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Keratoconus eye drop regenerates lost collagen in the eye

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New Zealand-based TheiaNova’s CEO Carissa Fonseca presented as a finalist at the Eyecelerator ophthalmic innovation conference during the 2024 American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) annual meeting.

To learn more about the company’s innovative keratoconus eye drop, Glance President Jaclyn, Garlich, OD, FAAO, spoke with Fonseca.

Let’s start with some background on this conference.

Eyecelerator was established as a partnership between the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and ASCRS in order to “accelerate” ophthalmic innovation via next-generation industry conferences.

What it does: The competition is designed to connect entrepreneurs seeking to advance eyecare with investors and business partners.

So what does it involve?

The conference is held on the Thursday prior to the start of a society’s annual meeting (such as ASCRS) and includes a day of programs featuring KOLs and highlights of industry advancements, investments trends, networking opportunities, and new products “disrupting” eye care.

A major draw: Company showcases of novel clinical treatments and emerging technology shaping the future of ophthalmology

Click here for a glance of the program agenda for ASCRS 2024.

So explain this pitch challenge.

As part of the Eyecelerator, the Winning Pitch Challenge is an independent organization that provides ophthalmology innovators free access to:

  • Key educational resources
  • Networking opportunities
  • Potential financial resource exposure
  • Mentors with relevant business knowledge to turn their ideas of how to solve a significant ophthalmic problem into a reality.

Give me more on the competition.

  1. Participants submit innovation concepts (in the early stages, generating no or little revenue) and are paired with industry experts in a “Shark Tank”-style competition.
  2. Three finalists are selected to present their ideas to a panel of venture capital and industry veterans.
  3. Prize money totaling $45,000 is awarded to the top three participants.

Learn more here.

Gotcha. Now tell me about TheiaNova.

A spin-out early-stage company of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, TheiaNova was launched as a result of PhD student (Carol Greene) and ophthalmology faculty members (Colin Green, PhD; Trevor Sherwin, PhD; and Ilva Rupenthal) researching keratocytes (corneal cells).

Their finding: Keratocytes may be reprogrammed to produce a form of collagen typically only expressed in the embryonic development stage. Even further: These reprogrammed cells could be used to strengthen the corneas of keratoconus patients in order to prevent additional damage.

And the result: a noninvasive treatment for keratoconus

How does this compare to current therapies?

This new treatment is a stark contrast to typical invasive, surgical procedures (cross-linking, conducted by increasing collagen link in the cornea and stiffening it) used to treat this disease.

The drawback: Among other potential complications, patients with significant collagen loss often do not benefit from these procedures.

And this new therapy solves that?

So TheaiNova says. Formulated as an eye drop, the company’s patented therapy is intended to be a “painless and non-invasive treatment.”The dosage: two eye drops (applied daily)The duration: 3 weeks

The expectation: to regenerate lost collagen in the eye (restoring the cornea’s rigidity)

Tell me more.

Per Green, an emeritus professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Auckland who spearheaded the therapy’s development, the company’s scientific approach rebuilds the cornea rather than “simply attempting to retain already reduced collagen levels.”

How it works: by combining human growth factor TGF-B3 with a low dose of dexamethasone (a steroid already approved for ocular use) in order to trigger developmental pathways.

  • These, in turn, induce cells in the cornea to temporarily change their behavior and secrete new collagen, according to Green.

And what’s significant about this?

Green reported that the eye drop is “a world-first approach to rebuild the cornea’s structural integrity and to halt disease progression, whilst providing an innovative opportunity to correct lost vision in a predictable manner.”

Any clinical data to back this up?

Animal trials have reportedly found the therapy to regenerate collagen and restore corneal rigidity; TheiaNova is also anticipating data from its first human proof-of-concept study in New Zealand later this year.

So what’s next?

Fonseca stated that the company is looking to explore how the eye drop could also be used to treat other ocular conditions, including post-refractive surgery ectasia and similar corneal disorders. 

Plus, announced at Eyecelerator, TheiaNova is seeking an estimated $10 million in funding—which will join the company’s seed funding from three current investors—to further advance the eye drop’s development, among other priorities.

The goals:

  • Design and conduct phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials over the next 2 years
  • Protect new intellectual property (IP)
  • Determine company’s reimbursement and market access strategies

The Winning Pitch Challenge was held at the Eyecelerator onThursday, April 4, 2024, in Boston, Massachusetts, ahead of the ASCRS annual meeting (April 5-8, 2024).

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