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Novartis buys Fort Worth eye care firm Encore Vision

Fort Worth-based eye care firm Encore Vision Inc. is being acquired by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, the company announced today.

Encore Vision has developed a topical treatment for presbyopia patients, or people with far-sightedness. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of adults over the age of 45 develop presbyopia.

According to a Novartis news release, the acquisition adds a first-in-class disease modifying topical treatment for presbyopia to the Novartis ophthalmology pipeline. Encore Vision’s product provides “a potentially disruptive innovation to patients in a new therapeutic area of high unmet need and high prevalence.”

Encore Vision’s lead product, EV06, is a topical treatment for presbyopia, a common age-related loss of near distance vision characterized by a progressive inability to focus on objects nearby, making everyday activities – such as reading – challenging.

Encore Vision’s EV06 has had some positive data in drug trials, showing in a phase 1/2 proof of concept trial a statistically significant difference to placebo in distant corrected near vision.

Details were presented at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons Symposium in New Orleans earlier in May.

“We are encouraged by the positive safety and efficacy outcomes observed throughout the study in patients treated with EV06,” said Bill Burns, Encore’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement at the time. “EV06 demonstrated a safety profile nearly identical to placebo and a significant ability to improve near vision function as early as two weeks. We believe these data warrant future clinical development.”

Prior to starting Encore Vision, Burns held a number of executive positions, including vice president for worldwide marketing for pharmaceutical and consumer products. Prior to Alcon, Burns worked at Bristol Myers Squibb and at Norwich-Eaton Laboratories, now a Proctor & Gamble company.

After having retired from a 20-year career at Alcon, Burns was referred to TECH Fort Worth by partner, the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Encore Vision joined TECH Fort Worth’s ThinkLab program in early 2008, a program that helps entrepreneurs in the very early stages of working on their business model for their proprietary technologies.

After completing the ThinkLab program, Encore Vision became a SmartStart client, which provides coaching and mentorship by the TECH Fort Worth staff. The company did its early laboratory work at UNTHSC and continues to have its business offices at TECH Fort Worth.

Encore has received funding from the Cowtown Angels investor network in Fort Worth and support from other groups including Bios Partners, a Fort Worth venture capital equity firm.

“This is a huge win for Fort Worth,” said Darlene Boudreaux, executive director of TECH Fort Worth and founder of Cowtown Angels. “This represents the very first ‘exit’ for our Cowtown Angels members; we hope it is the first of many, because when local investors and entrepreneurs make money, they tend to invest in more companies in their local community.”

Cowtown Angels (www.CowtownAngels.org) is a program of TECH Fort Worth that brings investors and entrepreneurs that began in September 2012.

“Bill was the presenter at our first meeting when we wanted the Fort Worth angel investor community to understand the quality of entrepreneur they were likely to meet by joining the group,” Boudreaux said. “About a year later, after he made a formal presentation at a Cowtown Angels meeting, several Cowtown Angels members invested $1,250,000 in Encore Vision and many continued to invest in later rounds of equity raises.”

Cowtown Angels members have invested more than $14 million in 18 companies. Members pay an annual fee of $1,500 to Cowtown Angels and meet monthly to hear pitches from companies seeking equity investments. TECH Fort Worth manages the process.

Financial details of the Encore Vision transaction were not disclosed.

“There is a large need for innovative, effective and safe treatment options for people with presbyopia, and there is currently no disease-modifying treatment available at all,” said Vasant Narasimhan, global head, drug development and chief medical officer, Novartis. “Novartis confirms its leadership in ophthalmology by entering another new therapy area. The addition of this topical disease modifying treatment to our portfolio, if successful, will provide affected people with a new option to improve and maintain their vision and quality of life.”

In 2016, Novartis combined its retina medicines business with the Alcon pharmaceuticals business, now operating as one Ophthalmology franchise under Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Novartis acquired a majority stake for $28.3 billion in August 2010 from Nestle SA. The company then paid another $12.9 billion in April 2011 for the outstanding stock in the company.

In November, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt said it might consider a sale of the Alcon eye care division because of a lack of innovation and other issues. Alcon’s U.S. division is based in Fort Worth. In January 2016, Novartis replaced Alcon’s CEO, naming Mike Ball to the post.

The Encore Vision announcement was not the only move Novartis made this week. On Dec. 19, Novartis announced an agreement with Conatus Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biotechnology company focused on the development of medicines to treat liver disease. Under the agreement, Novartis and Conatus will jointly develop emricasan, an investigational, first-in-class, oral, pan-caspase inhibitor for the treatment of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. As part of that agreement, Novartis will pay Conatus $50 million.

Fort Worth-based eye care firm Encore Vision Inc. is being acquired by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, the company announced today.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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