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Shire Licensing Dry Eye Disease Treatment in $535M Deal

Woman's eyes

Public Domain Pictures, Pixabay)

1 May 2017. An experimental drug for treating dry eye disease, a common disorder affecting older individuals, is being licensed by international pharmaceutical company Shire plc. The deal could bring the new treatment’s developer, Parion Sciences Inc., in Durham, North Carolina, as much as $535 million if all aspects of agreement are exercised.

Parion Sciences designs drugs that treat disorders of the mucus layers providing beneficial moisture to those surfaces in the lungs and eyes. In the eyes, these functions produce tears, but for nearly 4.9 million people in the U.S. the glands producing tears do not function properly, which can lead to inflammation, pain, and scars on the cornea, and eventual vision loss. This dry eye syndrome affects mainly people over the age of 50, and nearly twice as many women as men.

The technology offered by Parion Sciences focuses on the epithelial sodium channel, a key pathway in the functioning of mucus surfaces. The epithelial sodium channel regulates salt and water absorption in tissues lining the airways and lungs, and when that channel malfunctions, it can lead to respiratory diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. Richard Boucher, a professor of medicine at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, studies ways of blocking these epithelial sodium channel malfunctions in lungs and airways, which is the basis of Parion Sciences’ technology. Boucher is a founder of the company and co-chairs its board of directors.

On the surface of the eye, a misfiring epithelial sodium channel reduces the volume of tears produced, leading to dry eye syndrome. One of Parion Sciences’ lead products, code-named P-321, blocks the epithelial sodium channel from absorbing tears too quickly. P-321 is given as eye drops, and in early-stage clinical trials, the treatments appear to be safe and well-tolerated by individuals with mild to moderate dry eye disease.

The deal with Shire gives the Lexington, Massachusetts drug maker an exclusive worldwide license to further develop and commercialize P-321. Shire is providing Parion Sciences an initial payment of $20 million, and the company is eligible for subsequent payments as further undisclosed milestones are met, with the total agreement valued at $535 million. Parion also could, if it chooses, help fund further development and commercialization of P-321, and share in the drug’s financial returns.

Shire already markets a drug marketed as Xiidra for symptoms of dry eye disease, and has a treatment for conjunctivitis, or pink-eye, in clinical trials. P-321 is currently recruiting participants for intermediate-stage clinical trials, testing the treatments for generation and maintenance of tear volume, and their efficacy and safety for as long as 28 days.

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