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Aerie Pharmaceuticals – An Athlone company helping people see again

05 February, 2020

One of the newest arrivals to Ireland’s thriving life sciences sector is the US company Aerie Pharmaceuticals. It will shortly begin commercial production at a newly constructed state-of-the-art facility in Athlone.

Founded in 2005, Aerie specialises in the discovery, development and commercialisation of novel treatments for glaucoma, the disease that can cause irreversible vision loss, as well as for retinal diseases and other diseases of the eye.

The company’s lead product is the Rho kinase inhibitor, netarsudil which is approved and marketed as Rhopressa in the US and recently approved in Europe as Rhokiinsa. It is a once-daily eye drop to reduce elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) in patients with glaucoma or ocular hypertension.
In the US, the company also launched a fixed-dose combination of netarsudil and the prostaglandin analogue, latanoprost. (Rocklatan is a a once-daily eye drop to reduce IOP in patients with open-angle glaucoma and ocular hypertension.

“The company was founded by a leading ophthalmologist, David L Epstein, and Casey C Kopczynski,” said chair and CEO Vicente Anido Jnr.
“Epstein was chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Duke University and had spent his research career looking for better ways to treat glaucoma.”
Biotech start-up veteran Kopczynski joined with Epstein to develop a new class of medications to transform the therapeutic area.

“David’s idea was that the best way of treating eye disease was to understand the underlying cause and target that,” Anido added. “He understood that the cause of glaucoma was damage to the trabecular meshwork, which is the primary pathway for fluid to drain from the eye.

“The damage causes the fluid to back up, thereby increasing pressure and ultimately damaging the optic nerve. None of the drugs treating glaucoma at the time were specifically designed to treat this underlying cause.”

Those conventional treatments lowered pressure by either reducing the amount of fluid being produced or increasing the outflow through a secondary drain. None treated the disease mechanism.
“David tried several different compounds and eventually settled on a class of drugs known as rho kinase inhibitors which work at the molecular level to open up the trabecular meshwork and allow fluid to start flowing again,” Anido said.
 

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