Sparking an insight on eyesight

By Jan Jarvis

Bill Burns

A decade ago, a Fort Worth startup began developing an eye drop that may literally change the way 100 million Americans who suffer from the blurry near vision of presbyopia see the world.

The huge insight on eyesight that Encore Vision President and CEO Bill Burns had 10 years ago is moving closer to becoming a reality with the recent announcement that Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis is acquiring the startup for an undisclosed amount.

Burns, whose company was helped by the TECH Fort Worth-UNT Health Science Center Acceleration Lab, said the Novartis acquisition “represents an important step in continuing the development of EV06 Ophthalmic Solution, a first-in-class treatment for the millions with quality-of-life limiting presbyopia.”

The drops are expected to provide relief from presbyopia, a common condition that typically occurs in middle to old age.

“There are no approved medical treatments for presbyopia,” Burns said. “There hasn’t been a great advancement since Ben Franklin invented bifocals. So it’s time.”

The drops work by reducing stiffness in the eye lens that occurs with aging. By restoring flexibility, the drops allow the lens to thicken in the center, making it easier to focus on nearby objects. Those who use the drops daily should be able to eliminate or reduce their use of glasses.
Virtually everyone over 45 experiences the condition, which makes it difficult to focus on objects, read and see small print. Until now the only treatment for the condition has been glasses and sometimes surgery.

Burns said the assistance he received from the TECH Fort Worth-UNTHSC Acceleration Lab in the early stages of development was a major asset.

“UNT Health Science Center played an instrumental role in Encore Vision research and development activities over the years,” Burns said. “Through the relationship between TECH Fort Worth and UNTHSC, Encore Vision was given access to laboratory space, faculty, the health science library and the opportunity to interact with experienced industry executives through the Executives in Residence program.”

Novartis said in a statement that the acquisition will add a first-in-class disease modifying topical treatment for presbyopia to its ophthalmology pipeline. Terms were not disclosed.
Encore Vision, which has been a UNTHSC Acceleration Lab client company for many years, is another success story for UNTHSC and its partnership with TECH Fort Worth, said Lawrence E. (Joe) Allred, PhD, Associate Vice President for Research & Innovation

Last year ZS Pharma was purchased by AstraZeneca for $2.7 million. ZS Pharma received help through the Accelerator Lab in the development of a deadly blood condition known as hyperkalemia.

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