SV, Third Rock back clinical-phase wet AMD biotech

SV Health Investors and Third Rock Ventures have given PanOptica the money to take its lead drug into a phase 1/2 wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) trial. PanOptica plans to start trialling the small molecule anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) eye drop early next year.

Bernardsville, New Jersey-based PanOptica thinks its drug, PAN-90806, has an edge over anti-VEGF biologics already on the market because it is delivered via an eye drop. Notably, the formulation would end the risk of injection-related adverse events and make lifelong, chronic dosing less onerous. 

Boosted by $11 million from SV and Third Rock, PanOptica is now equipped to generate clinical data on the optimal dose, regimen and regulatory path for its candidate. 

PanOptica has already put an earlier version of PAN-90806 through an early-phase trial in patients with wet AMD. That study left the company encouraged that its drug acts on wet AMD. But, faced with data linking higher doses of the drug to adverse corneal findings, PanOptica opted to drop the formulation in favor of an earlier-stage version of the same anti-VEGF.

Preclinical toxicology studies suggest the new formulation is less likely to trigger corneal problems, such as punctate keratopathy, and therefore can be used at higher doses without causing adverse events. SV and Third Rock have bought into the idea enough to follow up on 2011’s $30 million series A and 2014’s $45 million series B with enough cash for PanOptica to find out how the formulation fares in the clinic.

“This next-generation formulation holds promise for enhanced tolerability across an expanded dose range,” Kevin Starr, partner at Third Rock, said in a statement. “With its demonstrated potency and selectivity, PAN-90806 appears to have potential as an effective topical eye drop treatment for back-of-the-eye diseases such as wet AMD and diabetic retinopathy.” 

Starr and his fellow investors have backed a team with considerable ophthalmology experience. Paul Chaney and Martin Wax, M.D., co-founded the company in 2009 with a view to picking up early-stage assets and hustling them through to clinical proof of concept. 

Chaney brought the experience he gained during a career that took him to the president position at OSI-Eyetech to the task. Wax’s background includes a stint in academia and, more recently, a VP position in discovery and development at Alcon.