Aerie Pharma Eyes $58M IPO For Glaucoma Drug Push

9/18/13Follow @benthefidler

Many investors may be waiting for Ophthtotech to price its coming IPO, but another startup from the Tri-state area developing eye drugs has just pushed its way into the queue as well: Bedminster, NJ-based Aerie Pharmaceuticals.

Aerie, a developer of glaucoma drugs, outlined plans late Tuesday to go public. The company aims to raise $57.5 million through an IPO and list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “AERI.” Aerie plans to use the cash to build a sales force, push one glaucoma drug candidate known as AR-13324 through a late-stage clinical trial, and another, called PG324, through a Phase 2b study. The company believes the cash from the offering will get it through “at least” the next 12 months. Aerie had $2.9 million in cash on hand as of June 30, according to its IPO prospectus.

Thus far Aerie has raised $63.5 million from investors since its inception in 2005. Alta Partners and TPG Biotech are Aerie’s largest shareholders, each holding about 27.06 percent of the company’s stock apiece. Clarus Ventures (21.77 percent) and Sofinnova Venture Partners (19.27 percent) are also substantial equity holders.

RBC Capital Markets, Stifel Nicolaus & Co., Lazard Capital Markets, and Canaccord Genuity are underwriting the offering.

If Aerie can prove successful in clinical trials, it plans to ultimately commercialize a group of drugs for glaucoma— a condition in which fluid builds up inside the eye, putting pressure on, and ultimately damaging, the optic nerve. This can lead to gradual loss of vision, and eventually blindness, if untreated.

Patients with glaucoma are typically prescribed one of several types of eye drops that work by either slowing down the eye’s rate of fluid production, or helping more fluid leave the eye through one of its two drains (known as the trabecular meshwork, and uveoscleral pathway, respectively). Patients take these drops chronically, for the rest of their lives.

The most commonly prescribed drops are known as prostaglandin analogues, or PGAs, many of which are generic. The rest of the classes of eye drops—beta blockers, alpha-andrenergic agonists, and others—are either used in tandem with PGAs to boost their effects, or as an alternative therapy. Despite the fact that these types of drops have more side effects than PGAs, and typically require more than one dose per day, they account for half the total prescriptions filled for glaucoma in the U.S. and Europe, according to Aerie.

This is where Aerie wants to break into the market. AR-13324 is a once-daily drop designed to block two targets—the rho kinase, and the norepinephrine transporter—implicated in both fluid production, and drainage, in the eye. Aerie hopes to show that this combination drug is just as effective, and more tolerable to use, than other non-PGA glaucoma drugs. The company plans to start a late-stage clinical trial in mid-2014 to prove it.

Aerie’s second drug candidate, PG324, is a combination of AR-13324 with the most widely-prescribed PGA on the market, latanoprost (Xalatan). The company hopes to begin a Phase 2b study for that drug early next year.

Aerie wants to keep U.S. rights to AR-13324 and PG324, but find a partner to help sell them in other markets, such as Europe and Japan.

Ben Fidler is Xconomy's Deputy Biotechnology Editor. You can e-mail him at bfidler@xconomy.com Follow @benthefidler

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