Aerie plots an R&D expansion after an FDA rebound for its lead drug

Aerie CEO Vicente Anido

Aerie Pharmaceuticals ($AERI), regaining momentum after a costly clinical setback, is planning to expand its R&D operation in North Carolina, pressing forward with a treatment for glaucoma.

As the Triangle Business Journal reports, the company has leased a 20,000-square-foot mix of office and lab space in Durham, settling in a few miles from Duke University, the school from which it spun out. Aerie hasn't said whether the planned expansion will involve adding jobs, and the company didn't respond to a request for more information Friday.

Aerie's move comes on the heels of a rollercoaster few months for the company and its lead asset, Rhopressa. In April, the biotech revealed Phase III results in which its glaucoma drug had failed to measure up to the generic beta-blocker timolol in reducing intraocular pressure for glaucoma sufferers, sending Aerie's shares down more than 70%.

However, in June, the company got the FDA's permission to modify the primary goal of an ongoing second Phase III study, which CEO Vicente Anido said will greatly improve Rhopressa's odds of success. The biotech's shares shot up about 50% on the news, though it remains down about 40% on the year.

Anido has been publicly bullish about the drug's potential since Aerie's 2013 IPO, touting the treatment as a potential blockbuster worth more than $1 billion in revenue a year. Rhopressa's potential will now hinge on the second Phase III study, which completed enrollment in March and should generate efficacy this quarter.

Aerie is also slated to kick off a third late-stage trial in the coming months, and if all goes according to plan, the New Jersey-headquartered biotech will fill submit its lead candidate for FDA scrutiny in the second half of 2016.

Beyond Rhopressa, Aerie is at work on a next-generation glaucoma treatment called Roclatan, which combines the former drug's active ingredients with Pfizer's ($PFE) Xalatan. That treatment is on track to enter Phase III this year, the company said.

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