San Diego ophthalmic biotech upstart raises $28M on alternative to corneal transplant

Texas VC Bios Partners has found a new early-stage play to love out of San Diego, leading a $28 million Series A to help Trefoil Therapeutics make the leap to the clinic.

Stella Robertson, who headed R&D at Novartis’ eye care unit Alcon before co-founding Bios Partners, is particularly excited about this one. With a tech platform that engineers fibroblast growth factor-1 protein (FGF-1), Trefoil is out to tackle serious corneal endothelial diseases and epithelial disorders by prompting the endothelial cells to flourish and migrate. Ultimately — if the preclinical data hold up — the goal is to enhance healing and reverse vision loss.

“Trefoil’s regenerative approach offers a promising opportunity to develop first-in-class pharmacologic treatments for corneal diseases,” Robertson said in a statement.

A new option in this space could allow for earlier treatment and cut down on the need for cornea surgery transplant, which often leaves patients reliant on immunosuppressants for life, added Professor Richard Abbott of UCSF.

FGF-1 experts Ralph Bradshaw, Ken Thomas and Michael Blaber provided the scientific foundation for the company, with the final technology licensed from Blaber’s lab at Florida State University. David Eveleth — who led the ophthalmology group at Pfizer for over 10 years — joined the co-founder group and took up the CEO role.

With the new fund, the small team plans to first test an intracameral injection of their lead drug, TTHX1114, early next year for cornea surface disease, also known as endothelial dystrophy. The cash infusion will also fund IND-enabling studies of a topical formulation in patients with ulcerative conditions of the cornea. That second IND is slated for 2021.

Access Biotechnology came on board for the round, alongside all existing investors. The full list: Hatteras Venture Partners, Aju IB Investment, Correlation Ventures, ExSight Ventures and InFocus Capital Partners.