Blind World

Macular Degeneration.
Eyetech Founders Nearing Realization of Vision.

April 7, 2004.

By Bill Berkrot,
Mecscape Ophthalmology.

NEW YORK (Reuters).

Eyetech Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company started by eye doctors frustrated by the lack of drug treatments for patients facing blindness, is about to see the vision of its founders realized.

The company, which later this year will submit Macugen to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for review as a treatment of the leading cause of age-related macular degeneration, anticipates approval and launch of the drug in the first half of 2005.

"Seeing it go from the laboratory to seeing a drug that can now be useful in patients is really exciting," Eyetech Chief Executive David Guyer, a retinal specialist and company co-founder, told Reuters in an interview.

After many years during which the theory behind the drug failed to translate into marketable medicine, it was recently validated with U.S. approval of Genentech's cancer drug Avastin. Avastin and Macugen both work by anti-angiogenesis.

Macugen blocks vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), thought to be largely responsible for the growth of defective blood vessels in the eye that eventually block vision.

Eyetech Chief Scientific Officer Tony Adamis, who trained at Harvard under Dr. Judah Folkman, known as the father of angiogenesis, said it was gratifying to see his mentor's theories validated.

"It's wonderful to watch him seeing it all come to fruition," Dr. Adamis said of Dr. Folkman. "He was seen as an iconoclast back then."

Dr. Adamis, another of Eyetech's co-founders, said there was much frustration when VEGF science was in its infancy.

"We didn't get a lot of interest from pharmaceutical companies," he said. "That was the main catalyst for starting Eyetech. Since big pharma wouldn't help us we just figured we'll do it ourselves."

The irony is not lost on Eyetech officials that they now have an enthusiastic partner for Macugen in Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drug company with its unrivaled marketing clout and canny ability to pick winners. "They have the means to get this out to everybody and that's the most important thing," Guyer said.

Guyer said Eyetech will augment Pfizer's sales team with its own force that will concentrate on the 1400 retinal specialists who will likely use Macugen, which is administered by an injection in the eye every 6 weeks.

The rate of wet age-related macular degeneration is likely to explode as the baby-boom generation ages, and Macugen is expected to be a blockbuster drug.

End of article.

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