This article was originally published in Start Up
Based on a growing understanding of the genetics of age-related macular degeneration and its association with the immune system, Optherion is developing a treatment that it hopes may prevent the disease from progressing into its most serious and debilitating 'wet' form.
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Ophthalmology has long been a bright spot for venture investors given the potential market size, health care burden, and high unmet medical need associated with many eye diseases. Based on a recent analysis by Start-Up magazine, there is no sign that trend is diminishing. Using Elsevier's Strategic Transactions database, Start-Up found that private backers have poured nearly $1.8 billion into 58 ophthalmology start-ups since 1999, with the money split nearly 50/50 in terms of device and drug investments. This trend is likely to accelerate as a number of new acquirers emerge to play in what was once a niche area.
Acucela is developing oral compounds that can possibly slow or stop vision loss caused by dry age-related macular degeneration. Its lead candidate is a small-molecule inhibitor of an enzyme called RPE65, known to be involved in the build-up of A2E, a toxic vitamin A by-product that is implicated in AMD.
Spurred by the commercial success of Lucentis, start-ups developing new therapeutics for AMD tap into a growing understanding of the pathogenesis of the disease. In this issue, we profile five emerging AMD drug developers: Acucela, Iconic Therapeutics, MacuCLEAR, Ophthotech, Optherion and Sirion Therapeutics.