Bayer HealthCare said today it has launched a five-year collaboration with The Johns Hopkins University to jointly develop new therapies targeting retinal diseases. The value of the collaboration was not disclosed.

Bayer will partner with Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute to discover and develop drugs for back-of-the-eye diseases that include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular edema (DME), geographic atrophy, Stargardt's disease, and retinal vein occlusion (RVO).

Under their collaboration, Bayer and the Wilmer Eye Institute will jointly conduct research activities evaluating new targets and disease mechanisms, drug delivery technologies, and biomarkers for back-of-the-eye diseases with high unmet medical need.

Both partners will contribute personnel and resources, with Bayer having an option for the exclusive use of collaboration results. The strategic research alliance aims to accelerate development of new treatment options for several retinal diseases, Bayer said. 

“The Wilmer Eye Institute's deep understanding of eye disease biology and patient care and Bayer's expertise in drug discovery and development in ophthalmology complement each other perfectly,” Professor Andreas Busch, head of global drug discovery and member of the Executive Committee of Bayer HealthCare, said in a statement.

AMD, DME, and RVO are among 28 therapeutic areas listed by Bayer on its website, which also includes ophthalmology as one of the company’s five areas of interest for partnering opportunities.

“In ophthalmology, we are focused on identifying innovative partnering opportunities for retinal disorders to help improve or prevent loss of vision,” Bayer stated. “We look to complement our research and development to benefit patients with exudative retinal diseases such as wet age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema, retinal vein occlusion, and myopic choroidal neovascularization.

“We are also looking for partnering options to expand our research portfolio to treat non-exudative retinal diseases such as dry age-related macular degeneration, geographic atrophy and Stargardt’s disease,” the company added. “While committed to complementing this growing back of the eye pipeline, Bayer also targets advanced clinical stage assets with significant innovation in selective front of the eye conditions that includes glaucoma and dry eye disease.”

Bayer hopes the new treatments to be developed with Wilmer Eye Institute will expand a presence in eye drugs now anchored by Eylea® (aflibercept), which the company co-markets outside the U.S. with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Last year, Bayer and Regeneron recorded a combined $1.039 billion in net sales outside the U.S. for Eylea, which generated another $1.736 billion in U.S. net product sales for Regeneron. Ex-U.S. sales should grow this year since in February, the European Commission approved a new indication for the drug of macular edema secondary to retinal vein occlusion.

Eylea is one of Bayer’s top five selling drugs—for which the company has projected combined 2015 sales of €4 billion (nearly $4.5 billion), up from €2.9 billion (nearly $3.3 billion) last year. The other four drugs in that category are anticoagulant Xarelto™ (marketed in the U.S. by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals), cancer drugs Stivarga™ and Xofigo™, and pulmonary hypertension drug Adempas™.

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