June, 09 2023 • Articles

The Retinal Research Community Mourns the Loss of Retinal Research Pioneer Thierry Léveillard

Dr. Léveillard helped discover and develop a gene-agnostic, cone-preserving therapy for retinitis pigmentosa that’s moving into a clinical trial.

The Foundation is deeply saddened to report the passing of Thierry Léveillard, PhD, a French researcher who made several key contributions to the understanding of inherited retinal diseases and development of emerging, vision-saving therapies. Most notably, Dr. Léveillard and José Sahel, MD, discovered rod-derived cone-viability factor (RdCVF), a protein secreted by rod photoreceptors that is critical to the health and survival of cone photoreceptors.

In 2016, Drs. Léveillard and Sahel co-founded SparingVision, a company developing a gene-agnostic therapy to express RdCVF for the preservation of cone-vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and related conditions. The company has received authorization from the US Food & Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to launch a clinical trial for the treatment. The venture arm of the Foundation, the Retinal Degeneration Fund (RD Fund), is a founding investor in SparingVision.

“Thierry was larger than life, hard-working, and science-driven with strong personal and scientific ethics. He loved his team and family,” said Dr. Sahel, distinguished professor and chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the founding Director of the Institut de la Vision. “He was one of the early founders of the laboratory that became the Institut de la Vision and never stopped to have ideas for projects until his last days. We must continue, without him, but with the same, relentless commitment to science and patients.”

“We at the RD Fund and the Foundation are saddened by the passing of Thierry; however, we are heartened that his groundbreaking contributions to fighting blindness live on to provide real hope to families with RP that vision can be saved,” said Rusty Kelley, PhD, managing director, RD Fund, and SparingVision Board Director. “We are forever grateful to Thierry for his passion and commitment to retinal research.”

Dr. Léveillard previously served as director of the Department of Genetics at the Institut de la Vision and conducted research at the University of California, San Diego, the Salk Institute, the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Genetics, Cellular and Molecular Biology Institute (IGBMC) in France, and was recruited by José Sahel to the Inserm laboratory at Strasbourg Louis Pasteur University, which became the Institut de la Vision.

He received the Foundation’s Trustee Award in 2005 with José Sahel and the Prix de l’Oeil by Fondation de France in 2016.