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With $145M Buyout, River Vision’s Plan For Stalled Roche Drug Pays Off

Xconomy New York — 

A bid by a group of investors to transform a stalled cancer drug into an eye disease treatment has paid off. Horizon Pharma this morning has acquired River Vision Development Corp., a New York entity formed to develop a therapy for an eye condition called Graves’ ophthalmopathy.

Horizon (NASDAQ: HZNP), an Ireland based firm, is  paying $145 million in cash up front for River Vision and its drug teprotumumab, an antibody in mid-stage testing for GO. The deal also includes unspecified downstream payments dependent on teprotumumab’s progress in clinical testing.

River Vision was launched by Narrow River Management, a New York-based investment management firm that forms special purpose drug development entities. One of Narrow River’s projects was a new use for teprotumumab, which was originally discovered by Copenhagen-based Genmab and developed jointly by the Danish firm and Swiss pharma giant Roche as a cancer drug. Development of the drug, which binds to and blocks the activity of a growth factor receptor called IGF-1R, was discontinued in 2009 when it was already in mid-stage trials. In 2013, the two companies announced that testing would be restarted under the stewardship of River Vision, which licensed the drug specifically to test it for Graves’ ophthalmopathy, an eye disorder that occurs in about 30 percent of the people with the thyroid condition Graves’ disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Patients with GO have swelling in the tissues and muscles behind the eyes. This leads to bulging, dry eyes, puffy eyelids, double vision, sensitivity to light, and other problems. Mild cases of GO can be treated with artificial tears. Steroids like prednisone are used in more severe cases to lessen the eye swelling, though they can cause side effects. Surgeries can help in some cases as well. IGF-1R was found to play a role in the inflammation associated with the disease, which makes teprotumumab a possible alternative.

River Vision, led by Narrow River founder David Madden, raised a $17 million Series A from SR One (the VC arm of GlaxoSmithKline) and Lundbeckfond Ventures in December 2012 to develop the drug for a range of eye diseases, including GO. Just last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a Phase 2 study of teprotumumab in patients with moderate-to-severe GO, which showed the drug did a better job than placebo at reducing eye bulging and produced a response in as little as six weeks. Horizon, which says about 10,000 Americans have this form of the disease, has snapped up the drug less than a week later. The firm will begin a Phase 3 trial later this year.