The eyes have it

RXi Pharmaceuticals and EyeGate Pharma see a future together focused on retinal therapies

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WORCESTER, Mass.—RXi Pharmaceuticals Corp., a developer of RNA interference-based therapeutics, and EyeGate Pharmaceuticals Inc., a developer of non-invasive ocular drug delivery, recently saw their way clear to establishing a collaboration to develop the ocular delivery of RNAi therapeutics.

Each party will contribute technology, expertise and resources to the collaboration, which will explore the use of EyeGate's iontophoresis technology to deliver RXi's "self-delivering" sd-rxRNA compounds to the eye in preclinical models.

Iontophoresis is a method of drug delivery that uses a low-level electrical current to deliver a drug across the ocular surface into the eye. Stephen From, president and CEO of EyeGate Pharma, says his company has been developing the device for more than three years, as well as developing its own product for entry into the drug discovery pipeline.

From says that the collaboration with RXi came at an optimal time, as his company has met with success and now is ready to partner to use its novel technology, which needs a drug to deliver as proof of its usefulness. RXi, From believes, has that novel therapy in its pipeline with its sd-rxRNA compounds.

Once inside the eye, it is believed that RXi's sd-rxRNA compounds will access retinal cells, and by virtue of their self-delivering properties, enter these cells and silence disease-causing genes. EyeGate's technology is currently being studied in a Phase III trial with an anti-inflammatory product EGP-437 for dry eye and uveitis.

"We can design RNA molecules for specific genes and leverage the evolutionary machinery in those cells," explains Noah D. Beerman, president and CEO of RXi. "This can serve to silence a gene over time, by downregulating the protein."

The current method of delivery to the back of the eye involves injections, which have significant risks to the patient. In addition, points out From, there are approximately 2,000 retinal specialists in the United States who can give injection into the eye.

"Injections delivered only by retinal specialists involve a significant time factor," From explains. "Our treatment can be given by a general ophthalmologist. There are about 25,000 of those in the country. The burden on a retinal specialist's practice is lessened, especially in places where there might a a distance a patient might need to travel to see their specialist."

"The therapy can be delivered in a much more patient-friendly manner," adds Beerman. "While the injections are not terrible, they could be improved upon.

The development of RNAi therapeutics to treat retinal disorders is a key focus for RXi, says Beerman.

"In preclinical studies, our compounds have shown effective gene silencing in the retina following intraocular injection," he says. "Combining our RNAi technology with EyeGate's unique, non-invasive ocular delivery system provides us with the potential opportunity to develop novel treatments for many ocular diseases and to improve treatment options."

The therapy could be used in therapies related to diabetes and macular degeneration,
From says.

"We are very selective about the compounds iontophoresis can be used for," he explains. "The way it works is that the drug has to have an opposite charge on it to be delivered through our device. Like charges repel. A steroid, for example, has a negative charge. When the charges repel each other, the active ingredient can be delivered into the eye at a high velocity."

From adds that not only do injections into the eye present dangers and tie up scarce specialists, the compound delivered by the injection itself contains other ingredients, whereas iontophoresis delivers the drug itself.

Beerman says that the collaboration is in the process of gearing up.

"We have no specific guidance on when we'll report data," he says. "We're working with EyeGate on getting this off the ground."

RXi's comprehensive therapeutic platform includes both RNAi compounds and delivery methods. The company's pipeline of RNAi therapeutics for the treatment of a number of disease areas includes its core focus of developing treatments for anti-scarring and retinal disorders as well as a continued interest in oncology and indications accessible by spinal cord delivery.

EyeGate develops treatments for unmet ocular medical needs by employing the EyeGate II Ocular Drug Delivery System, a non-invasive drug delivery technology. The EyeGate II delivery system is compatible with a wide range of therapeutics and has the potential to address many anterior and posterior segment diseases. EyeGate was the first company to demonstrate clinical significance using iontophoretic drug delivery in the eye, and has studied the system in more than 300 subjects, with a total of 900 treatments administered. 

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