This article was originally published in Start Up
At its inception, Altheos licensed a series of selective Rho-kinase inhibitors for glaucoma from Asahi Kasei Pharma, and it plans to move the lead candidate into clinical trials in the coming year. Although the start-up is behind several companies that already have ongoing ROCK inhibitor trials, Altheos believes its approach to drug discovery and medicinal chemistry make its therapeutic likely to prove itself the best among the new class of medicines for staving off vision loss from glaucoma.
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Mimetogen Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s founding goal was to use synthetic analogs of nerve growth factor to protect the retinal ganglion cells of the optic nerve that die as glaucoma progresses. In doing so, it intended to show that its drugs provided neuroprotective ability and also enhanced this effect for other treatments prescribed to lower intraocular pressure. Mimetogen validated that program in animals, but given the cost and length of clinical trials for glaucoma, the company switched gears and began developing its NGF mimetics as potential treatments for dry eye.
Launched in early 2010 by former Devgen executives, Amakem NV joins the ranks of companies developing rho-kinase inhibitors for glaucoma. It is using its "Localized Drug Action" platform to limit the side effects common to most kinase inhibitors, a strategy it believes will provide an edge over competitors whose ROCK inhibitors are far more advanced.
Demographic shifts leading to an increasing market, unmet medical need and potential interest from Big Pharma buyers are all compelling reasons for VCs to examine closely the opportunity in glaucoma. Add in the fact that because clinical trials are relatively straightforward and quick, it's possible to keep costs manageable, and one might expect venture capitalists to be rushing to form biotech start-ups in the glaucoma arena, especially since there's been no new mechanism of action in glaucoma in a long time. But the hurdle giving venture investors pause is the wholesale restructuring that will come to the glaucoma market next March, when a key patent for Xalatan expires.