Industry Insider is a timely chat with an ophthalmic industry thought leader.
In his nearly 30 years in pharmaceuticals, Jerry St. Peter has held positions such as vice president and head of the ophthalmics division of Sun Pharmaceuticals, executive vice president and general manager of Nicox’s ophthalmic business and senior vice president and head of the ophthalmic division for Inspire Pharmaceuticals. In this interview, he discusses the goals and accomplishments of the company he cofounded, Eyevance Pharmaceuticals, for which he serves as CEO and director.
Ophthalmology Management: Eyevance Pharmaceuticals is a new company — could you start by giving us some background information on it?
Jerry St. Peter: Eyevance is a private equity-backed pharmaceutical ophthalmic company focused on products for the anterior segment and ocular surface. The company was cofounded by myself and Jason Werner in September 2017; both of us have decades of experience in the ophthalmic space and we believe the “dual pillar” strategy upon which we have built Eyevance makes it unique in the ophthalmic space.
The first of these pillars supplies “impactful” products, which are pharmaceutical eyedrops that doctors use everyday for optimal patient care. The second pillar supports “innovative” products such as new molecules to the ophthalmic space or rare disease/orphan indicated treatments. We invest in late-stage development programs that help bring innovative products to market. In the first 15 months of the company’s existence, we were fortunate to complete six strategic transactions. We are very proud to have been able to execute our strategy so effectively this early in our company’s lifespan.
OM: What can you tell us about those licensing agreements and transactions, and the strategy behind acquiring those products?
JS: Shortly after we started Eyevance we completed a licensing agreement with Nicox for Zerviate, a unique, prescription-only product, for allergic conjunctivitis. We expect to launch Zerviate in the second half of 2019 and are excited to bring it to market, as it is the first ocular formulation of cetirizine, the best-selling antihistamine Zyrtec.
In September 2018, we acquired the newly formulated FRESHKOTE Preservative Free (PF) tear lubricant from Focus Laboratories. The original FRESHKOTE launched about 10 years ago and has a loyal customer base due to its efficacy in treating dry eye symptoms. FRESHKOTE PF launched in January 2019 and has the same patented formulation as the original, excluding the preservative. It is in a convenient multi-dose bottle vs. single-use vials, which is the primary modality for most preservative-free drops, allowing for easier use and transport by patients. FRESHKOTE PF is available behind the pharmacy counter, online, on the phone or through select doctors who choose to sell it out of their practice.
Also, in the fall of 2018, we acquired the U.S. rights to Flarex, the first and only corticosteroid containing fluorometholone acetate 0.1% that is indicated for the treatment of steroid-responsive ocular inflammatory conditions of the palpebral and bulbar conjunctiva, cornea and anterior segment of the eye. Flarex has the broadest indication for actively promoted branded corticosteroids. There is no generic equivalent for Flarex.
In October 2018, we acquired the worldwide licensing rights to Nexagon, a treatment for persistent epithelial defect (PED) that is currently in Stage 2b-3. PED is an orphan drug indication for patients afflicted with chemical or thermal burns to the eye. There are an estimated 50,000 cases of chemical and thermal burns to the eye in the U.S. annually and, of those, 10,000 would potentially benefit from Nexagon.
In the future, we are very interested in pursuing additional products in the orphan disease area, especially ones for the anterior segment. In addition, we acquired other assets that are currently undisclosed. We look forward to launching them in the near future to continue to support our impactful and innovative pillars.
OM: You are a veteran of the pharmaceutical space, Mr. St. Peter. Why start a new company like Eyevance? What does that opportunity offer you?
JS: I’ve been in the ophthalmic pharmaceutical business 28 years and been blessed to work with a number of great companies and fabulous doctors. I have listened closely to my customers and truly felt there was a significant opportunity within the ophthalmic space for a small, emerging pharmaceutical company like Eyevance. Doctors enjoy working with small boutique companies — they feel heard and valued, enabling a strong connection of being a part of the organization. They like a team with the underdog attitude. In addition, there are not many companies focused on the anterior segment and ocular surface, outside of dry eye — as so many companies have shifted their focus to the therapeutic areas of retina and glaucoma. While others move away from the anterior segment and ocular surface, Eyevance moves towards this significant treatment area.
Being a small company, we are able to move quickly and to be agile, and we believe we can be a special addition to the ophthalmic space. OM