Drug company founded by Duke professors plans IPO

dranii@newsobserver.comSeptember 18, 2013 

A small drug-development company co-founded by two Duke University professors is seeking to raise up to $57.5 million in an initial public offering of stock.

Aerie Pharmaceuticals, which is based in New Jersey and has a research-and-development facility in the Triangle, filed plans to go public Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The 22-employee company is developing glaucoma treatments but doesn’t yet have any drugs on the market. It has earmarked much of the money it expects to raise from going public to funding new clinical trials.

Aerie was co-founded in 2005 by Duke medical professor David Epstein and Duke chemistry professor Eric Toone.

In May Aerie completed a Phase 2b clinical trial of its most advanced glaucoma drug candidate, AR-13324, a new class of drug that produced encouraging results. It is planning two Phase 3 trials – the final phase required before seeking regulatory approval to market a drug – that will include at least 1,200 patients for mid-2014.

Aerie recently installed a new CEO. The company’s founding CEO, Thomas J. van Haarlem, resigned July 25 and was replaced by Vicente Anido, the company’s chairman. Anido previously was CEO of ISTA Pharmaceuticals, an eye drug company that last year was acquired for $500 million by Bausch + Lomb.

Glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease with no known cure, afflicts more than 2.2 million Americans, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, and is a leading cause of blindness.

Some small drug-development companies decide that the best way to market their drugs is to license them to a larger pharmaceutical company, but Aerie doesn’t plan to go that route.

The company reported in its filing that it envisions creating a team of about 100 sales representatives “if our product candidates are approved.” It added that “we expect to expand our employment base to approximately 300 when we are in the full commercial stages of our current potential products’ life cycle.”

Successfully getting an experimental drug through the regulatory gauntlet is, however, fraught with risk. Many drug candidates that once held great promise ultimately get derailed.

Richard Rubino, Aerie’s chief financial officer, said in an email message that company officials aren’t granting interviews because its IPO filing puts it in a “quiet period” under SEC regulations.

As of June 30, Aerie had raised $71 million in venture capital from outside investors, according to the SEC filing. The company lost $10.4 million over the first six months of this year and lost $15.6 million in all of 2012.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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