The team at RetroSense Therapeutics, seasoned veterans with experience taking medical technology from the discovery stage to the clinic, knew 2016 could be a breakout year for the company. RetroSense’s therapy, based on research conducted at Wayne State University in Detroit, was almost ready for its biggest test yet: a Phase I/II clinical trial. In March, the first patient in that trial began treatment with its lead compound, RST-001, aimed to restore vision for those with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degenerative condition. The company’s efforts earned accolades from the MIT Technology Review, which named RetroSense to its “50 Smartest Companies” list in June. Most impressively, leading global pharmaceutical company Allergan turned its attention to the Michigan startup and completed an acquisition of the company in September, with a $60 million upfront payment plus several additional, sizeable payments for development and commercialization milestones. It became the state’s largest healthcare exit in 2016, and also earned RetroSense the 2016 MVCA Exit of the Year Award.
Ann Arbor-based RetroSense’s accomplishments couldn’t have happened without the robust support of Michigan early stage investors. The $15 million the company raised prior to the Allergan deal came from Midland-based BlueWater Angels and The State of Michigan, among others, and included an early investment by The Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, managed by Ann Arbor SPARK, which matched RetroSense’s NIH grant. This early-stage investment activity tracks with MVCA’s robust comparative data of 15 years, which shows its 100+ member organizations have actively invested in over 200 Michigan businesses like RetroSense. The investments from Michigan venture capital and angel investors have been, and will continue to be, critical to Michigan’s ability to diversify and strengthen its economy, even as the entrepreneurial and investment community nationwide is stagnating.