Eleven Biotherapeutics Raises $20M to Advance Dry-Eye Drug

5/8/12Follow @arleneweintraub

Cambridge, MA-based Eleven Biotherapeutics said today that it has expanded its Series A financing by $20 million, bringing the total raised in the funding round to $45 million. New investor JAFCO joined founding investors Third Rock Ventures and Flagship Ventures in their support of the company, which raised the first part of its Series A financing in February 2010.

The new cash will go towards the first human study of the company’s lead drug, EBI-005 to treat dry eye syndrome. That trial is slated to begin at the end of this year, says Abbie Celniker, CEO of Eleven. “We’ve completed most of our enabling work for the investigational new drug application, and we’re getting that ready for the FDA right now,” she says.

EBI-005 is what’s known as a “rationally designed” protein. That means that instead of cloning a naturally occurring protein or scouring libraries of known antibodies to find something that might be able to conquer dry eye, Eleven built its drug from the ground up to possess certain characteristics. First, it inhibits two types of interleukin-1 (IL-1) receptors that drive both the pain and inflammation associated with the disease. And the drug can penetrate the cornea, reside there for an extended period, and remain thermally stable—attributes that are key to getting anything to work properly in the eye.

In data from animal trials announced at an industry conference last night, EBI-005 was shown to be 10 times as potent at binding to IL-1 as anakinra (Kineret), an IL-1 blocker marketed by Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It also proved to be more active than cyclosporine, which is the main ingredient of the $700-million-a-year dry-eye treatment marketed by Allergan (NYSE: AGN) under the brand name Restasis.

Celniker says Eleven’s drug will address some of the shortcomings of Allergan’s treatment. “Cyclosporine can quiet the inflammation but it can’t stop it,” she says. “It also has no impact on the pain associated with dry eye syndrome, which is what is really driving people to get treatment.”

As for Amgen’s drug kineret, Celniker says, it does block the two IL-1 receptors that spark pain and inflammation, but “not with a high enough affinity for what we would need in dry eye.”

To prove that EBI-005 has the right collection of characteristics, Eleven is planning an accelerated trial program, Celniker says. She expects that the first trial—which will focus mostly on safety—will be completed in the … Next Page »

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