Eleven’s Hybrid Approach Takes Shape With ThromboGenics Pact

Xconomy Boston — 

Eleven Biotherapeutics wants to churn out a promising pipeline of treatments for eye diseases such as dry eye and allergic conjunctivitis that it can see all the way through to the marketplace. But Tuesday it proved that it can use its method for designing and creating protein drugs to earn some cash through partnerships as well.

Cambridge, MA-based Eleven said Tuesday that it has struck a deal with ThromboGenics to help the Belgium-based company develop a protein drug that would combat an unspecified ophthalmic disease. The deal is both a research collaboration between the two companies and a licensing agreement. Eleven will use its drug discovery platform, known as Amp-Rx, to design a therapeutic based on a new target implicated in eye diseases, according to a statement. The effort will focus on ophthalmic disorders that affect the back of the eye, which are often more difficult to treat. One possible target, Eleven says, is diabetic macular edema, a complication of diabetes in which blood vessels leak fluid behind the retina, distorting the vision.

Eleven and ThromboGenics will work together on the initial research for the drug. ThromboGenics will then have the exclusive right to develop it, carry out clinical trials, and sell it if the company can win approval from regulators. Eleven will get an undisclosed payment up front and receive milestone payments tied to development, regulatory, and sales targets. Eleven will also get royalties on the sales of any drug that comes from the partnership. Eleven declined to specify the size of those payments. It only said that they are “commensurate with industry standards.”

The deal is Eleven’s first partnership, and validates at least one half of its two-pronged business model: Though Eleven’s main goal is to develop its own drugs for eye diseases, it also wants to pick and choose certain partnerships where other companies tap into its drug discovery platform as well.

Eleven, a creation of Third Rock Ventures and Flagship Ventures, was founded in 2010 around the idea of creating proteins that are custom designed specifically to carry out a specific action on their biological target. Eleven president and CEO Abbie Celniker says what makes Eleven unique among companies that try to design drugs in such fashion is its flexibility. Eleven doesn’t constrain itself to a single type of protein, and can use its technology to make a variety of potential molecules—as opposed to only being able to make antibodies, for example.

Eleven started out planning to use its technology to be a “product engine,” creating different types of molecules that it could either develop on its own or partner with pharmaceutical companies, according to Celniker, But Eleven has instead morphed into an ophthalmic drug company, turning away from the idea of doing a large number of pre-clinical partnerships and instead putting more and more of its attention towards developing its lead drug, EBI-005, a treatment for dry eye disease.

“We are really first and foremost a product company now,” says Celniker. “We’re really focused on developing [EBI-005] and other ocular proteins and then simultaneously doing very selective custom engineering partnerships where it’s a win-win for us and for the company.”

Those partnerships are both a form of funding that doesn’t dilute shareholders’ stakes and, Celniker says, a way to keep Eleven’s systems “up and running and productive” so it can use that technology to make its next round of drugs.

Eleven raised a total of $45 million through a Series A round that closed in May 2012 from Flagship, Third Rock, and JAFCO. The company is still drawing down on that round as it prepares in the second half of 2013 to unveil the top-line results of an early-stage clinical trial of EBI-005 in 16 patients with dry eye disease, according to Celniker. Eleven completed the study earlier this year, and plans to move the drug into mid-stage clinical trials for both dry eye disease and severe allergic conjunctivitis.