Novartis exercised an option to license Boston-based Lubris’s recombinant human lubricin (proteoglycan 4) candidate, ECF843, for ophthalmic indications worldwide, excluding Europe.

ECF843 is in development for treating dry eye, and in a small Phase II study the drug provided patients with relief from symptoms and also improved the signs of dry eye. Novartis said the protein therapeutic will bolster its ophthalmology pipeline, and build on its dry eye franchise, which includes the artificial tear products Systane®, Tears Naturale® and Genteal®Financial details of the Lubris deal have not been disclosed.

This is the second ophthalmology-related agreement for Novartis in the last few months. During late December, the firm signed a definitive agreement to buy Encore Vision, which is developing a clinical-stage topical therapeutic for presbyopia. The Encore deal was announced just days after Novartis reported the failure of two Phase III studies (OPH1002 and OPH1003) combining its late-stage in-licensed ophthalmology candidate, pegpleranib, with Lucentis® (ranibizumab) for treating neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD).

Commenting on the new deal with Lubris, Vasant Narasimhan, global head of drug development and CMO at Novartis, said, “ECF843 has the potential to be the first therapeutic to provide rapid relief of dry eye symptoms and significantly improve signs. Exercising our option to in-license ECF843, along with our recent acquisition of Encore Medical for the treatment of presbyopia, underscores our commitment to treating diseases of the front of the eye which impact millions of people worldwide.”

Novartis licensed ex-U.S. rights to pegpleranib from Ophthotech, in 2014. Within a month of the reported trial failure Ophthotech confirmed it would have to cut 80% of its workforce.

Lubris is developing recombinant human lubricin (proteoglycan 4) for the potential treatment of a range of inflammatory-related conditions, including osteoarthritis, dry mouth, and women’s health indications.

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