By Brady Huggett

Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc., continuing its trend of large rounds of financing, closed its Series C for an eye-widening $108.5 million.

The proceeds will be used mainly, but not exclusively, for its Phase II/III pivotal trials in age-related macular degeneration, said Thomas Burns, Eyetech¿s chief operating officer.

¿The funds will be used for multiple-center clinical studies for our anti-VEGF aptamer in age-related macular degeneration, as well as clinical trials for the same aptamer in diabetic macular edema,¿ he said. ¿In addition, we have funds earmarked for an additional compound in the area of antiangiogenesis therapy and antiedema.¿

Privately held Eyetech, of New York, pulled in another nice sum ¿ $34 million ¿ in its start-up financing round, completed in June 2000. Two months prior, the company had licensed in NX 1838, an inhibitor of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), from Foster City, Calif.-based Gilead Sciences Inc. in a deal potentially valued at $32 million, including milestones. Eyetech took the aptamer and ran with it. (See BioWorld Today, April 7, 2000, and June 13, 2000.)

In the past three years, Eyetech¿s $108.5 million ranks as the highest private financing by a private company, excluding ZymoGenetics Inc., of Seattle, and Biovitrum AB, of Stockholm, Sweden, both spun out by pharmaceutical company, according to BioWorld Snapshots.

Studies have shown vascular endothelial growth factor causes abnormal blood vessel growth. When these vessels grow behind the retina and leak blood, it causes age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness. The hope is that by inhibiting VEGF, AMD can be prevented.

VEGF is a popular target. That, and the fact that AMD affects an estimated 12 million to 15 million patients in the United States, made for a kinder fund-raising trail than perhaps others have seen, said David Guyer, Eyetech¿s CEO.

¿We were very confident throughout the fund raising, based on our market and our science,¿ he said. ¿Anti-VEGF is also being looked at in cancer and it is a very new and exciting scientific way of treating some of these diseases. I think with the concept of abnormal growth, we are seeing it is the cause of many diseases in the body.¿

Eyetech has that aptamer in Phase II/III trials in 120 centers around the world. Due to competitive reasons, Guyer would not discuss the progress of that trial, or Eyetech¿s plans to evaluate the aptamer against diabetic macular edema, the other leading cause of blindness among adults.

The product is administered through an injection in the eye, given by an ophthalmologist. The injection is finished in a matter of minutes, Guyer said.

The financing helps bring Eyetech closer to its goal.

¿The [fund raising] gives us an opportunity to develop novel proprietary ophthalmic drugs to treat diseases in the back of the eye,¿ Burns said. ¿It is a singular mission ¿ this is why the company was formed.¿

The financing round was led by J.P. Morgan Partners LLC, of New York. Other investors were partners and affiliates of BB Biotech AG, of Switzerland, MPM Capital, Alta Partners, Schroder Ventures and Merrill Lynch.

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