment or approval from Medicare, Medicaid, or other government payers that are false or fraudulent;

 

the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which created new federal criminal statutes that prohibit a person from knowingly and willfully executing a scheme or from making false or fraudulent statements to defraud any healthcare benefit program, regardless of the payor (e.g., public or private);

 

HIPAA, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH, and its implementing regulations, and as amended again by the final HIPAA omnibus rule, Modifications to the HIPAA Privacy, Security, Enforcement, and Breach Notification Rules Under HITECH and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act; Other Modifications to HIPAA, published in January 2013, which imposes certain requirements relating to the privacy, security and transmission of individually identifiable health information without appropriate authorization by entities subject to the rule, such as health plans, health care clearinghouses and health care providers;

 

federal transparency laws, including the federal Physician Payment Sunshine Act that requires disclosure of payments and other transfers of value provided to physicians and teaching hospitals, and ownership and investment interests held by physicians and other healthcare providers and their immediate family members and applicable group purchasing organizations;

 

the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, or the Affordable Care Act, and its implementing regulations, which may impact, among other things, reimbursement rates by federal health care programs and commercial insurers;

 

federal consumer protection and unfair competition laws, which broadly regulate marketplace activities and activities that potentially harm consumers;

 

federal government price reporting laws, which require us to calculate and report complex pricing metrics to government programs, where such reported prices may be used in the calculation of reimbursement and/or discounts on our marketed drugs, when and if approved; participation in these programs and compliance with the applicable requirements may subject us to potentially significant discounts on our products, when and if approved, increased infrastructure costs and potentially limit our ability to offer certain marketplace discounts; and

 

state law equivalents of each of the above federal laws, such as anti-kickback and false claims laws which may apply to items or services reimbursed by any third-party payor, including commercial insurers; state laws that require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the applicable compliance guidance promulgated by the federal government, or otherwise restrict certain payments that may be made to healthcare providers and other potential referral sources; state laws that require drug manufacturers to report information related to payments and other transfers of value to physicians and other healthcare providers or marketing expenditures; and state laws governing the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, many of which differ from each other in significant ways and may not have the same effect, thus complicating compliance efforts in certain circumstances, such as specific disease states.

In addition, any sale of our products or product candidates, if commercialized outside of the United States, may also subject us to foreign laws governing prescription drug marketing and fraud and abuse, including laws similar to the U.S. healthcare laws mentioned above. Because of the breadth of these laws and the narrowness of the statutory exceptions and safe harbors available, it is

 

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possible that some of our business activities could be subject to challenge under one or more of such laws. In addition, recent health care reform legislation has strengthened these laws. For example, the PPACA, among other things, amends the intent requirements of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute and the criminal statute governing healthcare fraud. A person or entity can now be found guilty of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute and the federal criminal healthcare fraud statute without actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it. In addition, the PPACA provides that the government may assert that a claim including items or services resulting from a violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the federal False Claims Act.

If our operations are found to be in violation of any of the laws described above or any other governmental regulations that apply to us, we may be subject to penalties, including civil and criminal penalties, damages, fines, exclusion from participation in government health care programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, disgorgement, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and future earnings, imprisonment, and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations, any of which could adversely affect our ability to operate our business and our results of operations.

If the use of our product candidates harms patients, we could be subject to costly and damaging product liability claims.

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, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies or others selling or otherwise coming into contact with our products. For example, we may be sued if any product candidate we develop allegedly causes injury or is found to be otherwise unsuitable during clinical testing, manufacturing, marketing or sale. Any such product liability claims may include allegations of defects in manufacturing, defects in design, a failure to warn of dangers inherent in the product, negligence, strict liability, and a breach of warranties. Claims could also be asserted under state consumer protection acts. 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;

 

withdrawal of clinical trial participants;

 

initiation of investigations by regulators;

 

costs due to related litigation;

 

distraction of management’s attention from our primary business;

 

substantial monetary awards to trial participants, patients or other claimants;

 

loss of revenue;

 

exhaustion of any available insurance and our capital resources;

 

the inability to commercialize our product candidates; and

 

decreased demand for our product candidates, if approved for commercial sale.

Our inability to obtain and retain sufficient product liability insurance at an acceptable cost to protect against potential product liability claims could prevent or inhibit the commercialization of products we develop. While we believe our product liability insurance coverage is sufficient in light of our current clinical programs. The amount of the product liability coverage that we carry varies from time to time, depending on a number of factors, the most significant of which are the nature and scope of the clinical trials in which we are engaged and the number of patients being treated with our product candidates in these trials. This amount may increase or decrease 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 and any claim that may be brought against us could result in a court judgment or settlement in an amount that is not covered, in whole or in part, by our insurance or that is in excess of the limits of our insurance coverage. If and when we obtain marketing approval for product candidates, we intend to expand our insurance coverage to include the commercial sale of our products; however, we may be unable to obtain product liability insurance on commercially reasonable terms or in adequate amounts. Our insurance policies also have various exclusions, and we may be subject to a product liability claim for which we have no coverage. A successful product liability claim or series of claims brought against us could cause our stock price to decline and, if judgments exceed our insurance coverage, could adversely affect our results of operations and business.

If we fail to comply with environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, we could become subject to fines or penalties or incur costs that could have a material adverse effect on the success of our business.

We are subject to numerous environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, including those governing laboratory procedures and the handling, use, storage, treatment, manufacture and disposal of hazardous materials and wastes. Our operations

 

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involve the use of hazardous and flammable materials, including chemicals and biological materials. Our operations also produce hazardous waste products. We generally contract with third parties for the disposal of these materials and wastes. Although we believe that our procedures for using, handling, storing and disposing of these materials comply with legally prescribed standards, we cannot eliminate the risk of contamination or injury from these materials. In the event of contamination or injury resulting from our use of hazardous materials, we could be held liable for any resulting damages, and any liability could exceed our resources. We also could incur significant costs associated with civil or criminal fines and penalties.

Although we maintain workers’ compensation insurance to cover us for costs and expenses we may incur due to injuries to our employees resulting from the use of hazardous materials or other work-related injuries, this insurance may not provide adequate coverage against potential liabilities. In addition, we may incur substantial costs in order to comply with current or future environmental, health and safety laws and regulations. These current or future laws and regulations may impair our research, development or production efforts. Failure to comply with these laws and regulations also may result in substantial fines, penalties or other sanctions.

We rely on our relationship with a professional employer organization for our human relations function and as a co-employer of our personnel, and if that party failed to perform its responsibilities under that relationship, our relations with our employees could be damaged and we could incur liabilities that could have a material adverse effect on our business.

All of our personnel, including our executive officers, are co-employees of AGTC and a professional employer organization, TriNet HR Corporation, or TriNet. Under the terms of our arrangement, TriNet is the formal employer of all of our personnel, and is responsible for administering all payroll, including tax withholding, and providing health insurance and other benefits for these individuals. We reimburse TriNet for these costs, and pay TriNet an administrative fee for its services. If TriNet fails to comply with applicable laws, or its obligations under this arrangement, our relationship with our employees could be damaged. We could, under certain circumstances, be held liable for a failure by TriNet to appropriately pay, or withhold and remit required taxes from payments to, our employees. In such a case, our potential liability could be significant and could have a material adverse effect on our business.

We or the third parties upon whom we depend may be adversely affected by natural disasters and our business continuity and disaster recovery plans may not adequately protect us from a serious disaster.

Substantially all of our manufacturing operations and a majority of our research and development operations are conducted from our headquarters located near Gainesville, Florida. Hurricanes or other natural disasters could severely disrupt our operations, damage our research facilities or destroy stored research materials that could be difficult to replace, and otherwise have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects. In addition, despite the implementation of security measures, our internal computer systems and those of our current and any future CROs and other contractors and consultants and collaborators are vulnerable to damage from computer viruses, unauthorized access, natural disasters, terrorism, war and telecommunication and electrical failures. If such an event were to occur and cause interruptions in our operations, it could result in a material disruption of our development programs and our business operations. If a natural disaster, power outage or other event occurred that prevented us from using all or a significant portion of our headquarters, that damaged critical infrastructure or that otherwise disrupted our operations or the operations of our third-party contract manufacturer, it may be difficult or, in certain cases, impossible for us to continue our business for a substantial period of time. For example, the loss of clinical trial data from our clinical trials could result in delays in our regulatory approval efforts and significantly increase our costs to recover or reproduce the data. If our security measures, disaster recovery and business continuity plans are not adequate in the event of such a breach, serious disaster or similar event, we could incur substantial expenses and the further development and commercialization of our product candidates could be delayed, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

Interruptions in the supply of product or inventory loss may adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.

Our product candidates are manufactured using technically complex processes requiring specialized facilities, highly specific raw materials and other production constraints. The complexity of these processes, as well as strict company and government standards for the manufacture and storage of our products, subjects us to production risks. While product batches released for use in clinical trials or for commercialization undergo sample testing, such testing is subject to human error and some defects may only be identified following product release. In addition, process deviations or unanticipated effects of approved process changes may result in these intermediate products not complying with stability requirements or specifications. Most of our product candidates must be stored and transported at temperatures within a certain range. If these environmental conditions deviate, our product candidates’ remaining shelf lives could be impaired or their efficacy and safety could become adversely affected, making them no longer suitable for use. The occurrence or suspected occurrence of production and distribution difficulties can lead to lost inventories, and in some cases product recalls, with consequential reputational damage and the risk of product liability. The investigation and remediation of any identified problems can cause production delays, substantial expense, lost sales and delays of new product launches. Any interruption in the supply of finished products or the loss thereof could hinder our ability to timely distribute our products and satisfy customer

 

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demand. Any unforeseen failure in the storage of the product or loss in supply could delay our clinical trials and, if our product candidates are approved, result in a loss of our market share and negatively affect our revenues and operations.

We may use our financial and human resources to pursue a particular research program or product candidate and fail to capitalize on programs or product candidates that may be more profitable or for which there is a greater likelihood of success.

Because we have limited resources, we may forego or delay pursuit of opportunities with certain programs or product candidates or for indications that later prove to have greater commercial potential. Our resource allocation decisions may cause us to fail to capitalize on viable commercial products or profitable market opportunities. Our spending on current and future research and development programs for product candidates 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 strategic 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, or we may allocate internal resources to a product candidate in a therapeutic area in which it would have been more advantageous to enter into a partnering arrangement.

Our ability to use our net operating loss carryforwards may be subject to limitation.

Under Section 382 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, substantial changes in our ownership may limit the amount of net operating loss carryforwards that could be utilized annually in the future to offset our taxable income. Specifically, this limitation may arise in the event of a cumulative change in ownership of our company of more than 50% within a three-year period. Any such annual limitation may significantly reduce the utilization of our net operating loss carryforwards before they expire. We believe it is likely that transactions that have occurred in the past and other transactions that may occur in the future, could trigger an ownership change pursuant to Section 382, which could limit the amount of net operating loss carryforwards that could be utilized annually in the future to offset our taxable income, if any.

Cyber attacks or other breaches of network or other information technology security could have an adverse effect on our business.

Cyber attacks or other breaches of network or information technology security may cause equipment failures or disruptions to our operations. While, to date, we have not been subject to cyber attacks or other cyber incidents which, individually or in the aggregate, have been material to our operations or financial condition, the preventative actions we take to prevent or detect the risk of cyber incidents and protect our information technology and networks may be insufficient to prevent or detect a major cyber attack in the future. If we fail to prevent the theft of valuable information such as financial data, sensitive information about the us, our patients or our intellectual property, or if we fail to protect the privacy of patient and employee confidential data against breaches of network or information technology security, it would result in damage to our reputation, which could adversely impact the confidence of our partners, investors and employees. Any of these occurrences could result in a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.

Risks related to our intellectual property

If we are unable to obtain and maintain patent protection for our technology and products or if the scope of the patent protection obtained is not sufficiently broad, our competitors could develop and commercialize technology and products similar or identical to ours, and our ability to successfully commercialize our technology and products may be impaired.

Our success depends in large part on our ability to obtain and maintain patent protection in the United States and other countries with respect to our proprietary technology and products. We seek to protect our proprietary position by filing patent applications in the United States and abroad related to our novel technologies 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. It is also possible that we will fail to identify patentable aspects of our research and development output before it is too late to obtain patent protection. Moreover, in some circumstances, we do not have the right to control the preparation, filing and prosecution of patent applications, or to maintain the patents, covering technology that we license from third parties. Therefore, these patents and applications may not be prosecuted and enforced in a manner consistent with the best interests of our business.

The patent position of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies generally is highly uncertain, involves complex legal and factual questions and has in recent years been the subject of much litigation. In addition, the laws of foreign countries may not protect our rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States. For example, European patent law restricts the patentability of methods of treatment of the human body more than United States law does. Publications of discoveries in the scientific literature often lag

 

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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 owned or licensed patents or pending patent applications, or that we were the first to file for patent protection of such inventions. As a result, the issuance, scope, validity, enforceability and commercial value of our patent rights are highly uncertain. Our pending and future patent applications may not result in issued patents that protect our technology or products, in whole or in part, or which effectively prevent others from commercializing competitive technologies and products. 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.

Moreover, we may be subject to a third-party preissuance submission of prior art to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or become involved in opposition, derivation, reexamination, inter partes review, post-grant review or interference proceedings challenging our patent rights or the patent rights of others. An adverse determination in any such submission, proceeding or litigation could reduce the scope of, or invalidate, our 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. In addition, if the breadth or strength of protection provided by our patents and patent applications is threatened, it could dissuade companies from collaborating with us to license, develop or commercialize current or future product candidates.

Even if our owned and licensed patent applications issue as patents, they may not issue in a form that will provide us with any meaningful protection, prevent competitors from competing with us or otherwise provide us with any competitive advantage. Our competitors may be able to circumvent our owned or licensed patents by developing similar or alternative technologies or products in a non-infringing manner.

In addition, 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. 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 initiate legal proceedings alleging claims of intellectual property infringement, the outcome of which would be uncertain and could have a material adverse effect on the success of our business.

Our commercial success depends in part on our avoiding infringement of the patents and proprietary rights of third parties. There is a substantial amount of litigation, both within and outside the United States, involving patent and other intellectual property rights in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, including patent infringement lawsuits, interferences, oppositions and inter partes reexamination proceedings before the United States Patent and Trademark Office and corresponding foreign patent offices. Numerous United States and foreign issued patents and pending patent applications, which are owned by third parties, exist in the fields in which we are pursuing development candidates. 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 patent rights of third parties.

Third parties may assert that we are employing their proprietary technology without authorization. There may be third-party patents or patent applications with claims to materials, formulations, methods of manufacture or methods for treatment related to the use or manufacture of our product candidates. Because patent applications can take many years to issue, there may be currently pending patent applications that may later result in issued patents that our product candidates may infringe. In addition, third parties may obtain patents in the future and claim that use of our technologies infringes upon these patents. If any third-party patents were held by a court of competent jurisdiction to cover the manufacturing process of any of our product candidates, any molecules formed during the manufacturing process or any final product itself, the holders of any such patents may be able to block our ability to commercialize such product candidate unless we obtained a license under the applicable patents, or until such patents expire.

Similarly, if any third-party patents were held by a court of competent jurisdiction to cover aspects of our formulations, methods for manufacture or methods of use, including combination therapy, the holders of any such patents may be able to block our ability to develop and commercialize the applicable product candidate unless we obtained a license or until such patent expires. In either case, such a license may not be available on commercially reasonable terms or at all. Even if we were able to obtain a license, it could be non-exclusive, thereby giving our competitors access to the same technologies licensed to us.

Parties making claims against us may obtain injunctive or other equitable relief, which could effectively block our ability to further develop and commercialize one or more of our product candidates. Defense of these claims, regardless of their merit, would

 

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involve substantial litigation expense and would be a substantial diversion of employee resources from our business. In the event of a successful claim of infringement against us, we may have to pay substantial damages, including treble damages and attorneys’ fees for willful infringement, pay royalties, redesign our infringing products or obtain one or more licenses from third parties, which may be impossible or require substantial time and monetary expenditure.

We may not be successful in obtaining or maintaining necessary rights to gene therapy product components and processes for our development pipeline through acquisitions and in-licenses.

Presently we have rights to the intellectual property to develop our gene therapy product candidates. Because a key element of our business strategy is to pursue in-licensing and intellectual property acquisitions for additional product candidates that may require the use of proprietary rights held by third parties, the growth of our business will likely depend in part on our ability to acquire, in-license or use these proprietary rights. In addition, our product candidates may require specific formulations to work effectively and efficiently and these rights may be held by others. We may be unable to acquire or in-license any compositions, methods of use, processes or other third-party intellectual property rights from third parties that we identify on terms that we find acceptable, or at all. The licensing and acquisition of third-party intellectual property rights is a competitive area, and a number of more established companies are also pursuing strategies to license or acquire third-party intellectual property rights that we may consider attractive. These established companies may have a competitive advantage over us due to their size, cash resources and greater clinical development and commercialization capabilities.

For example, we sometimes collaborate with United States and foreign academic institutions to accelerate our preclinical research or development under written agreements with these institutions. Typically, these institutions provide us with an option to negotiate a license to any of the institution’s rights in technology resulting from the collaboration. Regardless of such right of first negotiation for intellectual property, we may be unable to negotiate a license within the specified time frame or under terms that are acceptable to us. If we are unable to do so, the institution may offer the intellectual property rights to other parties, potentially blocking our ability to pursue our program.

In addition, companies that perceive us to be a competitor may be unwilling to assign or license rights to us. We also may be unable to license or acquire third-party intellectual property rights on terms that would allow us to make an appropriate return on our investment. If we are unable to successfully obtain rights to required third-party intellectual property rights, our business, financial condition and prospects for growth could suffer.

If we fail to comply with our obligations in the agreements under which we license intellectual property rights from third parties or otherwise experience disruptions to our business relationships with our licensors, we could lose license rights that are important to our business.

Licensing of intellectual property is of critical importance to our business and involves complex legal, business and scientific issues and is complicated by the rapid pace of scientific discovery in our industry. We are a party to intellectual property license agreements with the University of Florida Research Foundation, an affiliate of the University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University and the UAB Research Foundation, an affiliate of The University of Alabama at Birmingham, each of which is important to our business, and we expect to enter into additional license agreements in the future. Our existing license agreements impose, and we expect that future license agreements will impose, various diligence, milestone payment, royalty and other obligations on us. If we fail to comply with our obligations under these agreements, or we are subject to a bankruptcy, the licensor may have the right to terminate the license, in which event we would not be able to market products covered by the license.

We may need to obtain licenses from third parties to advance our research or allow commercialization of our product candidates, and we have done so from time to time. It is possible that we may fail to obtain any of these licenses at a reasonable cost or on reasonable terms, if at all. In that event, we may be required to expend significant time and resources to develop or license replacement technology. If we are unable to do so, we may be unable to develop or commercialize the affected product candidates, which could harm our business significantly. We cannot provide any assurances that third-party patents do not exist which might be enforced against our current product candidates or future products, resulting in either an injunction prohibiting our sales, or, with respect to our sales, an obligation on our part to pay royalties and/or other forms of compensation to third parties.

 

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In many cases, patent prosecution of our licensed technology is controlled solely by the licensor. If our licensors fail to obtain and maintain patent or other protection for the proprietary intellectual property we license from them, we could lose our rights to the intellectual property or our exclusivity with respect to those rights, and our competitors could market competing products using the intellectual property. In certain cases, we control the prosecution of patents resulting from licensed technology. In the event we breach any of our obligations related to such prosecution, we may incur significant liability to our licensing partners. Disputes may arise regarding intellectual property subject to a licensing agreement, including:

 

the scope of rights granted under the license agreement and other interpretation-related issues;

 

the extent to which our technology and processes infringe on intellectual property of the licensor that is not subject to the licensing agreement;

 

the sublicensing of patent and other rights under our collaborative development relationships;

 

our diligence obligations under the license agreement and what activities satisfy those diligence obligations;

 

the ownership of inventions and know-how resulting from the joint creation or use of intellectual property by our licensors and us and our partners; and

 

the priority of invention of patented technology.

If disputes over intellectual property that we have licensed prevent or impair our ability to maintain our current licensing arrangements on acceptable terms, we may be unable to successfully develop and commercialize the affected product candidates.

We may become involved in lawsuits to protect or enforce our patents or other intellectual property or the patents or other intellectual property of our licensors, which could be expensive, time-consuming and ultimately unsuccessful.

Competitors may infringe our patents or other intellectual property or the patents or other intellectual property of our licensors. In response, we may be required to file infringement claims, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Any claims we assert against perceived infringers could provoke these parties to assert counterclaims against us, alleging that we infringe their patents.  Additionally, if the party against whom we bring a claim of infringement has a relationship with one or more of our collaborators, licensors or other strategic counterparties, our relationship with that counterparty may be harmed. Similarly, because our intellectual property is potentially useful for the treatment of serious diseases, any third party infringers may be viewed sympathetically by the public and our assertion of an infringement claim against them may hurt our reputation. In addition, in a patent infringement proceeding, a court may decide that a patent of ours or our licensors is invalid or unenforceable, in whole or in part, construe the patent’s claims narrowly or refuse to stop the other party from using the technology at issue on the grounds that our patents do not cover the technology in question. An adverse result in any litigation or defense proceeding could put one or more of our patents at risk of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly and could put our patent applications at risk of not issuing.

Interference proceedings provoked by third parties or brought by us may be necessary to determine the priority of inventions with respect to our patents or patent applications or those of our licensors. An unfavorable outcome could require us to cease using the related technology or to attempt to license rights to it from the prevailing party. Our business could be harmed if the prevailing party does not offer us a license on commercially reasonable terms. Our defense of litigation or interference proceedings may fail and, even if successful, may result in substantial costs and distract our management and other employees. We may not be able to prevent, alone or with our licensors, misappropriation of our intellectual property rights, particularly in countries where the laws may not protect those rights as fully as in the United States.

Furthermore, 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. There could also be public announcements of the results of hearings, motions or other interim proceedings or developments. If securities analysts or investors perceive these results to be negative, it could have a material adverse effect on the price of our common stock.

Issued patents covering our product candidates or methods of manufacturing could be found invalid or unenforceable if challenged in court.

If we or one of our licensing partners initiate legal proceedings against a third party to enforce a patent covering one of our product candidates, or methods of manufacturing our product candidates, the defendant could counterclaim that the patent covering our product candidate or method is invalid or unenforceable. In patent litigation in the United States, defendant counterclaims alleging invalidity or unenforceability are commonplace. Grounds for a validity challenge could be an alleged failure to meet any of several statutory requirements, including lack of novelty, obviousness or non-enablement. Grounds for an unenforceability assertion could be an allegation that someone connected with prosecution of the patent withheld relevant information from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or made a misleading statement, during prosecution. Third parties may also raise similar claims before

 

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administrative bodies in the United States or abroad, even outside the context of litigation. Such mechanisms include re-examination, post grant review, and equivalent proceedings in foreign jurisdictions. Such proceedings could result in the revocation of or amendment to our patents in such a way that they no longer cover our product candidates or manufacturing methods. The outcome following legal assertions of invalidity and unenforceability is unpredictable. With respect to the validity question, for example, we cannot be certain that there is no invalidating prior art, of which we and the patent examiner were unaware during prosecution. If a defendant were to prevail on a legal assertion of invalidity or unenforceability, we could lose at least part, and perhaps all, of the patent protection on one or more of our product candidates or methods of manufacturing our products. Such a loss of patent protection could have a material adverse impact on our business.

We may be subject to claims that our employees, consultants or independent contractors have wrongfully used or disclosed confidential information of third parties or that our employees have wrongfully used or disclosed alleged trade secrets of their former employers.

We employ individuals who were previously employed at universities or other biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, including our competitors or potential competitors. Although we have enacted policies and procedures designed to ensure that our employees, consultants and independent contractors do not use the proprietary information or know-how of others in their work for us, we may be subject to claims that we or our employees, consultants or independent contractors have inadvertently or otherwise used or disclosed intellectual property, including trade secrets or other proprietary information, of any of our employee’s former employer or other third parties. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these claims. If we fail in defending any such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose valuable intellectual property rights or personnel, which could adversely impact our business. Even if we are successful in defending against such claims, litigation could result in substantial costs and be a distraction to management and other employees.

We may be subject to claims challenging the inventorship or ownership of our patents and other intellectual property.

We may be subject to claims that former employees, collaborators or other third parties have an ownership interest in our patents or other intellectual property. While it is our policy to require our employees and contractors who may be involved in the development of intellectual property to execute agreements assigning such intellectual property to us, we may be unsuccessful in executing such an agreement with each party who in fact develops intellectual property that we regard as our own. We could be subject to ownership disputes arising, for example, from conflicting obligations of consultants or others who are involved in developing our product candidates. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these and other claims challenging inventorship or ownership. If we fail in defending any such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose valuable intellectual property rights, such as exclusive ownership of, or right to use, valuable intellectual property. Such an outcome could have a material adverse effect on our business. Even if we are successful in defending against such claims, litigation could result in substantial costs and be a distraction to management and other employees.

Intellectual property litigation could cause us to spend substantial resources and distract our personnel from their normal responsibilities.

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, there could be public announcements of the results of hearings, motions or other interim proceedings or developments, and if securities analysts or investors perceive these results to be negative it could have a substantial adverse effect on the price of our common stock. Such litigation or proceedings could substantially increase our operating losses and reduce the resources available for development activities or any future sales, marketing or distribution activities. We may not have sufficient financial or other resources to conduct such litigation or proceedings adequately. Some of our competitors may be able to sustain the costs of such litigation or proceedings more effectively than we can because of their greater financial resources. Uncertainties resulting from the initiation and continuation of patent litigation or other proceedings could compromise our ability to compete in the marketplace.

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.

Periodic maintenance fees, renewal fees, annuity fees and various other governmental fees on patents and/or applications will be due to be paid to the United States Patent and Trademark Office and various governmental patent agencies outside of the United States in several stages over the lifetime of the patents and/or applications. We rely on our outside counsel to pay these fees due to non-U.S. patent agencies. The United States Patent and Trademark Office and various non-U.S. governmental patent agencies require compliance with a number of procedural, documentary, fee payment and other similar provisions during the patent application process. We employ reputable law firms and other professionals to help us comply, and in many cases, an inadvertent lapse can be cured by payment of a late fee or by other means in accordance with the applicable rules. However, there are situations in which non-

 

56


compliance can result in abandonment or lapse of the patent or patent application, resulting in partial or complete loss of patent rights in the relevant jurisdiction. In such an event, potential competitors might be able to enter the market and this circumstance could have a material adverse effect on our business.

Changes in United States patent law could diminish the value of patents in general, thereby impairing our ability to protect our products.

As is the case with other biotechnology companies, our success is heavily dependent on intellectual property, particularly patents. Obtaining and enforcing patents in the biotechnology industry involve both technological and legal complexity, and therefore obtaining and enforcing biotechnology patents is costly, time-consuming and inherently uncertain.

Recent patent reform legislation could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of our patent applications and the enforcement or defense of our issued patents. On September 16, 2011, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, or the Leahy-Smith Act, was signed into law. The Leahy-Smith Act includes a number of significant changes to U.S. patent law. These include provisions that affect the way patent applications are prosecuted and may also affect patent litigation. The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently developed new regulations and procedures to govern administration of the Leahy-Smith Act, and many of the substantive changes to patent law associated with the Leahy-Smith Act, and in particular, the first to file provisions, only became effective on March 16, 2013. Accordingly, it is not clear what, if any, impact the Leahy-Smith Act will have on the operation of our business. However, the Leahy-Smith Act and its implementation could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of our patent applications and the enforcement or defense of our issued patents, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.

Moreover, recent United States Supreme Court rulings have narrowed the scope of patent protection available in certain circumstances and weakened the rights of patent owners in certain situations. 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 the United States Congress, the federal courts, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the laws and regulations governing patents could change in unpredictable ways that would weaken our ability to obtain new patents or to enforce our existing patents and patents that we might obtain in the future.

We have not yet sought FDA approval of names for any of our product candidates and failure to secure such approvals could adversely affect our business.

Any name we propose to use with our product candidates in the United States must be approved by the FDA, regardless of whether we have registered it, or applied to register it, as a trademark. The FDA typically conducts a review of proposed product names, including an evaluation of potential for confusion with other product names. If the FDA objects to any of our proposed proprietary product names, we may be required to expend significant additional resources in an effort to identify a suitable substitute name that would qualify under applicable trademark laws, not infringe the existing rights of third parties and be acceptable to the FDA.

We may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights throughout the world.

Filing, prosecuting and defending patents on 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 addition, the laws of some foreign countries do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as federal and state laws in the United States. Consequently, we may not be able to prevent third parties from practicing our inventions in all countries outside the United States, or from selling or importing products made using our inventions in and into the United States or other jurisdictions. Competitors may use our technologies in jurisdictions where we have not obtained patent protection to develop their own products and further, may export otherwise infringing products to territories where we have patent protection, but enforcement is not as strong as that in the United States. These products may compete with our products and our patents or other intellectual property rights may not be effective or sufficient to prevent them from competing.

Many companies have encountered significant problems in protecting and defending intellectual property rights in foreign jurisdictions. The legal systems of certain countries, particularly certain developing countries, do not favor the enforcement of patents, trade secrets and other intellectual property protection, particularly those relating to biotechnology products, which could make it difficult for us to stop the infringement of our patents or marketing of competing products in violation of our proprietary rights generally. Proceedings to enforce our patent rights in foreign jurisdictions could result in substantial costs and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business, could put our patents at risk of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly and our patent applications at risk of not issuing and could provoke third parties to assert claims against us. We may not prevail in any lawsuits that we initiate and the damages or other remedies awarded, if any, may not be commercially meaningful. Accordingly, our efforts to

 

57


enforce our intellectual property rights around the world may be inadequate to obtain a significant commercial advantage from the intellectual property that we develop or license.

Risks related to ownership of our common stock

The market price for our common stock may be volatile, which could contribute to the loss of your investment.

Fluctuations in the price of our common stock could contribute to the loss of all or part of your investment. The trading price of our common stock is likely to continue to be highly volatile and could be subject to wide fluctuations in response to various factors, some of which are beyond our control. Any of the factors listed below could have a material adverse effect on your investment in our common stock. In such circumstances, the trading price of our common stock may not recover and may experience a further decline.

Factors affecting the trading price of our common stock may include:

 

our failure to develop and commercialize our product candidates;

 

actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly financial results or the quarterly financial results of companies perceived to be similar to us;

 

changes in the market’s expectations about our operating results;

 

adverse results or delays in our preclinical studies or clinical trials;

 

reports of adverse events in other gene therapy products or clinical studies of such products;

 

our decision to initiate a clinical trial, not to initiate a clinical trial or to terminate an existing clinical trial;

 

any delay in filing an IND or BLA for any of our product candidates and any adverse development or perceived adverse development with respect to the FDA’s review of that IND or BLA;

 

adverse regulatory decisions, including failure to receive regulatory approval for any of our product candidates;

 

success of competitive products;

 

adverse developments concerning our collaborations and our manufacturers;

 

inability to obtain adequate product supply for any product candidate for clinical trials or commercial sale or inability to do so at acceptable prices;

 

the termination of a collaboration or the inability to establish additional collaborations;

 

unanticipated serious safety concerns related to the use of any of our product candidates;

 

our ability to effectively manage our growth;

 

the size and growth, if any, of the orphan ophthalmology and other targeted markets;

 

our operating results failing to meet the expectation of securities analysts or investors in a particular period or failure of securities analysts to publish reports about us or our business;

 

changes in financial estimates and recommendations by securities analysts concerning our company, the gene therapy market, or the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries in general;

 

operating and stock price performance of other companies that investors deem comparable to us;

 

overall performance of the equity markets;

 

announcements by us or our competitors of acquisitions, new product candidates or programs, significant contracts, commercial relationships or capital commitments;

 

our ability to successfully market our product candidates;

 

changes in laws and regulations affecting our business, including but not limited to clinical trial requirements for approvals;

 

disputes or other developments relating to proprietary rights, including patents, litigation matters and our ability to obtain patent protection for our product candidates and gene therapy platform;

 

commencement of, or involvement in, litigation involving our company, our general industry, or both;

 

58


 

changes in our capital structure, such as future issuances of securities or the incurrence of additional debt;

 

the volume of shares of our common stock available for public sale;

 

additions or departures of key scientific or management personnel;

 

any major change in our board or management;

 

changes in accounting practices;

 

ineffectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting;

 

sales of substantial amounts of common stock by our directors, executive officers or significant stockholders or the perception that such sales could occur; and

 

general economic and political conditions such as recessions, interest rates, fuel prices, international currency fluctuations and acts of war or terrorism.

Broad market and industry factors may materially harm the market price of our common stock irrespective of our operating performance. The stock market in general, and The NASDAQ Global Market and the market for biotechnology companies in particular, have experienced extreme price and volume fluctuations that have often been unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of the particular companies affected. The trading prices and valuations of these stocks, and of ours, may not be predictable. A loss of investor confidence in the market for technology or software stocks or the stocks of other companies which investors perceive to be similar to us, the opportunities in the digital simulation market or the stock market in general, could depress our stock price regardless of our business, prospects, financial conditions or results of operations.

If securities analysts do not publish research or reports about our business or if they downgrade our stock, the price of our common stock could decline.

The trading market for our common stock relies in part on the research and reports that industry or financial analysts publish about us, our business, our markets and our competitors. We do not control these analysts. As a newly public company, we have only limited coverage by securities analysts. If securities analysts do not continue to cover our common stock, the lack of research coverage may adversely affect the market price of our common stock. Furthermore, if one or more of the analysts who do cover us downgrade our stock or if those analysts issue other unfavorable commentary about us or our business, our stock price would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease coverage of us or fails to regularly publish reports on us, we could lose visibility in the market and interest in our stock could decrease, which in turn could cause our stock price or trading volume to decline and may also impair our ability to expand our business with existing customers and attract new customers.

We are an “emerging growth company,” and the reduced reporting requirements applicable to emerging growth companies may make our common stock less attractive to investors.

We are an “emerging growth company,” as defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, or the JOBS Act. For as long as we continue to be an emerging growth company, we may take advantage of exemptions from various reporting requirements that are applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies, including not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act t, reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation and exemptions from the requirements of holding a nonbinding advisory vote on executive compensation and stockholder approval of any golden parachute payments not previously approved. We could be an emerging growth company through June 30, 2019, which is the fifth anniversary of the end of the fiscal year in which our initial public offering closed. However, circumstances could cause us to lose that status earlier, including if the market value of our common stock held by non-affiliates exceeds $700.0 million as of any December 31 before that time or if we have total annual gross revenue of $1.0 billion or more during any fiscal year before that time, in which cases we would no longer be an emerging growth company as of the following June 30 or, if we issue more than $1.0 billion in non-convertible debt during any three-year period before that time, we would cease to be an emerging growth company immediately. Even after we no longer qualify as an emerging growth company, we may still qualify as a “smaller reporting company” which would allow us to take advantage of many of the same exemptions from disclosure requirements, including not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation. We cannot predict if investors will find our common stock less attractive because we may rely on these exemptions. If some investors find our common stock less attractive as a result, there may be a less active trading market for our common stock and our stock price may be more volatile.

Under the JOBS Act, emerging growth companies can also delay adopting new or revised accounting standards until such time as those standards apply to private companies. We have irrevocably elected not to avail ourselves of this exemption from new or revised accounting standards and, therefore, will be subject to the same new or revised accounting standards as other public companies that are not emerging growth companies. As a result, changes in rules of U.S. generally accepted accounting principles or their

 

59


interpretation, the adoption of new guidance or the application of existing guidance to changes in our business could significantly affect our financial position and results of operations.

Future sales and issuances of our common stock or rights to purchase common stock, including pursuant to our equity incentive plans, could result in additional dilution of the percentage ownership of our stockholders and could cause our stock price to fall.

We expect that significant additional capital may be needed in the future to continue our planned operations, including conducting clinical trials, commercialization efforts, expanded research and development activities, potential acquisitions, in-licenses, or collaborations and costs associated with operating a public company. To raise capital, we may sell common stock, convertible securities or other equity securities in one or more transactions at prices and in a manner we determine from time to time. If we sell common stock, convertible securities or other equity securities in more than one transaction, investors may be materially diluted by subsequent sales. Such sales may also result in material dilution to our existing stockholders, and new investors could gain rights, preferences and privileges senior to the holders of our common stock.

We do not currently intend to pay dividends on our common stock and, consequently, your ability to achieve a return on your investment will depend on the appreciation in the price of our common stock.

We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our common stock. We currently intend to retain any future earnings to fund our future growth and do not expect to declare or pay any dividend on shares of our common stock in the foreseeable future. As a result, you may only receive a return on your investment in our common stock if the market price of our common stock appreciates and you sell your shares at a price above your cost.

We could be subject to securities class action litigation.

In the past, securities class action litigation has often been brought against a company following a decline in the market price of its securities. This risk is especially relevant for us because biotechnology companies have experienced significant stock price volatility in recent years. If we face such litigation, it could result in substantial costs and a diversion of management’s attention and resources, which could harm our business.

Anti-takeover provisions in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and amended and restated bylaws, as well as provisions in Delaware law, might discourage, delay or prevent a change of control of our company or changes in our management and, therefore, depress the trading price of our common stock.

Our certificate of incorporation, bylaws and Delaware law contain provisions that could have the effect of rendering more difficult or discouraging an acquisition deemed undesirable by our board of directors, even if doing so would benefit our stockholders or remove our current management. Our corporate governance documents include provisions:

 

providing for three classes of directors with the term of office of one class expiring each year, commonly referred to as a staggered board;

 

authorizing blank check preferred stock, which could be issued with voting, liquidation, dividend and other rights superior to our common stock;

 

limiting the liability of, and providing indemnification to, our directors and officers;

 

eliminating the ability of our stockholders to call and bring business before special meetings and to take action by written consent in lieu of a meeting;

 

requiring advance notice of stockholder proposals for business to be conducted at meetings of our stockholders and for nominations of candidates for election to our board of directors;

 

controlling the procedures for the conduct and scheduling of board and stockholder meetings;

 

limiting the determination of the number of directors on our board and the filling of vacancies or newly created seats on the board to our board of directors then in office; and

 

providing that directors may be removed by stockholders only for cause.

These provisions, alone or together, could delay hostile takeovers and changes in control or changes in our management.

As a Delaware corporation, we are also subject to provisions of Delaware law, including Section 203 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, which prohibits a publicly-held Delaware corporation from engaging in a business combination with an interested

 

60


stockholder, generally a person which together with its affiliates owns, or within the last three years has owned, 15% of our voting stock, for a period of three years after the date of the transaction in which the person became an interested stockholder, unless the business combination is approved in a prescribed manner.

The existence of the foregoing provisions and anti-takeover measures could limit the price that investors might be willing to pay in the future for shares of our common stock. They could also deter potential acquirers of our company, thereby reducing the likelihood that you could receive a premium for your common stock in an acquisition.

 

 

ITEM 1B.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

None.

ITEM 2.

PROPERTIES

Alachua, Florida

Our corporate headquarters are located in Alachua, Florida.  In January 2016, we moved into a new combined-use facility consisting of approximately 21,000 square feet of laboratory and office space.  The initial lease term for this facility is 10 years and we have options to extend the term of the lease for three additional five-year periods.  Our prior leased facilities encompassed approximately 7,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. Operating leases associated with the prior facilities expired in December 2015.  

Cambridge, Massachusetts

In August 2015, we entered into a two-year lease to occupy approximately 3,000 square feet of office and laboratory space in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On July 31, 2017, we entered into a new lease to increase our office and laboratory space in Cambridge by approximately 5,000 square feet to a total of approximately 8,000 square feet and extend the term of the lease for an additional seven years, with an option to further extend the lease for one additional three-year term. The Cambridge facility primarily focuses on business development, pharmacology, and basic research and development.  

ITEM 3.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

We are not a party to any pending legal proceedings.

ITEM 4.

MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

Not applicable.

 

 

PART II

ITEM 5.

MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES

Market Information

Our common stock has been listed on The NASDAQ Global Market under the symbol “AGTC” since March 27, 2014. Prior to that date, there was no public market for our common stock. The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the high and low intraday sales prices of our common stock as reported by The NASDAQ Global Market:


 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

High

 

 

Low

 

 

High

 

 

Low

 

First fiscal quarter

$

17.00

 

 

$

8.50

 

 

$

20.10

 

 

$

12.43

 

Second fiscal quarter

$

10.85

 

 

$

6.35

 

 

$

21.43

 

 

$

12.04

 

Third fiscal quarter

$

10.15

 

 

$

6.08

 

 

$

20.13

 

 

$

12.12

 

Fourth fiscal quarter

$

7.05

 

 

$

4.70

 

 

$

19.86

 

 

$

12.76

 

 

As of August 31, 2017, a total of 18,087,785 shares of our common stock were outstanding and we had 35 holders of record of our common stock.

 

61


Dividend Policy

We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our capital stock. We currently intend to retain all available funds and future earnings, if any, to finance the growth and development of our business. We do not expect to pay any cash dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future.

Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans

For information regarding securities authorized for issuance under our equity compensation plans, see Part III, Item 12, “Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters.”

 

62


Comparative Stock Performance

The following stock performance graph compares the cumulative total return to stockholders for our common stock for the period commencing March 27, 2014 (the date on which our common stock commenced trading on The NASDAQ Global Market) and ended June 30, 2017 against the cumulative total return of the NASDAQ Composite Index and the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index. The calculation of total cumulative returns assumes a $100 investment in our common stock, the NASDAQ Composite Index and the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index, and assumes reinvestment of all dividends, if any. The historical information set forth below is not necessarily indicative of future performance.

 

 

 

 

3/14

 

 

6/14

 

 

6/15

 

 

6/16

 

 

6/17

 

Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

156.50

 

 

 

103.93

 

 

 

95.73

 

 

 

34.55

 

NASDAQ Composite

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

105.23

 

 

 

119.93

 

 

 

117.34

 

 

 

149.68

 

NASDAQ Biotechnology

 

 

100.00

 

 

 

109.25

 

 

 

149.07

 

 

 

107.52

 

 

 

124.72

 

 

 

63


ITEM 6:

SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA

The following selected financial data should be read in conjunction with our financial statements and related notes in Part II, Item 8 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K and with our “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in Part II, Item 7 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

Our selected statement of operations data for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2017, 2016 and 2015 and our selected balance sheet data as of June 30, 2017 and 2016 are derived from our audited financial statements included elsewhere in this report. The selected statements of operations data for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2014 and 2013 and the balance sheet data as of June 30, 2015, 2014 and 2013 are derived from our audited financial statements not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of results to be expected for any future period. The selected financial data in this section are not intended to replace our financial statements and the related notes.

Selected Financial Data

 

 

 

Fiscal Year Ended June 30,

 

 

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

2015

 

 

2014

 

 

2013

 

 

 

(in thousands except per share data)

 

Statement of Operations Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenue:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Collaboration Revenue

 

$

39,282

 

 

$

46,751

 

 

$

 

 

$

 

 

$

 

Grant revenue

 

 

191

 

 

 

610

 

 

 

1,682

 

 

 

917

 

 

 

439

 

Sponsored research and other revenue

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

672

 

 

 

212

 

 

 

503

 

Total revenue

 

 

39,473

 

 

 

47,361

 

 

 

2,354

 

 

 

1,129

 

 

 

942

 

Operating expenses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research and development

 

 

26,217

 

 

 

39,376

 

 

 

18,118

 

 

 

8,503

 

 

 

3,133

 

General and administrative

 

 

11,354

 

 

 

10,074

 

 

 

8,768

 

 

 

5,182

 

 

 

1,403

 

Total operating expenses

 

 

37,571