Precision Ocular nets £13.5M to go after indications contested by Regeneron, Roche

Precision Ocular has raised £13.5 million ($18.9 million) to develop a pipeline of retinal disease drugs and accompanying minimally invasive delivery technologies. Retinal vein occlusion, diabetic macular edema and age-related macular degeneration top the list of indications being pursued by Precision Ocular, putting Regeneron's ($REGN) Eylea and Roche's ($RHHBY) Lucentis squarely in its sights.

Imperial Innovations Chief Investment Officer Nigel Pitchford

The big idea behind Precision Ocular is to engineer treatments that can access specific sections of the eye. By targeting tissues directly involved in particular retinal diseases, Precision Ocular thinks it can improve the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of new and existing drugs, potentially enabling conditions to be treated with fewer injections. As well as being more convenient, Precision Ocular foresees its drugs having fewer side effects than existing treatment options, in part because they will be delivered at lower volumes, thus avoiding the buildup of intraocular pressure.

Imperial Innovations (LON:IVO), which led the round with a £6.9 million stake, has bought into the idea. "It's a next-generation technology that addresses many of the ills of the existing technology," Innovations Chief Investment Officer Nigel Pitchford told FierceBiotech. How the technology works is a secret, for now, with Pitchford and others involved with Precision Ocular unwilling to disclose details publicly until the company has shored up its patent portfolio. "We're still in a little bit of a holding pattern around some of the IP," Pitchford said.

While the question of how Precision Ocular plans to improve treatment of retinal diseases is as yet unanswered, a broad picture of what it thinks needs to change has already emerged. Specifically, Precision Ocular wants to design treatments that are injected less frequently and at lower volumes than existing options, a set of characteristics that is evident in its nascent pipeline. "The core drug product they're working on at the moment is both controlled release and low volume," Inga Deakin, who led Innovations' investment in Precision Ocular, said.

The entry of this drug into Phase I is still a fairly distant prospect. "It'll be a little bit of time yet. They're still developing the product," Deakin said. A lot of development is set to take place in the U.K and other parts of Europe. Precision Ocular, which was founded by a pair of Americans, will be based around London and Oxford. Consort Medical (LON:CSRT), which runs a British drug delivery device service provider, and Hovione, a Portugal-based particle engineering specialist, have signed up to work with Precision Medicine. The pair, along with NeoMed, contributed to the £13.5 million round.

Pitchford expects the collaborators to develop products at "interestingly competitive price points." The belief that Precision Ocular can pull this off is underpinned by the experience of its founders. Tom Cavanagh, fresh from leading ophthalmic biotech Aciex Therapeutics to a $120 million buyout, founded the firm with Ron Yamamoto, who is listed as an inventor on multiple ocular device patents. "The fact that they've been working in these areas for the last 20 odd years points to the fact that they've got significant experience of both what works and what doesn't work," Pitchford said.

As well as going after the aforementioned indications in internal R&D projects, Precision Ocular is open to striking deals for its delivery technologies, the scope of which it wants to expand. "There's another generation of technology that will follow on behind that addresses a slightly different set of indications in the eye," Pitchford said. "It might be around gene therapy and the like."

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