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Tarsus Pharm Sets Sights on China

Ophthalmic drugmaker Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. is focusing its sights on China and its lucrative eyecare market via a strategic partnership with LianBio of Shanghai.

The Irvine-based firm said on March 30 it provided LianBio with the rights to develop and commercialize its lead product, TP-03, for two inflammatory eye conditions in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

The transaction is worth up to $200 million in upfront and milestone payments; Tarsus said it expects to receive about $70 million in the next 12 months.

It’s the largest deal that the nearly $650 million-valued company (Nasdaq: TARS) has announced since going public last October.

“We are thrilled to partner with LianBio to expand access to TP-03 in China, enabling us to advance our mission of revolutionizing treatments for patients in need, starting with eyecare,” Chief Executive Bobby Azamian said.

The deal should ensure the clinical-stage firm, which expects to commercialize TP-03 in the U.S. and generate revenue in about two years, is funded through the first half of 2023.

Tarsus had about $168 million in cash and cash equivalents at the end of 2020, according to its annual report, which was filed last month. That figure includes $101.2 million raised in its initial public offering.

Shares of Tarsus rose nearly 20% to $32.23 in the two trading periods after the LianBio deal was announced, and was trading around $32 late last week.
 
100M Lives

Tarsus has the potential to impact millions of patient lives in Greater China.

The company’s TP-03 candidate uses the active ingredient lotilaner. To date it’s been used as a veterinary drug to control fleas and ticks, and has never been used in human therapeutics.

It’s licensed from Indiana’s pharmaceutical firm Elanco Animal Health Inc. (NYSE: ELAN).

TP-03 is targeting Demodex blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids caused by Demodex mites that live among eyelashes. Blepharitis can lead to corneal damage, blurred vision and, on occasion, blindness. It’s also being explored as a treatment for Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), a dry eye condition that can lead to blepharitis.

“China is a really effective market” because it has “a tremendous amount of patients,” Azamian said.

Tarsus estimates more than 100 million people in China, compared to about 50 million Americans, have blepharitis and MGD.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies have struggled to commercialize therapeutics for blepharitis and MGD, creating the “perfect overlap of opportunity” for Tarsus, Azamian added.

China’s large patient population is expected “to continue to grow over the coming years as a result of the rapid aging of the population, overuse of electronics, air pollution and other risk factors for ophthalmic diseases,” according to LianBio.
 
Shared Vision

Tarsus and LianBio have a “shared vision and focus” to bring products that treat “large diseases with no known treatment,” Azamian said.

LianBio was launched last August by New York-based life sciences investor Perceptive Advisors, with plans to commercialize cardiology and oncology products in China and other Asian markets in partnership with MyoKardia (now part of Bristol-Myers Squibb) and two BridgeBio Pharma companies.

LianBio Executive Chairman Konstantin Poukalov said TP-03 will “anchor LianBio’s ophthalmology portfolio,” noting the company was impressed by “compelling data” from Tarsus across four Phase 2 clinical trials.

Under the terms of the deal, Tarsus received equity in LianBio’s ophthalmology subsidiary, as well as future double-digit royalty payments on product sales.

LianBio partner Perceptive Advisors owns about 6% of Tarsus, according to regulatory filings. Other investors in Tarsus include Horowitz Group in Newport Beach, Visionary Ventures in Aliso Viejo, and Flying L Partners, whose Newport Beach outpost is helmed by Bill Link, one of OC’s more prominent medtech venture capital execs.
 
Rapid Growth

Tarsus continues to add office space and hire employees at a rapid clip.

The Spectrum-area company last year nearly doubled the size of its Irvine offices at 15440 Laguna Canyon Road to 20,000 square feet. Its team numbers about 30 and is expected to grow to 50 by year’s end. It includes people with expertise across clinical, commercial, finance, legal, human resources and operations functions, Azamian said.

New additions include Chief Human Resources Officer Dianne Whitfield, a former director at local aesthetics firms Evolus and Allergan; and General Counsel Bryan Wahl, a former partner at Knobbe Martens LLP in Irvine.

One executive position the company has yet to fill is the role of chief medical officer.

Azamian said more growth’s in store as Tarsus advances its entire product pipeline.  

“Expect to see more over the course of 2021,” he said.

“We’re just getting started.”

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