Uniseed Investee company Exonate Announces Collaboration with Janssen to develop a new eye drop for the treatment of retinal vascular diseases including wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic macular oedema (DMO)

The program, facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, will improve the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases including age related macular degeneration and diabetic macula oedema.

Brisbane, Australia. 14 January 2020 – Uniseed investee company Exonate Limited has announced that it has entered into a strategic collaboration agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. Through the collaboration, Exonate will work with Janssen Research & Development, LLC scientists to develop an eye drop treatment for retinal vascular diseases such as wet AMD and DMO by using mRNA targeted therapies. Exonate has developed small molecules that inhibit the production of pro-angiogenic vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) through the selective inhibition of serine/threonine-protein kinase (SRPK1)-mediated VEGF splicing. The agreement was facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Uniseed first invested in Exonate in November 2016 – one of the first investments from its most recent commercialization fund (Fund-3) – a partnership between The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney, The University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), The University of Melbourne and the CSIRO. Uniseed then participated in a follow-on investment round in 2018, with just over $836, 000 invested by Uniseed over both rounds.

Exonate has developed small molecules that inhibit the production of pro-angiogenic VEGF through the selective inhibition of serine/threonine-protein kinase (SRPK1)-mediated VEGF splicing. The Company was founded on research conducted by Professor Jonathan Morris at UNSW Sydney working on the chemistry of small molecule SRPK1 inhibitors and Professor David Bates and his lab at the University of Nottingham specializing in the biology and biochemical pathways of VEGF splice variants.

Exonate is domiciled in Cambridge UK, though with the investment rounds supported by Uniseed, Exonate has funded a significant amount of contract R&D in the laboratory of Dr Morris at Uniseed’s partner research organisation UNSW. 

Commenting on the announcement, Dr. Peter Devine CEO of Uniseed, said: “I am absolutely delighted to see Exonate enter this strategic collaboration with Janssen.  The Exonate technology will allow the introduction of an eye drop that has the potential to become the patient’s treatment of choice for retinal neovascular disease”.  He added “Uniseed was the only Australian-based investor in Exonate which with a number of other Cambridge UK based investors brought together world class research from UNSW Sydney with that at the University of Nottingham.  The program has also received additional support with £4.9 million funding from the Wellcome Trust through their Seeding Drug Discovery Initiative”.

The Exonate deal highlights the continued success of the Uniseed model with another collaborative deal with a major pharmaceutical player; the first from an investment out of the most recent Uniseed Fund-3 which started in 2016. This follows on from the previous success of Uniseed’s second fund which delivered three blockbuster biotechnology exits in 2014 and 2015; Fibrotech (sale to Shire for US$545M), Spinifex (sale to Novartis for US$700M) and Hatchtech (Sale to Dr Reddy’s for US$200M).



Peter Devine, CEO
E: p.devine@uniseed.com
P: +61 (0) 409 631 581

Exonate Limited
Sarah Buchallet, Marketing
Catherine Beech, CEO    Tel:  +44 (0) 1223 734710
Email: sarah.buchallet@exonate.com

About Uniseed:
Uniseed is Australia’s longest running early stage commercialisation fund that makes investments in research emanating from five of Australia’s leading research organisations – The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, The University of Melbourne and the CSIRO. Uniseed is a mutual fund, owned by research organisations, for research organisations. The fund facilitates the commercialisation of its research partners’ most promising intellectual property and secures targeted investment in resulting products and technologies. For more information, visit: https://uniseed.com

About Exonate:
Exonate is a privately held, early stage, biotech company built on IP from the University of New South Wales, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Bristol. It is focused on alternative splicing of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) in ophthalmology. Exonate’s lead programme is focused on Diabetic Macular Edema (DME). A consequence of diabetic retinopathy, DME, is swelling in an area of the retina called the macula and wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration (wAMD), which is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 60 and older. 

Exonate has developed small molecules that inhibit production of pro-angiogenic VEGF through selective inhibition of serine/threonine-protein kinase 1 (SRPK1)-mediated VEGF splicing.  These inhibitors have already demonstrated superior efficacy as topical agents in preclinical models of wet AMD.  Through a Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Award, Exonate is completing an optimization programme to nominate a pre-clinical candidate drug with optimal characteristics ahead of regulatory toxicology and safety pharmacology studies which will support an application to the regulatory authorities for clinical evaluation.  Exonate expects to reach this milestone and enter the clinic in early 2020.  For more information, visit: https://exonate.com

About Diabetic Macular Edema (DME):
DME is the build-up of fluid (Edema) in a region of the retina called the macula. The macula is important for the sharp, straight-ahead vision that is used for reading, recognizing faces, and driving. DME is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetic retinopathy. About half of all people with diabetic retinopathy will develop DME and although it is more likely to occur as diabetic retinopathy worsens, DME can happen at any stage of the disease.

About wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration (wet AMD):
Today, wet AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people aged 60 years or older and affects more than 30 million patients worldwide. If untreated patients are likely to lose sight in the affected eye within 24 months of disease onset.

The main currently available treatment options for DME and wet AMD are:

  • anti-VEGF antibody drugs – to prevent the growth of new blood vessels in the eye. Unlike small molecule drugs or eye drops these treatments must be injected into the eye once every 1 or 2 months. Resistance can develop to these drugs causing the disease to progress anew.

  • Laser surgery – to destroy abnormal blood vessels in the eye. This type of surgery is only suitable if blood vessel damage is not too extensive and if the abnormal blood vessels aren’t close to the fovea, as performing surgery close to this part of the eye can cause permanent vision loss.

  • With DME, Corticosteroids either injected or implanted into the eye, may be used alone or in combination with other drugs or laser surgery to treat DME.

*source: https://nei.nih.gov/health/diabetic/retinopathy