Bayer bets on Johns Hopkins for eye disease R&D

Wilmer Eye Institute Director Peter McDonnell

German pharma giant Bayer is uniting with researchers at Johns Hopkins University to ferret out new treatments for retinal diseases, signing a 5-year deal targeting early-stage R&D.

Under the agreement, Bayer will work alongside the school's Wilmer Eye Institute to spot new therapeutic targets, shed light on disease mechanisms and develop new drug delivery methods for back-of-the-eye ailments. Bayer will have exclusive rights to option any and all drug candidates that emerge from the collaboration, and the companies are keeping quiet on financial details.

The plan is to home in on some of the most common causes of vision loss, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular edema (DMA), according to the pair, pooling resources to move the needle in drug discovery.

"There is a critical need for new therapies that treat a variety of serious diseases of the eye," Wilmer Director Peter McDonnell said in a statement. "Additional research will allow us the opportunity to make significant advances in this area."

Bayer's success in ophthalmology is largely based on Eylea, the Regeneron ($REGN)-developed blockbuster to which it holds European rights. The VEGF-blocking therapy, approved for both AMD and DMA, posted 55% sales growth last quarter, and Bayer expects it to keep rising.

But the company's pipeline of ocular treatments is otherwise thin. Bayer is running Phase II AMD trials on regorafenib, an in-house VEGF inhibitor approved for cancer as Stivarga, and has a Phase I antibody targeting the same disease.

- read the statement