Langer biotech Kala earmarks $11.5M round for next-gen ophthalmology drugs

Kala CEO Guillaume Pfefer

The new CEO at Kala Pharmaceuticals has landed an $11.5 million A round and mapped out plans to devote much of the cash to lead programs on wet, age-related macular degeneration and ocular inflammation. 

Co-founded by the ubiquitous MIT professor Robert Langer, who has specialized in setting up biotech companies with new and promising nanotech delivery technologies, Kala has been working with seed cash to test its mucosal barrier-penetrating technology on animals. And now it's focused on putting that work to use in advancing new therapies that can fight inflammation in the eye as well as replace injections in the eye for AMD with a topical formulation that could prove more effective and far less discomforting.

Johns Hopkins' Justin Hanes, a former student of Langer's and now one of his many biotech partners, provided much of the scientific know-how, while ex-Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) exec Colin Gardner  also stepped in as a co-founder. New investor Crown Venture Fund LLC, the venture capital arm of the Crown family of Chicago, joined existing investors Lux Capital Management, Polaris Venture Partners and Third Rock Ventures in the round, which brings the company's total raise to about $22 million.

Currently used treatments for wet AMD require injections in the eye to get at the leaky vessels at the back of the eye that obscure vision. Kala says it has a clear shot at creating a new therapy that can accomplish the task by penetrating the natural barrier that's in place to protect the eye, a hurdle that has obstructed other investigators. And the anti-inflammatory work leans heavily on the technology's promise of applying the kind of treatment dose that won't be cleared quickly, which the eye is designed to do.

The money should get Kala into 2014, CEO Guillaume Pfefer tells FierceBiotech this morning, "at the very start of our first clinical trial in humans for ocular inflammation." At that point the company should also be ready to declare its compound for wet AMD.

In the meantime, Pfefer plans to lead discussions on a key partnership for the company's anti-inflammatory work, which could delay the need for another round. Kala has 13 employees, he adds, highlighting the company's new appointment of ophthalmic industry veteran Kim Brazzell, Ph.D., as chief medical officer. Just days ago Kala announced a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and Pfefer says there are a number of potential partnerships that can help finance future work.

There were several factors that spurred Pfefer--who spent years as the general manager of Sanofi Pasteur in Mexico--to take the post last July. He says he loved the scientific background of Kala, having met Langer earlier, and appreciated the scientific team in place. The financial backing of Third Rock and its colleagues was solid. And it gave him a chance to return to the kind of work he had engaged in at the beginning of his career, when he started out as a clinical engineer working on micro particulates.

- here's the press release

Special Report: Robert Langer - The 25 most influential people in biopharma today - 2013

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