The German drugmaker has announced a partnership with Inflammasome Therapeutics, a company developing treatments for degenerative diseases, in order to work on the development of ‘up to three’ treatments for retinal diseases.
Under the agreement, Inflammasome will receive up to $160m (€145.56m) upfront, as well as R&D support, milestone payments and royalties based on sales, following the products’ commercialization.
The collaboration will see the partners combine Inflammasome’s intravitreal (IVT) drug delivery technology, with Boehringer Ingelheim’s compounds from its retinal disease pipeline portfolio.
IVT technology involves the administration of a long-acting biodegradable gel formulation by injection into the eye.
A spokesperson for Boehringer could not specify the development stage of the compounds, however, the treatments will target age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic macular edema.
The companies claim that the potential treatments will answer a high unmet need, with 82 million patients affected by one of the above three diseases in seven countries (US, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and France) in 2019.
Additionally, according to Boehringer, the prevalence rates of these and other retinal diseases are expected to increase over the next 10 years due to aging populations and increasing incidence of diabetes.
A safe path to the back of the eye
Asked about the benefits of IVT technology, a spokesperson for Inflammasome explained to us how medicines that are required to reach the back side of the eye are impeded from "a very efficient blood-eye barrier (similar to the blood-brain barrier)."
"Typically only 2-3% of an eye drop penetrates into the eye and that’s to the front (in front of the iris/lens). Very small quantities of drug penetrates to the back of the eye. Systemically administered drugs can penetrate, however patients generally need a high systemic dose to overcome the blood-eye barrier," the spokesperson said.
With IVT injection, the drug is placed directly at its site of action, which is behind the eye, preventing systemic side effects.
IVT technology requires 'only a tiny amount' of the compound to create a therapeutic dose, "vastly reducing or eliminating the risk of systemic side effects," according to the spokesperson.
This drug delivery technology is the only option for biologics such as Lucentis (ranibizumab) or Eylea (aflibercept), which target the vascular endothelial growth factor, the spokesperson noted.
"These large molecules have a half-life in the eye of approximately five days, so IVT injections need to be made frequently. In registration clinical trials, injections were made every 4-6 weeks. This is obviously a burden for patients and more advanced delivery techniques are being developed," the spokesperson added.
The founders of Inflammasome had previously developed four out of the five sustained release IVT devices that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. These were Vitrasert and Retisert (implant devices), Iluvien and Yutiq (injection devices providing sustained release for approximately three years).