Opko says deal will help it concentrate on drug and diagnostic development for eye diseases.

Opko Health is getting $17.5 million in cash for selling its ophthalmic instrumentation business to Optos. Opko will also earn future royalties. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

Optos will take over Opko’s worldwide activities for the development and commercialization of ophthalmic diagnostic imaging systems. It will couple Opko’s OCT SLO technology with its own widefield technology to diagnose and manage diseases of the eye. Optos specializes in the design, development, manufacture, and marketing of devices to image the retina of the eye.

“Following the sale of the instrumentation business, Opko expects to benefit from greater focus on our molecular diagnostics and pharmaceutical businesses,” says Phillip Frost, M.D., Opko’s CEO.

Opko has a Phase III-ready siRNA-based drug called bevasiranib that is being tested for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It targets vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). On March 6, 2009, Opko terminated the late-stage bevasiranib study because the Independent Data Monitoring Committee found that the clinical trial, as designed, was unlikely to achieve its primary endpoint of reducing vision loss.

Opko says that it is looking for alternative ways to develop bevasiranib. These include new dosing schedules, combining it with marketed products, and enhancing delivery with novel siRNA delivery vehicles.

Opko also has siRNAs against other molecular targets involved in the pathogenesis of AMD and other diseases. These include VEGF-specific isoforms (e.g., VEGF165b-sparing), hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1alpha), intracellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), angiopoietin-2 (Ang-2), and complement factor, C3.

In terms of molecular diagnostics, Opko is developing tools based on peptoid chemistry to detect disease-specific antibodies. It expects to develop blood tests that can be used to diagnosis disease, follow disease progression, assess response to drug treatment, and select patients who are most likely to respond to a given therapy.

In addition to diagnostic applications, peptoids can serve as ligands for virtually any protein targets including antibodies, cellular receptors, protein signaling molecules, etc., according to Opko. They can also potentially illicit cell-mediated and humoral immune responses.

The peptoid technology was developed at The University of Texas South Western Medical Center by Thomas Kodadek, Ph.D. In June 2009, Opko picked up exclusive, worldwide rights to the platform. Besides diagnostic development, the firm also expects to leverage peptoids in therapeutics and vaccines.

Opko furthered its interest in vaccines a month later. In July 2009, Opko inked a worldwide, exclusive license agreement with Academia Sinica for a technology to develop protein vaccines against influenza and other viral infections. The technology was discovered by Dr. Chi-Huey Wong and his team at Academia Sinica, which is based in Taipei.

Opko is forming a subsidiary in Taiwan to collaborate closely with Academia Sinica to develop the first product, a universal flu vaccine to surmount the problem of the emergence of new strains against which vaccines produced with presently available technology do not provide satisfactory protection. The preclinical development has reportedly started.

This development will provide a protein-based flu vaccine which is expected to cross react with the H1, H3, or H5 flu variances. Instead of the typical method of making a cocktail of inactivated viruses for annual flu shots, this new approach to antiviral vaccines is designed to recognize and destroy new strains of flu virus before the virus has a chance to mutate.

Previous articleBMS Nabs Global Rights to Ambrx’ Fibroblast Growth Factor and Relaxin Candidates for $24M
Next articleACT Gets U.K. Go-Ahead to Start First Ever Non-U.S. Trial with hESC-Derived Cell Therapy