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UI licensee Optherion secures $37 million in financing

Optherion, Inc., a University of Iowa Research Foundation licensee and a company developing products to diagnose and treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other chronic diseases, today announced that it has completed $37 million startup financing.

The company, which has offices and laboratories in New Haven, Conn., will expand into new facilities at the UI's Oakdale Research Park in Coralville this fall.

Optherion ( will pursue advanced treatments and diagnostics for AMD and other diseases using core technology licensed from the UI Research Foundation. The company was founded based on scientific discoveries by Gregory Hageman, Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and Josephine Hoh, Ph.D., at Yale University.

In 2005, Hageman and researchers at Columbia University, the National Institutes of Health, and other institutions reported that two genes involved in controlling inflammation -- complement factor H and complement factor B -- account for nearly three out of four cases of AMD. Variations in these two genes alter the function of a key pathway in the immune system (called the alternative complement system) which researchers believe leads to AMD.

"Without question, the research discoveries by Dr. Hageman and his collaborators have been major steps in advancing our understanding of this debilitating disease," said Jean Robillard, UI vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine. "Now, with this collaboration between the University of Iowa and Optherion becoming a reality, we are uniquely positioned to pursue treatments that address the needs of AMD patients everywhere."

Meredith Hay, UI vice president for research, emphasized the statewide effort that made Optherion's expansion in Iowa a reality. "We are delighted that Professor Hageman's research has contributed to Optherion's growth and the establishment of research facilities on the University of Iowa Oakdale Research Park," she said. "The State of Iowa provided essential funding for the laboratories where Optherion and Professor Hageman will optimize their research and development activities, and we are very grateful to the Iowa Legislature, the Governor's Office and the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, for their support of this very promising project. We eagerly look forward to the day when we welcome Optherion to Iowa and our research park."

"The establishment of Optherion's new facility at the University of Iowa Research Park is a major accomplishment," said Keith Carter, M.D., professor and head of the UI Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "This was possible because of the innovative work of Dr. Hageman and his collaborators. The scientific discoveries which led to this venture with Optherion will help the department advance our goal of finding causes and developing treatments for this and other devastating blinding diseases."

AMD is the most frequent cause of blindness in developed countries, affecting more than 50 million people worldwide and 15 to 20 million people in the United States. People with AMD lose the central part of their vision when the macula, a part of the retina, degenerates. No treatment currently exists for early-stage AMD, and treatment for advanced-stage AMD is limited.

Optherion's initial focus is to develop disease-modifying therapies to prevent loss of vision in patients with "dry" AMD -- the leading cause of blindness in people over age 60 in the developed world -- as well as a portfolio of tests that predict, diagnose and monitor progression of the disease. A parallel area of company research is the development of diagnostics and therapeutics for membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis type II (MPGN II), also known as dense deposit disease. This is an end-stage renal disease with an orphan-sized market prevalence, which typically manifests in individuals between 5 and 25 years of age. It is often caused by the same genetic variations underlying AMD.

Among the sources of capital for Optherion's financing are: Quaker BioVentures, Philadelphia; Domain Associates, Princeton, N.J. and San Diego, Calif.; Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., New Brunswick, N.J.; Purdue Pharmaceutical Products L.P., Stamford, Conn.; Pappas Ventures, Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Biogen Idec New Ventures, Cambridge, Mass.; and GE Healthcare Financial Services, Chicago, Ill.

Colin J. Foster, Optherion's President and CEO, said "We are gratified by the high quality of investors participating in the Series A financing. We are embarking on a program that exploits a new and exciting area of research with breakthrough potential in areas of high unmet medical need, with a primary focus on preventing blindness among those with dry AMD." Foster is the former CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals in the United States and Region Head for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in North America.

Hageman, the Iowa Entrepreneurial Endowed Professor at the UI, is Optherion's chief scientific officer and a co-discoverer of the relationship between complement factor H, complement factor B and AMD. In August 2006, he received a five-year, $14.6 million NIH grant to lead an international, multidisciplinary effort to continue research on the genes' roles in the immune system, with the goal of finding ways to delay or prevent AMD and other related diseases.

"From my perspective, the UI-Optherion partnership is the result of progressive thinking and a 'can-do' attitude exhibited by the Iowa Legislature, the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and the university," Hageman said. "It's a great story in terms of economic development, but it's also a great story in terms of responding to NIH's commitment to support translational research programs. There is much more work to be done. I sincerely believe that this team has the potential to make a difference in the lives of individuals with this devastating condition."


Contact: David Pedersen
University of Iowa

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