Novartis steps in to help seed a Michigan spinout’s move into the clinic with new eye drug

John Freshley

Novartis has joined hands with some local investors in Michigan to come up with a small but significant $4.25 million A round for a startup looking to make a rep for itself in ophthalmology R&D.

The money — with includes a converted $1 million loan — will help Ann Arbor, MI-based ONL Therapeutics prep for its first clinical trial of ONL1204, a Fas inhibitor designed to guard the retina from cell death — including photoreceptors — triggered by the inflammatory response induced by retinal diseases.

Novartis, the University of Michigan’s Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups (MINTS) program, Capital Community Angels, Invest Michigan, Biosciences Research & Commercialization Center and Hestia Investments all joined in the round.

The new money arrives as “we are rapidly completing all preclinical development work for ONL1204, while also expanding our research efforts into other ocular indications,” said John Freshley, chief executive officer of ONL Therapeutics.

Freshley appears to have fallen a bit behind schedule, as their website notes that the clinical program was supposed to start last year. Investigators for the University of Michigan spinout have also been doing preclinical work on wet and dry age-related macular degeneration — a big and pricey target to go after.

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