A New Partner for the Push to the Summit

By Sharon King

In a different version of our story, Taylor may have celebrated her 22nd birthday with us today.

Jim and I have wondered so many times in recent weeks: What would our daughter be doing if Batten disease had not cut her life short on an early fall day in 2018? She may be a recent college graduate figuring out a new job or starting graduate school while the world reacts to a pandemic. She may have someone special in her life. She may be living at home for a while or making her own home. We talk about how much she would love her nephew, Jack. We smile when we remember her bubbly, magnetic personality. Our youngest child was, after all, an extrovert in a family of mostly introverts.

Oh, how we wonder … 

In the beginning, Taylor’s life held much hope and promise. That all changed, of course, when a flaw in her CLN1 gene surfaced shortly before her eighth birthday in 2006. Batten disease sentenced her to blindness, seizures, cognitive and motor impairment, and an early death. 

Shortly after Taylor’s diagnosis, we set out to change the curve. We were told it would be close to impossible to develop a treatment for an ultra-rare disease. We chose to believe otherwise. Because we had to try — for Taylor.

We funded a handful of research projects for about five years. Then, we met a young researcher named Steven Gray with a big idea: gene therapy as an approach to replace the flawed gene causing CLN1 disease, Taylor’s form of Batten disease. Dr. Gray’s intellect was apparent, his passion infectious. We believed in him. And in 2013, we funded him.

Dr. Gray in lab

Friends, family, neighbors … so many people shared their time and treasure to help us scale the mountain. Somehow, we climbed many mountains. We did it together: When one group of climbers finished their part, the next group said, “We’ve got this,” and kept climbing higher. 

Dr. Gray’s research data was strong, and a few years later, it was time for a new partner to step in. In 2016, the work was licensed to Abeona Therapeutics. Abeona further developed the program, receiving an Investigational New Drug (IND) allowance from the FDA in May 2019. This allowance clears the way for a clinical trial, but the climb stalled. Taylor was already gone by then, but we were still pushing, clawing, fighting to keep our promise to her and help families like ours. 

This week, Taysha Gene Therapies — where our friend Dr. Gray is now chief scientific advisor — announced the acquisition of the CLN1 disease program from Abeona Therapeutics. Taysha will move forward the IND and begin the long-awaited clinical trial in the near future.

It was incredible news to begin Taylor’s birthday week, and I have no doubt that my daughter is up there, pulling for us, pulling strings, making magic happen.

Taysha President, CEO and Founder R.A. Session II said “Taysha is built on a powerful foundation: a combination of proven science, accomplished colleagues and an unrivaled alliance with a gene therapy powerhouse. Alongside Steven Gray, Ph.D., Berge Minassian, M.D., and our additional brilliant partners at the UT Southwestern Gene Therapy Program, we are seamlessly building an integrated engine for new cures.”

I’m overjoyed that Steve Gray is once again part of reaching the summit for a CLN1 disease program that began with hope, a dream and people who cared enough to believe with us. While it wasn’t in time for Taylor, I’m certain the timing of this week’s announcement is her birthday wish from afar.

Thanks for your support over the years. We haven’t reached the summit, but Taysha will be a strong and able leader to help us get there. The final leg is a journey worth making for children who have no treatment options.  

Children like Taylor.


One Year Later: Notice Served

By Sharon King

There is so much love in this photograph. A family wrapped around its youngest member as she celebrates her achievement in completing a second 5k — and improving her time. You might be thinking this isn’t such a big deal, but Taylor was blind and beginning to suffer additional effects of CLN1 disease (Batten disease). She was a winner that day, as she was so many other days in her short life.

Taylor’s efforts inspired her older sister to begin running. When Batten disease stole Taylor’s ability to run, Laura took the baton and ran for her. Laura is still running for Taylor today, even though Taylor left us 20 months ago.

Imagine the photograph without Taylor. There is such a hole in the middle of our family, and we’ll never be able to fill it.

You haven’t heard much from Taylor’s Tale in the past year. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out life without Taylor. My daughter finished her race, but I’ll never say that Batten disease won. It’s still running, and Taylor’s family and so many others are now carrying the baton on her behalf. Batten disease only wins if we quit before we reach the finish line.

I searched “Tips for Winning a Race” and found the following suggestions from WikiHow:

  • Go slow at first, then pick up your pace during the end of the race.
  • Keep most of your energy until the last lap.
  • Winning a race is a lot about the training and preparation as well as how skilled you are but that’s not everything. Winning a race has to do with the confidence, competitiveness and mindset of the runner, swimmer, biker, etc.
  • Without the heart and the will to win one will never win any race.

A year ago today, I thought we were coming up on a significant mile-marker — not yet the finish line, but the glimpse of something worth cheering about. On May 21, 2019, Abeona Therapeutics made an announcement:

… cleared to begin a Phase 1/2 clinical trial evaluating its novel, one-time gene therapy ABO-202 for the treatment of CLN1 disease, following acceptance of its Investigational New Drug (IND) application by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Abeona Therapeutics

In other words, they were cleared to begin a clinical trial. Yet one year later, we are still waiting on the trial to begin. Word to the wise — just because you see the goal over the horizon, doesn’t mean you can slow down.

I’m looking at you, Abeona. I’m watching. And I’m not watching idly.

… pick up your pace during the end of the race…keep most of your energy until the last lap …

So, I’m asking myself, what is the mindset of top athletes? I believe it is the realization that whatever adversity they face, they still have the ability to be successful.

Confidence

Taylor faced so much adversity — more than her fair share, for sure. Meanwhile, she never complained. She found her way.

We can find our way through this difficulty, too, because we have the heart and the will to win …

I’m a mother with high expectations (I’ve been in training for 14 years, and I’ve earned the right). From here on out, I intend to be fierce. Relentless. Take-no-prisoners tough.

For her.

For all of the children and families living with CLN1 disease, now and in the future.

Notice served.


Our Dream is Coming True

By Laura King Edwards

I’m thrilled to share news of an incredible milestone achieved last week: FDA clearance of an investigational new drug (IND) application for a novel, one-time gene therapy to treat CLN1 disease (a form of Batten disease). This gives Abeona Therapeutics the green light to begin a Phase 1/2 clinical trial evaluating the treatment in patients. You can read the entire press release on Abeona’s website here.

Though we’re proud of everything we’ve done for children and others like Taylor, this is why we founded Taylor’s Tale more than a decade ago: to spearhead and enable the development of a viable treatment for CLN1 disease. So many called it an impossible mission, but we believed enough to try, even after it became clear Taylor wouldn’t survive long enough to benefit from such an achievement. The photo above was taken in the lab of Dr. Steven Gray, our partner and friend who developed the technology, on the day we celebrated the first birthday of mice treated with his innovative gene therapy approach. It was a happy day and a sign of more good things to come. 

We’re grateful for Steve as well as Ale Rozenberg, who played an instrumental role in moving Steve’s work forward, and the entire team at Abeona Therapeutics for all they’ve done to guide it to the clinical stage. Thanks also to you, our donors, friends and volunteers, for your gifts of love, money and time. Our dream is coming true, but we couldn’t have done it alone. 

Though this is a significant win, our work is far from complete, and I hope you’ll stay on the journey with us. To learn how you can continue supporting Taylor’s Tale, send us a note.


Taylor’s Tale Engages Rare Disease Community in New Patient Information Portal

By Judy Mayer

As we support the development of treatments for Batten disease, Taylor’s Tale continues to advocate on behalf of the rare disease community. We believe that a cure for one is a cure for all.

So when the opportunity to engage the rare disease community in important work that will help patients around the globe presented itself, Taylor’s Tale didn’t hesitate to sign on.

Taylor’s Tale Co-Founder and Vice President Laura King Edwards shares her advice as a rare disease patient advocate during the North Carolina Rare Disease Patient Information Portal focus group held in Charlotte on May 15.

Taylor’s Tale Hosts Focus Group

The first tangible result of this commitment was sponsorship of a focus group with 13 rare disease patients and advocates on May 15.

The focus group, which included Taylor’s Tale President Sharon King and Vice President Laura King Edwards, addressed a major initiative called the North Carolina Rare Disease Patient Information Portal, a web-based, open-access portal.

The portal offers open and easy access to rare disease patients and their families and caregivers as they seek information and identify valuable resources. As a one-stop solution, the portal reduces the time-consuming need to monitor the avalanche of data shared across the internet and via clinical literature.

The portal also addresses the human need for people to connect as they engage in the constantly changing journey of rare disease treatment. The goal is to replace isolation with a supportive community of people who understand the challenges and needs of rare disease patients and their families.

The portal is a component of the North Carolina Rare Disease InfoHub, a major project led by a collaboration of the state’s universities to accelerate innovation in rare disease treatments and to improve care for rare disease patients. The InfoHub leverages the power of advanced computing and big data analytics to search, organize and present medical and treatment resources via its Patient Information Portal.

InfoHub Seeks Rare Disease Patients’ Feedback

The InfoHub’s Patient Information Portal is scheduled for its official launch in late 2018. During the development phase, the rare disease community is actively engaged to ensure the portal is easy to navigate and provides quality information that meets their needs.

Rare disease patients and their families and caregivers are encouraged to share how the site could be more responsive and useful. Visitors are encouraged to access the portal at https://rarediseases.oscar.ncsu.edu to leave comments in feedback boxes.

For more information about the Patient Information Portal focus groups, please email ncrarediseasecoalition@gmail.com.

Taylor’s Tale President Leads Focus on Patient Needs

The North Carolina Rare Disease Coalition is coordinating a series of Patient Information Portal focus groups across North Carolina. As chair of the Coalition and president of Taylor’s Tale, Sharon King assumed a leadership role in ensuring that the InfoHub project always keeps the patient front and center in its work.

Taylor’s Tale President Sharon King (center) listens during a North Carolina Patient Information Portal focus group in Charlotte.

“The patients are the real experts in their diseases,” King said. “They live with disorders every day that healthcare professionals may only see once in their careers. It is vitally important that the portal connects people and provides efficient access to resources that will provide answers to inquiries regarding the diagnosis, treatment and quality of life of rare disease patients.

“We are conducting focus groups in rural and urban areas and inviting people with a variety of backgrounds and diseases,” King said. “Rare diseases know no geographic, ethnic, racial, gender or income barriers. They are equal-opportunity destroyers of lives. As patient advocates in partnership with academia, industry and government, we are making real progress in providing real treatments for real people.”


Why the First Approved Treatment for Batten Disease Can’t Be the Last

By Laura King Edwards

Today I’m celebrating a milestone for the Batten disease community: one form, late infantile NCL (LINCL), now has an FDA-approved treatment. The FDA granted approval for the enzyme replacement therapy to BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc.

Like everyone at Taylor’s Tale, I’m committed to building a better future for kids like my sister, and I’m proud of my friends whose passion and hard work made this incredible achievement possible for kids suffering from LINCL.

But on one of the biggest days for families like mine in the 114 years since a British pediatrician first described Batten disease, I think it’s important to remember that Brineura, the first FDA-approved treatment for any form of Batten disease, is a checkpoint. It’s not the finish line.

There are at least 13 different forms of Batten disease. Each is genetically distinct, caused by different genes. That means even similar forms, like infantile Batten disease and late infantile Batten disease, might respond differently to various treatment approaches.

When the highly publicized case of Charlotte and Gwyneth Gray, whose family founded CureBatten, grabbed national news headlines in the past two years, some friends asked me if I was relieved that Taylor’s Tale no longer had to fight for kids with Batten disease. (You can read my blog about CureBatten here.) What those friends didn’t understand is that the gene therapy treatment the Gray girls, who suffer from a variant form of LINCL, eventually received in a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital can’t be administered to kids with INCL, JNCL, or any other form of Batten disease. That’s because the Grays’ gene therapy treatment addresses a different gene and is delivered via a different method than the INCL gene therapy treatment developed by Dr. Steve Gray in North Carolina, work we helped fund.

Besides the fact that all of these forms of Batten disease are genetically distinct, it’s also important to understand that with any disease, some patients will tolerate certain treatment approaches better than others. My father-in-law passed away from lung cancer late last year after a near-three-year battle. In a 35-month span, he was treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, a drug trial, and likely other things I’m forgetting. He took some treatments like a champ, even going into remission several times. He couldn’t tolerate other treatments. And I’m willing to bet every lung cancer patient in the clinic where he received care had a different story.

The world is a better place when patients have options.

If you care about kids like my sister, or if you love someone like my sister, you should celebrate today. Today is an example of what can happen when families aren’t willing to take ‘no hope’ for an answer. Families who keep fighting even after their own children are gone. Families who believe even when they know that bright future isn’t their bright future. I just don’t think it means that after we eat a piece of cake and celebrate, we should move on and forget about all of the kids who still desperately need us.

My mom told me that this afternoon, she was writing a Facebook post about the FDA approval for Brineura. But then Taylor had a bad seizure, and she never finished the post.

“It was like she was saying, ‘Mom, you’re sitting over there celebrating, but you’d better celebrate fast. You still have work to do.'”

I’m thankful for progress. This is one of the greatest days in my own 11-year journey to beat Batten disease. But I’m still fighting for a reason.


Why a “Miracle” in Ohio isn’t the End of this Story

By Laura King Edwards

The tireless team at CureBatten is in the national news again, this time for funding the launch of a clinical trial at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

My heart is full of hope for Charlotte and Gwenyth Gray, daughters of Hollywood film producer Gordon Gray and his wife, Kristen. I wish I could put into words how much I want this treatment to save their beautiful little girls, Charlotte and Gwenyth. I wish I could explain how much I want the work made possible by CureBatten to spark progress for other devastating neurological diseases, including the many forms of Batten disease that still do not have a treatment. continue reading →


What I’d Buy if I Won Powerball

By Laura King Edwards

Tonight marks the drawing for the record-breaking, $1.5 billion Powerball lottery.

I don’t normally play the lottery, but when some of my coworkers decided to buy tickets together, I thought, why not? So I threw my $2 into the pool.

And that got me thinking: what would I buy if I won Powerball? continue reading →


Gene Therapy: The Future is Now

By Laura King Edwards

Predicting the future is a messy game, but “Back to the Future Part II” got a lot of things right (while we don’t have “Jaws 19,” we have plenty of big-screen TVs).

I was 7 years old when Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to Oct. 21, 2015 to save McFly’s kids. I dreamed about flying cars and robots and wondered how Nintendo managed to fit so many pictures on a single 8-bit video game cartridge. continue reading →


Gene Therapy Trial Paves a Path for Other Diseases

By Laura Edwards

Today, UNC Health Care announced an innovative, gene transfer-based treatment approach for children with giant axonal neuropathy (GAN). The treatment, developed by researchers led by Steven J. Gray, PhD, is the first of its kind. A clinical trial is now underway at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This is significant news for Taylor’s Tale and the Batten disease community because we’re funding Dr. Gray’s work on infantile Batten disease – work modeled after the GAN research that is now treating children at the NIH. continue reading →