A growth in the incidence of eye diseases correlated with aging is prompting a rise in investment for technologies to diagnose and treat such disorders.
So far this year, venture capitalists have invested more than $80 million in several companies developing advanced ocular imaging, retinal therapies and specialized contact lenses.
Most recently, EyeIC, a Narbeth, Pa.-based developer of software used in detecting and monitoring glaucoma, secured the third tranche of a $1.9 million Series A investment after receiving certification by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration allowing it to market its product.
EyeIC was founded in 2004 based on intellectual property developed at the University of Pennsylvania. The company raised a $1.9 million Series A round from
CEO Ira Wallace says that the company plans to seek additional funding, including about $1 million “to get through 2010,” as well as another $2.5 million to $4 million to market and distribute its software in the United States and Europe.
EyeIC says that its software, called MatchedFlicker, aids in diagnosis by allowing doctors to monitor retinal photographs over time to mark changes and detect progressions of disease. The program, which the company plans to make commercially available in July, will be sold either as a subscription or licensed to ophthalmologists and optometrists following a free trial. The company has not yet set prices on the software.
“Preventing eye disease is becoming an important part of keeping people healthy, particularly given the fact that people are living much longer,” Wallace says.
Diagnosing glaucoma, which primarily affects those over the age 40, and largely those over age 65, is critical because early detection enables use of treatments that are more effective and less invasive than those used for later stages of the disease, Wallace says. Glaucoma, a group of diseases that affect the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss and blindness, affects about 4 million Americans, though only half of those know they have the disease, according to a 2002 report from the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America.
Currently, vision remains a bright spot in a comparatively subdued period for life sciences investment. During the first quarter, investments in life sciences, including biotechnology and medical devices, totaled $989 million, a 40% decline from the same period a year ago, according to the MoneyTree Report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters (publisher of PE Week).
However, several vision-related companies have closed sizeable investments recently:
• Irvine, Calif.-based Visiogen, which develops a lens device use in cataract patients and those suffering from age-related vision loss, raised $40 million in April. The round was led by Novartis Venture Fund and included Technology Partners, Three Arch Partners, New Leaf Venture Partners, Prospect Venture Partners, CMEA Ventures and Foundation Medical Partners.
• Visioneering Technologies, based in Roswell, Ga., raised $5 million in late April to develop its technology for correcting age-related vision loss that can used with contact lenses or other treatments. Backers include MB Venture Partners, Charter Life Sciences and Advanced Technology Development Center.
• Fremont, Calif.-based NeoVista, raised $17.3 million in later stage funding in March, bringing total funding to $77 million. The company develops radiation therapy to advance treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration, a condition it says affects more than 5 million people worldwide and is considered a major cause of blindness in people over the age of 50. Investors include The Carlyle Group, SV Life Sciences, Essex Woodlands Health Ventures, MPM Capital, Versant Ventures and Accuitive Medical Ventures.
• Optherion, a New Haven, Conn.-based developer of diagnostic tools and therapies for macular degeneration, raised $5 million in January, bringing total funding to $57 million. Backers include Johnson & Johnson, Domain Associates, Pappas Ventures, Scheer & Co., Quaker Bioventures and Biogen Idec New Ventures.
• Synergeyes, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based maker of specialty soft contact lenses, raised $13 million in late stage funding in February, bringing total funding to $36 million. Investors include Delphi Ventures, InnoCal Venture Capital, Windward Ventures, Alloy Ventures, De Novo Ventures and BioStar Ventures.
Early stage investors are also active in scouting, and in some cases incubating, new vision-related startups.
ForSight Labs, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based incubator backed by Versant, Morgenthaler Ventures and Split Rock Partners, launched in 2005 to help launch medical-device startups focused on vision disorders. Since then, ForSight has started three companies. They are Transcend Medical, a developer of devices for treating glaucoma; ForSight Newco II, a developer of an ocular drug delivery system which was subsequently was acquired by biopharmaceutical developer QLT Inc.; and ForSight VISION3, which is still in stealth mode. —Joanna Glasner