Inotek, Chasing Aerie in Glaucoma, Sets Sights on IPO

Xconomy Boston — 

Aerie Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AERI) has parlayed the potential of a new type of glaucoma drug into a publicly-traded company currently worth more than half a billion dollars. Inotek Pharmaceuticals is eyeing the same market, and now wants Wall Street’s help to go head to head with its Bedminster, NJ-based rival.

Inotek filed for an IPO this morning, aiming to bankroll an upcoming late-stage clinical trial for its potential glaucoma treatment, trabodenoson. The Lexington, MA-based company plans to trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol “ITEK” should it complete the offering.

Inotek wants to find a niche in the market for glaucoma, a condition characterized by damage to the optic nerve. That damage typically occurs due to pressure from fluid that builds up inside the eye, and it can cause patients to gradually lose their vision if the condition isn’t treated.

Patients with glaucoma are usually prescribed eye drops known as prostaglandin analogues (PGAs), many of which are generic. They can also typically end up on one of several other classes of eye drops, such as beta blockers or adrenergic agonists, that are either used to boost the effects of PGAs or serve as an alternative therapy. All of these drugs work by either slowing down the eye’s rate of fluid production or helping fluid leave the eye.

The problem is, while PGAs such as latanoprost (Xalatan)—the most commonly prescribed of the group—help the eye drain itself, they don’t directly target the trabecular meshwork, the eye’s main drainage system, which experts say is responsible for the fluid buildup.

Inotek and Aerie are two companies creating drugs that do target this diseased tissue directly. Both are trying to show that, at minimum, this approach can serve as an add-on therapy to PGAs like latanoprost and at best, that they can compete directly with them. The two firms are targeting the trabecular meshwork with different approaches. Inotek’s trabodenoson is supposed to spur enzymes within the tissue to clear out the proteins that are clogging the drain, so to speak. Aerie’s drug candidate, Rhopressa, is supposed to block two targets—one of which, the rho kinase, is implicated in fluid drainage. Both companies are also developing formulations of their drugs combined with latanoprost.

Aerie is currently ahead. It began enrolling a 1,300-patient Phase 3 trial of Rhopressa in July, and is expecting to produce data in mid-2015. Inotek says in its IPO prospectus that it aims to start a late-stage program in the first half of 2015 that’ll consist of two trials and a long-term safety study, with the first data coming in late 2016 or early 2017. For its part, Inotek believes its drug will have an edge over a rho kinase inhibitor like Aerie’s, because drugs in that class have been reported to cause eye redness. Inotek says it hasn’t seen that in treated patients in its own studies, though those assertions will be tested in the pivotal studies for both companies.

Devon Park BioVentures, with a 25.7 percent stake, is Inotek’s most significant shareholder. Next are Rho Ventures (20.4 percent), Care Capital (17.8 percent), MedImmune Ventures (16 percent), and Pitango Venture Capital fund (11.6 percent). The company has burned through around $126 million since its inception in 1999.

Cowen and Co., Piper Jaffray, Nomura Securities, and Canaccord Genuity are underwriting the offering.

Photo courtesy of flickr user naturalhomecures34 via Creative Commons.