No more squinting at menus? Visus Therapeutics nabs $36M for presbyopia-correcting eye drop
Visus Therapeutics is off to a bit of a late start in the race for a therapeutic alternative to reading glasses. But with an added $36 million in the bank, CEO Ben Bergo is eyeing a quick Phase II launch for the company’s double-agent eye drops.
Bergo co-founded Visus back in 2019, after securing the patents to the company’s lead candidate Brimochol from antiviral pioneer Herb Kaufman. The miotic-based eye drop for presbyopia is a combination of two FDA-approved pharmaceuticals: carbachol (marketed as Miostat) and brimonidine tartrate.
What makes Brimochol different from other single-agent miotics is the addition of brimonidine tartrate, Bergo told Endpoints News. Miotic agents like carbachol constrict the pupil to induce what’s called the “pinhole effect.” Similar to reducing the aperture of a camera, shrinking the pupil brings near images into clearer focus.
But oftentimes, patients who take single-agent miotics report headache or brow ache, myopic shift, eye redness, or a loss of distance visual acuity, Bergo said. Brimonidine dampens those effects.
“Brimonidine inhibits the contraction of the ciliary muscle, which means that we don’t end up with this myopic shift,” the CEO said. “Patients end up with a drug that gives them this meiosis, this pinhole effect, without the unwanted side effects.”
Bergo said the drops promise long-lasting effects, citing prior studies which suggest the effect could last at least eight hours.
“We see this having the potential to be an all-day presbyopia-correcting eye drop,” he said. “Imagine you wake up in the morning, you put the drop in — you know 7am or so, 8am — you go to work, and you’re still obviously benefiting from this improvement in your visual acuity all the way through your workday, through until the evening.”
Visus plans to enter Brimochol in a short Phase II study with 40 patients this quarter, and read out topline data at the end of Q2 2021. If all goes well, the biotech will launch pivotal studies in Q3 2021. The Series A should take the company all the way through Phase II, and into two Phase III trials, Bergo said.
Visus isn’t out to replace reading glasses altogether.
“I think some patients may use an eyedrop such as ours predominantly and rely on reading glasses only in a very small subset of situations,” he said. “Other patients may use their reading glasses, say, on the weekend but use an eyedropper like ours through their workweek.”
Presbyopia is estimated to affect 2.1 billion people worldwide. But Visus has some catching up to do if it wants to carve a place in that market. AbbVie read out positive topline Phase III results in October for AGN-190584, a presbyopia candidate it inherited in the Allergan buyout. Orasis launched a Phase III trial for its own presbyopia candidate around that same time. And in a proof-of-concept study, 78% of patients given OSRX Pharmaceuticals’ Eye Focus maintained 20/40 vision for 8 hours.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation, RTW Investments, LP and Wille AG participated in Visus’ Series A.