Firm plans to generate a global business through acquisitions and licensing deals.

NicOx inked an option agreement to purchase ophthalmology firm Altacor for £11 million, and has made an initial £2 million investment to purchase an initial 11.8% stake. France-based NicOx says the move represents the first step in its strategy to generate a late-stage development and commercial ophthalmology business, and provide an established infrastructure in the U.K. and Ireland as a base for future product launches. The firm is separately evaluating other ophthalmic acquisition and in-licensing prospects in the U.S. and Europe, including therapeutics, diagnostics, and devices.

Altacor currently markets prescription and OTC products for the treatment of dry eye in the U.K. and Ireland, and has a diverse late-stage pipeline including a Phase III-stage surgical antiseptic candidate ALT-005, and a device for inserting intraocular lenses. If NicOx does exercise its option to buy Altacor outright, the latter could receive up to another £8.5 million in pre-agreed milestones.

NicOx is leveraging its nitric oxide-donating R&D platform to develop drugs for the inflammatory and cardiometabolic indications and ophthalmic disorders. The firm’s lead ophthalmology candidate BOL-303259-X (previously known as NCX 116) is a nitric oxide-donating prostaglandin F2-alpha analog, which is in development for the potential treatment of glaucoma and ocular hypertension. In March 2010 the candidate was licensed to Bausch + Lomb, which has completed a successful Phase IIb study, and confirmed plans to progress the candidate into Phase III trials. “The positive topline results from the Phase IIb study conducted with BO@L-303259-X by Bausch + Lomb in patients with open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension have significantly strengthened our potential position in the field of ophthalmology,” comments Michele Garufi, CEO. “Altacor is the first step toward an expansion in the ophthalmic market through future acquisitions and in-licensing of additional assets as a basis for our growth in Europe and in the U.S.”

NicOx is in addition looking to develop NO-donating compounds for the treatment of diabetic macular edema, and is looking for partners for the diabetic retinopathy R&D program, including lead candidate NCX 434. The firm says estimates suggest the global ophthalmic market was worth some $16.2 billion in 2010, and is expected to reach $21.1 billion by 2016, with an average annual growth rate of 4.5% per year. 

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