Emerging Drug Developer: Neurotech

Neurotech readies new round, targets Phase III

After more than three years at the helm of Neurotech Pharmaceuticals, Ted Danse is facing a series of crucial tests.

A successful mid-stage trial for the company's lead therapy for dry age-related macular degeneration has laid the groundwork for a pivotal trial that will get underway in the first half of 2010. A second development program-for wet AMD--is slated to begin its first human trial later this year and Danse is in talks to raise another venture round of $25 million to $30 million while pursuing discussions with potential partners.

Neurotech started out in 1997 as  a French developer that wound up with a Rhode Island facility around 2000 after Boston's stratospheric real estate costs scared them away from the Northeastern life sciences cluster. During the move to Rhode Island, Neurotech acquired its delivery technology for retinal disease to go along with their work on brain cancer. The brain cancer program was terminated a couple of years later, the company was reorganized and in the fall of 2005 Ted Danse joined the company in Lincoln.

Since then, the developer's primary focus has been on NT-501, a therapy for dry AMD involving "geographic atrophy," a condition that destroys central vision and often leads to vision loss in one or both eyes.

The therapy is an implant made up of human cells that have been genetically modified to secrete ciliary neurotrophic factor. Neurosearch delivers CNTF to the back of the eye with its Encapsulated Cell Technology platform, which bypasses the blood-retinal barrier that can block treatment of retinal disease.

 Last week Neurosearch reported that the high dose of NT-501 "stabilized best corrected visual acuity at 12-months, with 96.3 percent of treated-patients losing fewer than three lines of vision, or 15 letters, versus 75 percent of the patients in the sham-treatment group."

"We think it's a great opportunity for dry AMD," says the CEO. "We are one of the companies at the forefront."

The technology was convincing enough to persuade venture groups including Versant Ventures, SV Life Sciences and Burrill and Co. to pony up $35 million for the company's last venture round in 2006.

In addition to 501, Neurotech also has a development program, NT-503, for wet AMD that researchers are planning to get into Phase I later this year.

"Some would argue that wet AMD is fairly well met," says Danse. "We would argue that it's not. It's not ideally met from a delivery point of view. Monthly injections are required because the bioavailability of proteins rapidly fall off after injection." And there are problems with patient compliance as many don't want another injection in the eye.

"We need a better mousetrap for the condition."

To get compelling data for that better mousetrap, Danse is betting on the company's ability to close a collaboration deal and round up fresh investment capital at a time that many venture groups have been pulling back.

"The Series C and a partnership would take us out to 2012," says Danse, "that would get us to the end of Phase III."

New money would also help put Neurotech in a position to expand its staff of 27.

"We are going to grow," says the CEO. "We have a couple of senior levels were hiring for and the clinical team is increasing."

Danse is confident that Neurotech can pull it off.

"We have very supportive investors, to the point that they will participate in this," says Danse. "It's a matter of finding one or two new investors who really understand the opportunity and take this forward. If it was poor technology I would say I would be concerned. It's all about the technology. We are making good progress on two potential blockbuster compounds. With two kicks at the goal for an investor, this is a good time to get involved."

Emerging Drug Developer: Neurotech

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