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Eye drops for retinal vascular diseases to be developed by Exonate and Jannssen

Duxford company Exonate is to collaborate with Jannssen Pharmaceuticals to develop an eye drop treatment to help change the lives of those with vision loss.

Exonate CEO Catherine Beech. (26980944)
Exonate CEO Catherine Beech. (26980944)

The early-stage biotechnology company will work with scientists at Jannssen Research and Development on a new therapy, using mRNA targeted therapies, that could treat retinal vascular diseases, such as wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular oedema (DMO).

The deal with Jannssen - part of Johnson and Johnson - represents a major step forward for Exonate, which spun out of the University of Nottingham.

CEO Dr Catherine Beech said: “I am absolutely delighted to enter this strategic collaboration with Janssen. We are looking forward to successfully developing a novel treatment for retinal neovascular diseases.”

Both AMD and DMO represent areas of high unmet-need.

Wet AMD affects 30 million people worldwide, including more than 200,000 in the UK alone. A leading cause of vision loss in people aged 60 years or over, if left untreated patients are likely to lose sight in the affected eye within 24 months of the onset of the disease.

It is caused when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula, a region of the retina that is important for the sharp, straight-ahead vision used for reading, recognising faces and driving.

DMO is the build-up of fluid - oedema - in the macula. The disease is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetic retinopathy, which is a complication of diabetes.

About half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DMO. It can happen at any stage of the disease but is more likely to occur as diabetic retinopathy worsens

Current treatments for the diseases include anti-vascular endothelial growth factor antibody drugs – to prevent the growth of new blood vessels in the eye - but resistance can build up to these. Laser surgery is possible in some cases, while with DMO corticosteroids can be injected or implanted into the eye

Exonate is focused on alternative splicing of VEGF. It has developed small molecules that inhibit the production of pro-angiogenic VEGF, which have proved promising in preclinical models of wet AMD.

Early this year, it is due to go into the clinic following a Wellcome Trust-funded project to nominate a candidate drug.

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