Eyes on the prize: Aurion Biotech raises $120M for ‘global transformation in the cornea’

Eyes on the prize: Aurion Biotech raises $120M for ‘global transformation in the cornea’

Aurion Biotech is setting its sights high with a mission to restore vision for millions of patients via regenerative therapies and a $120 million financing round to back the tech.

The clinical-stage biotech’s first candidate is a cell therapy treatment for corneal edema secondary to endothelial dysfunction, a disease that can currently only be treated with invasive specialty surgery.

“What we’re doing could be one of the most transformational things in ophthalmology,” CEO Greg Kunst told Fierce Biotech. “Think global transformation in the cornea,” he said, suggesting that the technology could impact the industry to the same extent as past ophthalmology revolutions in cataracts and retinal disease did.

The financing round, led by Deerfield Management, is technically a series C. However, it is Aurion’s first financing since launching from parent company CorneaGen, a tissue transplant supplier that already completed series A and B fundings with Aurion under its wing. The new biotech split from CorneaGen so it could focus solely on cell therapy treatment.

The $120 million will propel Aurion’s program through its first two clinical trial phases, at which point the CEO is hoping strong trial data will fuel future funding.

Aurion is currently preparing to submit for market approval in Japan and plans to file for clinical trial approval in the U.S. by the end of 2022, according to Kunst. These events have been in the works since CorneaGen acquired the technology in 2020 from ophthalmic surgeon and research scientist Shigeru Kinoshita, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at Kyoto Prefecture University of Medicine in Japan.

Significantly undiagnosed and untreated, corneal edema secondary to endothelial dysfunction affects millions and can cause blindness if unchecked. The only available treatment is invasive surgery that requires a donor and is reserved for the most severe patients—which is where Aurion comes in. Kunst hopes the cell therapy treatment can address patients with mild to moderate disease.

The biotech’s therapy replicates cells from one healthy cornea to treat up to 100 eyes, dramatically increasing supply when compared to the typical one donor per recipient ratio. The therapy doesn’t require surgery, instead delivered through a straightforward injection that can be performed by any ophthalmologist or cataract specialist. The tech generates a much larger base of treatment delivery options, not to mention a more patient-friendly procedure experience.

The therapy is supported by clinical trial data out of Japan, where patients experienced significant improvements in key measures of corneal health. In preparation for both market and trial approvals in Japan and the U.S., respectively, Aurion is strengthening its clinical supply readiness, though Kunst says the company was fortunate to not be heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Kunst, who previously served in senior leadership positions at Glaukos Corporation and Novartis’ Alcon, joined Aurion a year ago. After tracking the tech since 2018—when the first cohort of data was published—Kunst said he simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the company.

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