A replacement for reading glasses? An RA, Versant-backed startup thinks its eyedrops could solve farsightedness
The brain trusts at RA Capital and Versant Ventures have developed an eye for winners in the red-hot biotech space, but every once in a while a candidate comes along with so much potential it makes for an obvious investment. That’s what the partners think they’ve found in San Diego biotech looking to challenge reading glasses for farsightedness.
Lenz Therapeutics launched its rebrand from Presbyopia Therapies with a $47 million Series A and backing from RA and Versant to advance its late-stage-ready small molecule for farsightedness, a market where the biotech thinks it could have a shot at 120 million US patients and 2 billion around the world, the company said.
Farsightedness, also known by the medical term presbyopia, currently has no approved pharmaceutical therapies with patients relying on reading glasses or invasive, irreversible surgery like LASIK. Lenz’s lead drug, dubbed aceclidine, is a small molecule acetylcholinesterase receptor agonist that contracts the pupil to create a “pinhole effect” without what’s known as myopic shift, which can advance nearsightedness.
That “decoupling,” as the company calls it in a release, is a big differentiator from other investigational therapies on the market, potentially addressing farsightedness without exacerbating patient’s eyesight in the opposite direction.
With the $47 million in tow, Lenz will chase an NDA for aceclidine after closing a 58-patient Phase II revealing 53% of patients showed three lines or more of reading improvement and 81% showed two lines or more 30 minutes after dosing. The drug also maintained a “pinhole pupil sweet spot” of 1.5 mm to 2 mm for seven hours, the company said, with no loss of vision reported over time.
Side effects were minimal with the most common report of mild discomfort at application and no serious side effects.
The company will be led by Evert “Eef” Schimmelpennink, a CEO with a long history in biotech including stints as CEO of Pfenex and CEO of Alvotech. Prior to that, Schimmelpennink held senior positions at Pfizer and Hospira within the global specialty injectables businesses.
“I am very excited to be leading LENZ Therapeutics,” Schimmelpennink said in a statement. “Fueled by its Phase II success, I believe the company has a potential best-in-class asset that uniquely positions it to capitalize on the emerging presbyopia therapeutics market.”
As part of the fundraise, Clare Ozawa from Versant and Zach Scheiner from RA will join the board as the company looks to build out a pipeline of drugs to follow up aceclidine.