Two big Orange County companies have set their sights on combating tiny Demodex mites that often nest among eyelids.
San Clemente ophthalmic device maker Glaukos Corp. (NYSE: GKOS) recently entered a $5 million licensing agreement with Attillaps Holdings Inc. of Denver to research, develop, manufacture and commercialize investigational therapies for Demodex blepharitis, which occurs when mites infest the follicles of the face and eyelids, causing irritation and dry eyes.
The disease can lead to corneal damage, blurred vision and blindness.
While the disease is estimated to account for over half of the 45 million patients who visit eye care clinics each year, there is currently no FDA-approved treatment for it.
“This licensing agreement adds a promising therapeutic class that expands the focus of our emerging Corneal Health franchise into new and globally underserved disease indications,” Glaukos Chief Executive Thomas Burns said in a recent statement.
‘Globally Underserved Disease’
Glaukos’ new licensing agreement means a possible competition with Irvine-based Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: TARS), which has a clinical-stage investigational candidate called TP-03 for the treatment of Demodex blepharitis.
The TP-03 is an eyedrop currently being evaluated in a Phase III trial, according to Tarsus co-founder and CEO Bobak Azamian.
Tarsus is planning to get FDA approval next year.
“The TP-03 will likely be the first FDA-approved product,” Azamian told the Business Journal.
“We see other companies entering the market as validation,” he said of the Glaukos deal. “It’s not surprising to see other companies entering this underserved yet potential-rich market.”
Both OC companies count a common tie on their board of directors: Bill Link, the area’s most prominent venture capital exec in the eye care industry. He’s the founder and managing partner of Flying L Partners and is also a founder and managing director of Versant Ventures.
Glaukos, incorporated in 1998, is best known for making stents to treat glaucoma.
The size of an eyelash, the stents are among the smallest medical devices ever made.
In the past two years, it has diversified its offerings to include eye-focused drugs alongside its base of medical devices.
On Nov. 7, Glaukos reported third-quarter net sales rose 15% to $74.7 million; it expects 2021 net sales to be in the range of $285 million to $290 million, which implies a midpoint growth rate around 28%.
It sports a $2.3 billion market cap, and is OC’s second-most valuable eye device company that’s publicly traded, trailing only Lake Forest’s Staar Surgical Co. (Nasdaq: STAA), which is valued at about $5 billion (see story, page 16).
Tarsus, founded in 2016, is valued around $525 million.
Tarsus went public a year ago and raised some $101 million in proceeds. Its shares reached a 52-week high of $63.69 last December. Since then, its shares have fallen to around $25.
The early-stage drug company currently has 45 employees with the aim of doubling its headcount in the coming year, Azamian said.
In addition to Demodex blepharitis, Tarsus has a pipeline of investigational therapies targeting eye care, dermatology and infectious diseases such as malaria.
One is the TP-04, a skin cream to treat rosacea; another is the TP-05, a pill to prevent Lyme disease.
All of its products contain lotilaner, a veterinary medication used to control fleas and ticks in dogs, Azamian said.
“We looked at over 100 drugs as we looked for the very best, from human medicine to animal medicine,” Azamian said. “What we found is that the very best drugs have been developed for pets.
“There is a lot to come as we launch our first product,” Amamian said.
On Nov. 9, Tarsus reported $56.7 million in license fees and collaboration revenue for the first nine months this year, up from nil a year ago.