Kala Funnels $6.2M Into New Drugs for Eye and Lung Diseases

3/19/12Follow @arleneweintraub

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for cystic-fibrosis related infections. The amount of the award wasn’t disclosed, and Pojasek says Kala is not yet ready to discuss details about the project. He says the company plans to talk publicly about its pipeline later this year.

A separate division of the NIH, the National Eye Institute, is supporting Kala on a project aimed at improving eye drops. The company has not yet identified the best use for its technology in eye diseases, but the opportunities are vast, Gardner says. “Think about the eye drop,” he says. “It drips onto your lid or into your nose and vanishes from the surface of the eye in about 20 seconds. If there’s a way to incorporate the drug into something that can reside in the eye for a longer period of time, then you can treat any number of ophthalmic diseases.”

Kala’s technology could be applied to already marketed drugs in addition to new molecules under development, and Kala is open to partnering with pharmaceutical companies that want to use it to advance their own projects, Pojasek says. He says that Kala’s financing will be enough to get it through the first quarter of 2013, by which time he hopes the company will have secured some partnerships.

Gardner says one of Kala’s biggest challenges will be persuading potential pharma partners that the particles can be manufactured in a scalable, cost-effective way. A bit of fortuitous timing allowed the startup to snag some valuable expertise in that arena. In 2009, Gardner retired from TransForm Pharmaceuticals, a formulation company based in the Boston area that was owned by J&J. Shortly thereafter, J&J closed the site and offered all its employees jobs in New Jersey. “A lot of them didn’t want to go there. So we hand picked four people from TransForm, who are helping us think about how scale up an industrial process that will be efficient,” Gardner says.

Dozens of companies are working on drug-delivery systems based on nanoparticles, including two Langer-connected, Boston-area startups, BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences. But those companies aren’t focusing on penetrating mucus. Most efforts that are aimed at breaking through the mucosal barrier take an “adhesive approach,” Pojasek says. In other words, they’re designing particles to stick to the mucus rather than penetrate it. “In most circumstances, if something sticks it’s going to lead to rapid clearance, and you’re not going to access the underlying tissue,” Pojasek says. “We’ve taken the contrarian view. We believe penetrating the barrier will give us better access to the underlying disease.”

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