Swiss biotech Oculis raises cash, nabs Novartis eye drug in extended series B

Hoping to push on with its work on next-gen eye treatments, Oculis has raised an extra CHF 15 million ($15.2 million) as it looks to fellow native Swiss biopharma Novartis for its next project.

First up, its cash haul: Its extended series B bumps its total to around $35 million for the round, a healthy start for a European biotech, with funds coming from the likes of Tekla Capital Management and included Nan Fung Life Sciences as new investors.

And it’s putting this cash boost to work straight away, wrapping up a deal with Novartis that sees it nab a license to the Big Pharma’s unwanted topical anti-TNF alpha antibody.

As is often the case in these types of deals, no financials were disclosed but the compound, named LME636, is based on a “single-chain antibody fragment technology specifically designed for topical delivery,” according to the company.

The drug has undergone early testing in three clinical trials, which the biotech says shows a “promising profile for treating inflammatory conditions of the anterior segment of the eye, including dry eye disease,” which has few treatments.

This comes as Novartis is looking to draw back from work on ophthalmology, with a planned spinoff for its Alcon eye unit slated in the coming months. This itself comes on the heels of Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan’s strategy to focus the company on innovative meds, such as its work in CAR-T cancer therapies.

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Oculis hopes that LME636, now to be renamed OCS-02, will get through the testing phase and be the “first topical anti-TNF alpha therapy for ophthalmic indications.”

Dr. Riad Sherif, CEO of Oculis, said: “This agreement [with Novartis] is part of our ongoing strategy to access multiple sources of technologies and compounds that bolster our portfolio of innovative products to treat eye diseases. We are looking forward to working with the ophthalmology community on the rapid development of this promising therapy.”