Eyevensys has raised $12 million to fund development of gene therapies based on its ocular delivery platform. The biotech is using an electrical pulse generator and an ocular device to get plasmids to targets in the eye without using the viral vectors typically needed to administer gene therapies.
Viral vectors have proven to be an effective way of delivering gene therapies that improve outcomes after one dose. However, recombinant viruses are complex and expensive to manufacture and can induce immune responses. The limitations of viral delivery have driven ongoing interest in alternative ways of getting genetic material into cells.
Korea Investment Partners sees promise in Eyevensys’ answer to the challenge, prompting it to lead a $12 million series B plus financing round in the transatlantic gene therapy biotech. The funding adds to the $30 million series B round that Eyevensys closed early in 2020.
Eyevensys will use the fresh funding to support development of EYS809 in wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The gene therapy encodes for an anti-angiogenic protein that targets vascular leakage and fibrosis.
EYS809 is yet to reach the clinic but has become the focus of development at Eyevensys. Another gene therapy, EYS606, made it to phase 2 in non-infectious uveitis, but Eyevensys has made the asset available for licensing. Eyevensys said EYS606 validated its electrotransfection delivery technology in the clinic.
The technology consists of a device that is placed on the surface of the eye and injects plasmids into the ciliary muscle. As the cell membrane is impermeable to plasmids, Eyevensys delivers electrical pulses that allow the DNA to pass across the barrier and enter the nucleus. Once at the nucleus, the plasmids trigger the production of the target protein.
Eyevensys is pitching the technology as a way to get genetic material to cells in the eye without using subretinal injections and while reducing the risk of immunogenicity and carcinogenicity. Tolerability is particularly important in the AMD indication targeted by Eyevensys, as analysts at SVB Leerink noted in response to a setback to another gene therapy targeting the disease.
“The eye is obviously a very sensitive tissue site, and a host of other medicines that were apparently developed with good intentions … have failed or had limitations due to intra-vitreal inflammatory reactions in small numbers of treated subjects. Even a few patients with severe vitreal inflammatory reactions becomes a major concern for these physicians,” the analysts wrote.