Versant, NEA help fund eye disease biotech Oyster Point

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Oyster Point wants to differentiate its candidates from other dry eye disease treatments on the market.

New startup biotech Oyster Point Pharmaceuticals came out of stealth today with $22 million led by venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Versant Ventures.

The California biotech will use the series A funds toward new therapies for dry eye disease, as well as “other diseases of the ocular surface.” This should see the company through to phase 2 tests, it says in a release.

It hopes to add to the growing biopharma research in the area and create a new treatment for the more than 16 million adults with the condition in the U.S. alone.

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Currently, two treatments are FDA-approved for dry eye disease: Allergan’s Restasis (cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion) and Shire’s Xiidra (lifitegrast ophthalmic solution), which both focus mainly on suppressing inflammatory aspects of the disease. Oyster Point’s lead compounds are looking to stimulate natural tear production.

Dry eye disease is characterized by underperforming tear production, as well as inflammation and tissue degradation, and is typically related to age.

A number of other biopharmas are also working on the disease, including Mitotech, Aldeyra and Imprimis/Surface Pharmaceuticals. Mitotech is working on SkQ1, which it hopes will deal with the condition on a cellular level by protecting the eye from oxidative stress.

Aldeyra meanwhile is working on ADX-102, an aldehyde trap focusing on ocular inflammation, which has seen its setbacks; and Surface Pharmaceuticals, which was recently spun out of Imprimis, has a formulation of the steroid betamethasone that it hopes can help dry eye patients.

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Oyster Point CEO Jeffrey Nau, Ph.D., an Ophthotech and Genentech veteran, said: “Currently marketed products and epidemiological studies have demonstrated the very large market potential for therapies to treat ocular surface diseases, but available prescription and over‐the‐counter therapeutics leave significant unmet need. We are very pleased with Oyster Point’s clinical trial data to date, and there has been major interest from both doctors and patients to have our first‐in‐class products available.”

“We believe Oyster Point’s products have the potential to substantially improve on existing therapies and provide significant benefit to patients,” added Clare Ozawa, Ph.D., a managing director at Versant. “We’re pleased to join with NEA to bring this company to a significant value inflection point.”