Irvine-based Tarsus Pharmaceuticals, which is backed by Orange County’s best-known ophthalmology venture capital executive, Bill Link, and several other notable area investors, has raised $60 million to continue testing a drug that aims to be the first of its type to treat a common disease affecting the eye.
The upstart company’s lead product, called TP-03, is designed to treat Demodex blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids. It is caused by certain types of mites that can live on eyelashes and inflame glands in the eyelids.
An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from blepharitis, and about 9 million of them have clinical signs of Demodex that could be treated by the company’s eyedrops, according to Tarsus.
Demodex blepharitis is “one of the largest diseases in anterior segment medicine,” said Chairman Michael Ackermann, referring to the front structures of the eye, including the iris and lens.
Ackermann counts positions with several early-stage life science and medical firms across the country, and previously served as a vice president of neurostimulation for Allergan.
2023 Launch Goal
TP-03 is derived from a repurposed veterinary drug; it paralyzes and eradicates the eyelash mites, according to a company presentation in October. The eyedrops have the potential to be the first-ever drug treatment for this condition for humans, and could hit the market by 2023, according to the investor presentation.
This month’s Series B financing will be used to initiate a Phase 2B/3 trial in the U.S. for TP-03 this year, add some 20 people to the company’s staff, and allow the company—formed in 2017—to move to larger offices, it said.
The funds “will allow Tarsus to grow, conduct a first registration study in Demodex blepharitis, and broaden our mission to deliver innovative therapies in eye care and beyond by advancing our clinical pipeline in 2020,” said Chief Executive Bobby Azamian, whose résumé includes positions at San Francisco’s Versant Ventures, one of the country’s top healthcare venture capital firms and where Link is a managing director, and device maker Metavention.
Two other drugs the company is working on are expected to tackle dry eye syndrome and a skin condition called Rosacea, according to the company.
Links to Link
Tarsus’ work has caught the eyes of several notable investors.
This month’s $60 million financing round was led by Vivo Capital, a Palo Alto-based healthcare investment firm that’s raised more than $4 billion in capital during the past 20 years.
Vivo’s been a big investor in OC of late. In October, it led a $45 million Series C for Irvine’s Swift Health Systems Inc., a maker of “invisible braces” for teeth.
Link, who is on the Tarsus board of directors, is managing partner at Newport Beach’s Flying L Partners, one of the investors in this round.
Besides being chairman of San Clemente-based Glaukos Corp. (NYSE: GKOS), a maker of eye stents with a $2.6 billion market cap, and his work with Versant, Link has also founded companies that were sold for billions of dollars such as American Medical Optics and Chiron Vision, which catalyzed the market for cataract and LASIK surgeries.
Flying L Partners’ most recent reported investment was in 2016 to SightLife Surgical Inc. which has since evolved into Seattle-based CorneaGen, which has an office at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UCI’s School of Medicine.
Another investor is Visionary Ventures, an Aliso Viejo-based venture capital fund offshoot of Orange County accelerator Octane.
Also part of the Series B: Newport Beach’s Horowitz Group, a firm whose investment portfolio includes commercial real estate, as well as a variety of business lines.
It was one of the first backers of Sprouts Farmers Market, and helped the now Phoenix-based healthy grocery chain grow to more than 200 locations. More recently, it invested in Los Angeles-based Lemonade Restaurant Group, a healthy food chain with locations at Fashion Island and Irvine’s Park Place.
Horowitz Group has investments partnerships with several VCs, including Versant Ventures; its healthcare-related investments include Metavention, which makes drugs to treat diabetes. It is based in Minneapolis but has ties to OC.
Other investors in this round include New York-based Aperture Venture Partners and Seattle-based Frazier Healthcare Partners, which has $2 billion in assets.