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Pharma Alliance Extends Cancer Antibodies to Eye Disorders

Eyes closeup

(Paleontour/Flickr)

4 March 2014. Santen Pharmaceutical Co. in Osaka, Japan is licensing antibodies developed as a cancer therapy by Tracon Pharmaceuticals in San Diego as treatments for eye diseases. Tracon is expected to earn $10 million in an upfront payment from Santen, as well as undisclosed milestone payments and royalties.

Tracon develops biologic therapies for cancer, but also with potential for treating wet age-related macular degeneration. The agreement calls for Santen to develop and commercialize Tracon’s antibodies that target endoglin, a protein on the surface of cells that promotes development of blood vessels and a key contributor to angiogenesis, the process of growing blood vessels that can stimulate growth of cancerous tumors.

Tracon’s lead product, an endoglin antibody code-named TRC105, is in clinical trials in combination with other cancer drugs and inhibitors of vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF, a chemical signal stimulating growth of new blood vessels. The overexpression of VEGF can also cause disorders in veins in the retina of the eye.

Wet macular degeneration is generally the result of abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood into the region of the macula, found in the center of the retina, the layer of tissue on the back wall of the eyeball, causing loss in the center of your field of vision. The Macular Degeneration Association says the disorder in all forms is the leading cause of legal blindness in Americans age 65 and older, with wet macular degeneration accounting for about 10 percent of the cases, but 90 percent of all blindness from the disease.

Tracon says preclinical and some clinical findings show inhibiting both endoglin and VEGF has more potential to treat wet macular degeneration than VEGF alone. Santen develops treatments for a variety of eye disorders including glaucoma, diabetic macular edema, allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis (pink eye), and corneal abrasion. But up to now, the company has not addressed either wet or dry macular degeneration.

Under the agreement, Tracon grants Santen exclusive rights to develop and commercialize TRC105 and other endoglin antibodies as treatments for eye diseases. Santen will finance all development and commercialization activities, including studies leading to investigational new drug applications with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tracon will continue to develop TRC105 as a cancer treatment.

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