Exonate Wellcome investment for eye treatment

Posted 7 February 2017

Small molecule drugs to treat macular degeneration, developed at UNSW Chemistry, has received backing from the Wellcome Trust.

Biopharmaceutical start-up, Exonate, has been awarded nearly AUD$8 million from the Wellcome Trust to further develop therapeutic eye drops to prevent blindness in wet age-related macular degeneration.

The topical treatment is based on selective small molecule inhibitors of vascular endothelial growth factor (or VEGF) synthesised by Medicinal Chemist Associate Professor Jonathan Morris and his team at UNSW. The Wellcome funding would allow them to refine their lead candidates – which inhibit growth of blood vessels in the back of the eye – for preclinical trials in wet age-related macular degeneration, including testing for safety, toxicity and delivery. Exonate aims to have the sight saving drug in the clinic by 2020.

[Image (right): Small molecule inhibitor (SPHINX31) reduces scar tissue on the back of the eye.]

Until now, drug developers have failed to create VEGF inhibitors that could be delivered to back of the eye in high enough concentrations, without injecting them in.

“Everyone told us we couldn’t do it, and we put our best compound in, and it went straight in,” said Morris.

Earlier studies – developing and characterising the small molecule drugs, and testing their effect on blood vessel growth after damage – were published in the journal ACS Chemical Biology, on 30 January 2017. This work was a collaboration between Morris and Professor David Bates of Nottingham University, who led the biological research and is founder of Exonate.

Last December, Exonate announced that they had raised over AUD2.5 million in funding to extend the application of their VEGF inhibitor for other diseases.

The same mechanism actually works for cancer, neuropathy and pain relief, explains Morris.

Read more about VEGF and Exonate’s small molecule inhibitors here.