The Foundation Fighting Blindness Clinical Research Institute (FFB-CRI) has announced an investment of up to $7.5 million to advance a promising, emerging drug treatment for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) into and through a Phase II clinical trial. Known as N-acetylcysteine-amide (NACA), the molecule is designed to slow vision loss by protecting retinal cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a process that accelerates and exacerbates degeneration in many inherited retinal conditions. In several in vitro and in vivo models, including previous FFB-funded lab studies of rodent models at Johns Hopkins University, NACA slowed retinal degeneration.
Nacuity Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a start-up company in Fort Worth, Texas, owns the rights to NACA for ophthalmology and will be developing the drug with support from FFB-CRI. As part of its agreement with Nacuity, upon commercialization of NACA, FFB-CRI will be entitled to royalty payments from future NACA sales.
“Based on the knowledge we’ve gained in lab studies, we are excited about NACA’s potential for saving vision,” said Patricia Zilliox, Ph.D., chief drug development officer at FFB-CRI. “Oxidative stress causes cell degeneration and vision loss in virtually all forms of RP, so we are hopeful that NACA, with its anti-oxidative properties, can benefit most people with RP, regardless of the gene mutation causing their disease.”
NACA is derived from N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a drug approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of acetaminophen overdose by lessening hepatotoxicity. The benefits of NACA over NAC are believed to include greater lipophilicity and tissue penetration therefore increasing anti-oxidative properties in the retina.
“We are excited to make a significant investment in NACA, because the drug has an opportunity to help a substantial number of people with RP, a blinding retinal disease affecting 100,000 people in the U.S., and more than 2 million worldwide,” said William T. Schmidt, chief executive officer of FFB. “The fact that NACA is derived from an FDA-approved drug also boosts our confidence that it can make it through the clinical development process and out to the people who need it.”
“We are pleased and excited to have the support of FFB in our quest for an effective treatment for patients with RP.” said Halden Conner, President of Nacuity. “The review of, and input to, our plans by their independent, renowned ophthalmological experts will markedly increase our odds of success in bringing this treatment to the RP community.”
“Drug substance process manufacturing, drug product development and toxicology studies are planned for 2017 to facilitate an investigational new drug application (IND) and initiation of a Phase I Clinical Safety Program for this new chemical entity,” Nacuity’s Vice-President of Research and Development, G. Michael Wall, Ph.D., stated. Nacuity hopes to launch a Phase II clinical trial for NACA in early 2018.
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The Foundation Fighting Blindness was established in 1971. It has since raised more than $700 million for research aimed at preventing, treating and curing blindness caused by retinal degenerative diseases. In excess of 10 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, have vision loss due to retinal degeneration. Through its support of focused and innovative science, the Foundation drives the research that has and will continue to provide treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and other inherited retinal diseases.
Nacuity Pharmaceuticals, Inc. was formed in May 2016 to focus on bringing a potential treatment with NACA to patients with RP guided by the groundbreaking work by Peter Campochiaro, MD, at the Wilmer Institute of Johns Hopkins University.