Envisia Therapeutics launches with $25 million in financing

dbracken@newsobserver.comNovember 12, 2013 

The management team behind Liquidia Technologies, a Research Triangle Park drug-development company, has created a new company to focus exclusively on using Liquidia’s technology to develop ophthalmology products.

The new company, Envisia Therapeutics, announced Tuesday that it has raised $25 million from a group of venture capital firms that also have invested more than $50 million in Liquidia.

Liquidia and Envisia will share the same senior management team, and about one-third of Liquidia’s roughly 60 employees will become employees of Envisia.

Neal Fowler, who will be CEO of both companies, said that Liquidia’s efforts to develop ophthalmology products have shown such promise that it made sense to spin out that work into a separate company.

Envisia’s lead product is an extended-release implant that replaces the need for glaucoma patients to use daily eye drops. Fowler said the compliance rate for patients using daily eye drops is just 30 to 50 percent among the elderly. Envisia’s implant product, ENV515, lasts for several months.

“The patient goes and sees the ophthalmologist and then doesn’t have to worry on a daily basis about any kind of utilization of drops or anything like that,” Fowler said. “These implants will basically replace the drops.”

The Food and Drug Administration has given Envisia the go-ahead to begin human clinical trials, Fowler said. The first ENV515 trial is expected to begin by the middle of next year.

Envisia is targeting a sizable market. About 2 million people in the United States are treated annually for glaucoma. About $13 billion was spent on ophthalmology products in 2011, a figure that is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2018 as the country’s population ages, according to EvaluatePharma.

Envisia is also licensing Liquidia’s proprietary Particle Replication In Non-Wetting Templates, or PRINT, technology to develop other ocular therapies. PRINT enables precise engineering of the size and shape of microscopic particles, which can then be combined with drugs for delivery to targeted tissues within the body.

The technology has the potential to make the drugs safer – because they only go where they’re supposed to go – and more effective, because more concentrated doses can be used.

Liquidia was founded in 2004 based on the nanotechnology research of renowned scientist Joseph DeSimone, who’s on the faculty of both N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill. DeSimone founded the company with colleagues from UNC.

Envisia and Liquidia’s investors include Canaan Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Durham-based Pappas Ventures, Morningside Technology Ventures and Wakefield Group.

Liquidia has already licensed the rights to its proprietary nanotechnology to GlaxoSmithKline. The pharmaceutical giant is using the platform in conjunction with its own compounds to develop vaccines and inhaled drugs for respiratory diseases. The multiyear deal with GSK could ultimately be worth up to several hundred million dollars.

Liquidia also continues to explore other possible applications, including in the areas of consumer products, oncology and dermatology.

“It’s a tremendous platform, and we think it has broad utilization across many areas and we’ll continue to explore that,” Fowler said.

Bracken: 919-829-4548; Twitter: @brackendavid

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