Eyetech aims to be retina specialists' biotech resource

For senior executives at Eyetech Pharmaceuticals, New York, the 24 mm that encompass the eye—and in particular the back of the eye—is a vast frontier waiting to be explored. The small biotech company sees it as an opportunity to deliver medical solutions for the betterment of patients who suffer from blinding eye diseases. This is the direction that Eyetech is taking its future.

When the FDA approved the company's pegaptanib sodium injection (Macugen) for the treatment of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD) last December, the drug's approval opened the gateway to that ocular frontier for Eyetech Pharmaceuticals. The approval also marked the beginning of "the era of pharmacotherapy" for ophthalmology.

"This is sort of the new wave in ophthalmology," said Paul G. Chaney, chief operating officer at Eyetech Pharmaceuticals. "When you think about the next generation of agents and technologies coming into ophthalmology, one of the things that's really clear is that the cutting-edge tools of modern pharmacology and modern biotechnology have not really penetrated this marketplace."

Through clinical research conducted over the last 10 years, Eyetech saw the potential of aptamers in ophthalmology. In April 2004, the company entered into a collaborative agreement with Archemix Corp., Cambridge, MA, a biopharmaceutical company that develops aptamers for the treatment of chronic and acute disease. The two companies will collaborate on the research and development of aptamers for ophthalmic indications. The agreement also gives Eyetech access to optimized aptamers directed to ophthalmology in the Archemix pipeline.

"(This agreement) will allow us to come up with a pipeline of very specific drugs that should be well tolerated in the eye, like Macugen, that have high affinity for their targets, and have a great deal of specificity," said Anthony P. Adamis, MD, chief scientific officer and senior vice president of research. "We think (aptamers are) going to be very important in ophthalmology in the future."

"We not only have acquired the assets of a manufacturing facility, but we have acquired the know-how and brain power of people who have worked with aptamer therapeutics," Chaney said. "It gives us a substantial competitive advantage. For the first time, we can go all the way from the lab bench to the marketplace with people who know these aptamer therapeutics."

With the pieces in place to develop a strong pipeline, David R. Guyer, MD, chief executive officer of Eyetech, feels that one of the company's long-term goals of developing other ophthalmic drugs is on course.