HONG KONG – Chinese eye disease specialist Arctic Vision (Shanghai) Biotechnology Co. Ltd. raised $32 million in a series A financing round to advance its lead program, ARVN-001 (triamcinolone acetonide suprachoroidal injectable suspension), for treating macular edema associated with uveitis and to bolster its R&D.

The financing was led by Morningside Ventures and existing investors. The startup was incubated by Nan Fung Life Sciences and Pivotal BioVenture Partners China in 2019.

“We will use the proceeds to gear up for the clinical trials for ARVN-001, which we in-licensed in March 2020. The plan is to submit the IND package as soon as possible,” Chris Fang, senior director of corporate development at Arctic Vision, told BioWorld.

The drug candidate is known as Xipere in the U.S. and was developed by Clearside Biomedical Inc. The Chinese startup acquired the China and Korea rights to Xipere in a $35.5 million deal in March.

Xipere is a proprietary suspension of the corticosteroid triamcinolone acetonide formulated for administration to the back of the eye for the treatment of macular edema associated with uveitis. Clearside said if approved, Xipere would be the first therapy for that eye indication.

“The technology provides a safer and more efficient treatment alternative for patients,” Eddy Wu, founder and CEO of Arctic Vision, told BioWorld. “The suprachoroidal injection enables rapid and accurate dispersion of medicine to the back of the eye, preventing the medicine spreading to nearby tissues and allowing it to act longer as well as minimizing harm to the surrounding healthy parts of the eye.”

In randomized double-blind trials involving 160 patients, Xipere has shown optimistic results. Patients that have received two injections have experienced vision improvements of 9.6 letters in four weeks and 13.8 letters in 24 weeks on average.

“If the investment round is successful, we are optimistic that we will be able to file an IND application in China during the third or fourth quarter this year, which will allow us to approach the clinical trial stage early in 2021,” said Wu.

Besides advancing ARVN-001 to the clinic, the company is actively looking to expand its pipeline.

“The content of products in our pipeline is currently confidential, but there will be around three to five new products that we will be introducing by the end of this year,” Wu revealed. “With new investment, we will be able to further develop our R&D competency and move towards a self-sustainable stage.”

Fang also revealed to BioWorld that the new candidates would be relatively late-stage, validated assets, with at least human proof-of-concept data available.

“In the future, we will further explore gene therapies, innovative drug delivery systems, and other cutting-edge technologies for the ultimate benefit of patients with eye diseases,” he added.

To establish its presence in China, Arctic Vision began with an in-licensing strategy to bring assets from other regions to the Chinese market to quickly fill the country’s needs. “In the longer run, we will of course start to develop our own R&D capabilities as well, particularly in the discovery and preclinical stages,” he added.

To strengthen its R&D capabilities, the company has drawn ophthalmologists from China, the U.S. and the U.K. to join its scientific advisory board, which will be accelerating the company’s R&D activities and advising on the assessment of potential products.

Regarding the future direction of Arctic Vision, Fang stressed that the company is dedicated to addressing the entire pan-ocular space, rather than just a specific area of the eye.

Meanwhile, Wu said the primary focus is the China market, but the company has plans for expanding to the rest of Asia and eventually establishing a global footprint.

China has approximately one-third of the world’s blind people, and its ophthalmology market is expected to grow considerably in the near future due to factors such as a growing older population, increasing purchasing power, and growing eye disease prevalence due to increased electronic device usage. Market Scope forecasts that China’s $2.7 billion ophthalmic market will grow at a compound annual rate of 8.5% to $4 billion in 2022.

“We have chosen China as ground zero as it has a huge unmet clinical need in ophthalmology,” said Wu.

“Existing ophthalmology technologies and therapies in China are significantly lagging behind compared to other developed markets around the world. Physicians often lack effective tools to treat patients, hindering their recovery,” he added.

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