Lenz Therapeutics eyes better vision than AbbVie, Orasis with $80M+ for three PhIII trials
Lenz Therapeutics thinks it can deliver a better eye drop than AbbVie’s Vuity and Orasis Pharmaceuticals’ CSF-1, under FDA review. And the San Diego biotech has $83.5 million to test those ambitions in three Phase III trials.
The late-stage studies are underway and will read out data on about 800 patients toward the end of this year and early 2024, president and CEO Eef Schimmelpennink told Endpoints News on Tuesday morning. The financing will bankroll the company for at least two and a half years, he added.
The cash haul marks the fifth private funding round disclosed Tuesday in the biopharma world, a rarity in a chilly financing environment.
Lenz is “already producing at commercial scale” and still has a “decent amount” remaining from its $47 million Series A, disclosed in the summer of 2021 at the time of a rebrand from Presbyopia Therapies.
In the time since, the startup reformulated its lead candidates for presbyopia — farsightedness, or the loss of sharp nearby vision — to remove preservatives and make a ready-to-use formulation. The biotech then ran a new Phase II study, after the new money and rebrand came through, to show its drugs, LNZ100 (aceclidine) and LNZ101 (aceclidine and brimonidine), were better than vehicle.
Schimmelpennink touted grand ambitions for Lenz’s candidates, going so far as to say Phase II patients called it a “miracle drug.”
“It’s magic because truly, within 15 minutes, you’re back to how you used to see when you’re younger,” the executive said. He joined the company after selling Pfenex to Ligand Pharmaceuticals in 2020.
The 20-employee biotech is now running two efficacy studies and one safety-focused clinical trial of the drugs and will determine which to request approval of based on the findings, Schimmelpennink said.
Lenz is attempting to go against Vuity, out of the labs of Allergan, and the age-old technology of reading glasses. But by the time its studies read out, the biotech might have to contend with another drug on the market as Orasis said last month the FDA will decide on its investigational eye drop by Oct. 22.
Other presbyopia biotechs include Eyenovia, Phase III-stage Visus Therapeutics and Ocuphire Pharma. Novartis’ attempt flunked a mid-stage study and the Big Pharma dropped the candidate last year.
Like Vuity, approved in the fall of 2021, Lenz will test whether its drugs can improve vision by at least three lines — think of those optometrist visits that require you to read letters on a card — without losing one line of distance acuity. The first two trials will focus on efficacy, showing whether LNZ100 and LNZ101 are better than vehicle as individual drugs and whether LNZ101 is superior against the individual comparators since it’s a combination drug, the CEO explained.
The biotech plans to go the solo route when it comes to commercialization in the US. A “large part” of the Series B will beef up those efforts, Schimmelpennink said. Shawn Olsson, who previously worked with Schimmelpennink at Pfizer and Hospira in a Chicago-area suburb near AbbVie, already sits in the C-suite as chief commercial officer.
“It’s more a lifestyle drug than anything else. This does not require a salesforce doing seven visits to a neurologist or oncologist and trying to explain how this works,” the CEO said, explaining the desire to commercialize without a Big Pharma partner. “It’s a pretty straightforward mechanism. The data speaks for itself, and all these doctors see 10 to 20 presbyopia patients a day.”
Outside the US, the company has a Greater China partner in Ji Xing Pharmaceuticals, which gave $15 million upfront and promised up to $95 million in biobucks in exchange for a license. The deal was disclosed last April and also included a $10 million cash infusion from RTW Investments.
For now, Lenz is “slow-rolling” other potential ex-US collaborators as the biotech seeks to get further into its late-stage studies, the CEO said.
Sectoral Asset Management joined the cap table and led the Series B. Additional backers include Alpha Wave Ventures, Point 72, RA Capital, Versant Ventures, RTW and others. Sectoral partner Stefan Larson and Alpha Wave managing director Chris Dimitropoulos nabbed seats on the board in conjunction with the new financing.