EyeGate Pharma Sees a New Way of Delivering Drugs to the Eye

3/20/08

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will lead to an initial approval in 2010. With the delivery system and the first drug approved, approvals for subsequent treatments should go faster, he says. “All the heavy lifting gets done with the first one.”

While EyeGate is not looking for new drugs itself, it’s making the delivery system available to those who are. From hopes having a method of getting drugs into the eye leads to development of treatments that hadn’t seemed feasible before. One particularly intriguing area might be in RNA interference, a Noble-prize winning technology that uses small RNA molecules to turn certain genes off. One of the potential stumbling blocks is how to deliver those molecules into actual cells. From says that not only can the EyeGate device get the RNAi drugs into the eye, it also causes, for reasons not fully understood, a transient change in cells’ membrane, so the molecules penetrate more easily.

About half a dozen companies are signed up to do feasibility studies on using EyeGate’s technology to deliver drugs they’re developing. Among them are companies working on RNA interference, but From won’t say who, citing non-disclosure agreements. At least one local RNAi, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, has listed eye disease as one of the targets for therapies it’s developing.

The journey to Boston for this technology has been circuitous. It was originally developed at the Bascom-Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, and licensed to EyeGate , which was then based in Paris, in December 1999. The company spent its first five years focused on taking the Miami prototype and developing it into a marketable device, which it did with its initial $4 million funding. EyeGate’s management then started to think about drug development and raising the money that would be needed for clinical studies. Building up a business from nothing in France didn’t seem like a good idea to From, a Canadian who had been living in Europe.

“It’s a difficult thing to do in Paris,” he says. “Boston’s got to be one of the best places in the world to do that.”

The company moved here in September of 2006 and had a lab set up by January 2007. It’s got 20 employees and has raised two more rounds of capital, bringing the firm’s total funding to $31 million. In the latest round, announced last week, EyeGate raised $15 million from the likes of Medicis Capital, Ventech, Innoven Partenaires, and the Nexus Group. In addition to the original patent licensed from U. Miami, The company has developed its own intellectual property around its device.

So if, in a few years time, you go to the eye doctor for some complaint and he tries to stick a plastic gizmo on your eyeball, don’t complain. Just think how you’d feel if it were a needle.

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