Startups, Venture

Upstart Oyster Point has big plans for disrupting the ophthalmology space, but you’ll have to wait for the details

Technically, Oyster Point Pharmaceuticals is coming out of stealth mode today with a $22 million A round from NEA and Versant that will finance a pair of mid-stage studies for repurposed drugs which have been in-licensed for the launch. But the full story on the San Francisco-based biotech is going to have to wait a bit before the execs involved can fully reveal their plans.

Part of their plan, though, involves hiring staff.

Jeff Nau

“Right now there is one employee,” says a cheerful Jeff Nau, the CEO. “And you are talking to him.”

Nau, who left Ophthotech as it was in the process of striking out in three Phase III studies for their lead drug, will now start assembling a small team of less than 10 for what’s ahead. And while things have to remain hush-hush for now on just what the company plans to put into Phase II — there’s no reason to tip off potential rivals at this point — the first mid-stage trial is set to launch in a looming Q1 of 2018.

Being discreet about the drugs right now, though, doesn’t mean that Nau can’t talk up the biotech’s ambitions.

“If you look across the landscape” in ophthalmology, he says, you’ll see a lot of drugs looking to address the symptoms of the chronic, inflammatory ailments that cause dry eye and more. Oyster Point’s goal is to produce natural tears to fix the root cause of one common eye disease suffered by millions, while building a pipeline of clearly differentiated therapies for ocular surface diseases. They want to own that big niche. And Nau has a pair of the best known venture groups in the industry to back him up as they lay the foundation for end of Phase II meetings with the FDA while mapping plans for Phase III.

That’s not too shabby for a biotech you likely never heard of before.

The eye has become a hot target in drug development, in part because it’s a closely contained organ, which can inspire carefully focused therapies.

To guide the way, Oyster Point also has a scientific board that Nau says has impressive credentials. But, if he told me who they were right now, he’d probably give away some of those secrets he wants to hold on to for a few more months, as the Phase II studies get underway.

Stealth has now given way to semi-stealth at Oyster Point. To be continued….


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