$37 Million Financing for Company Based on Macular Degeneration Research
Optherion, Inc.— a company that will use groundbreaking discoveries by scientists at Yale and the University of Iowa to develop products to diagnose and treat Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and other related chronic diseases — has received $37 million in start-up financing.
Discoveries in 2005 by Josephine Hoh at Yale School of Public Health and Gregory Hageman at the University of Iowa linked Complement Factor H (CFH) and Complement Factor B (CFB) — two elements of the alternate complement pathway of the immune system — with AMD. These factors are involved in inflammatory responses, which can cause tissue damage when improperly controlled.
AMD is caused by degeneration of the macula, the region of the retina responsible for central vision. There are two forms of AMD, “dry” and “wet.” AMD is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60 in the developed world. Dry AMD is the most common form, while “wet” AMD is a less prevalent and more aggressive form of the disease with growth of new blood vessels into the retina.
Optherion’s initial focus will be to develop disease-modifying therapies to prevent loss of vision in patients with dry AMD, as well as a portfolio of tests that predict, diagnose and monitor progression of the disease.
AMD is unusual because it is a widespread disease that is caused by common variations in only a few specific genes. Approximately 50% of patients with AMD suffer from variations in the CFH gene, and 74% of the disease can be explained by variations in the CFH and CFB genes combined. Variants in other genes, found on Chromosome 10, are also implicated in AMD, and will be a further focus for the company’s development of therapeutic and diagnostic products.
In the future, the company’s proprietary technologies will also be extended to the possible diagnosis and treatment of other chronic diseases related to the alternative complement system.
“We are extraordinarily pleased to have these discoveries so rapidly and substantially supported as they are translated into valuable diagnostics,” said John Puziss, Director of Technology Licensing for Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research. “We also want to thank the Sackler Fund for the Arts and Sciences and Raymond and Beverly Sackler, long standing supporters of medical research and the Yale School of Medicine, for the grant that funded this landmark research and the Verto Institute – founded and directed by Jonathan and Richard Sackler – that continues to fund Dr. Hoh’s projects in ophthalmology and other diseases.”
Colin J. Foster, Optherion’s President and CEO, said, “We are embarking on a program that exploits a new and exciting area of research with breakthrough potential in areas of high unmet medical need.” Foster is the former CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals in the U.S. and Region Head for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in North America.
Among the sources of capital for the financing are: Quaker BioVentures, Philadelphia; Domain Associates, Princeton, NJ and San Diego; Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, New Brunswick, NJ; Purdue Pharmaceutical Products L.P., Stamford, CT; Pappas Ventures, Research Triangle Park, NC; Biogen Idec New Ventures, Cambridge, MA and GE Healthcare Financial Services, Chicago, IL.
“The successful completion of this Series A financing will enable the company to advance the work of Dr. Hageman, Dr. Hoh and others, and hopefully transform the diagnosis and treatment of dry age-related macular degeneration,” said David Scheer, Chairman of the Optherion Board of Directors.
The company has office and laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut, and on the biotechnology campus of the University of Iowa in Coralville, Iowa. For further information about Optherion contact Wayne Pines at 202-256-5455 or visit Optherion.