Aerie Pharmaceuticals, a startup focused on development of drugs to treat glaucoma, is off to a well-financed start.

The RTP-based firm said Wednesday that it had closed on $21 million in A round financing. The deal is one of the largest reported this year in North Carolina.

Co-leading the round were Alta Partners and Texas Pacific Group Ventures. As part of the deal, Geoff Duyk of TPG and David Mack of Alta joined Aerie’s board on directors.

Two Duke professors and Casey Kopczynski, the firm’s chief operating officer. Founded the company. The other founders are David Epstein, MD, who is chairman of Duke’s Department of Ophthalmology, and Eric Toone, who is part of Duke’s chemistry department.

Aerie’s lead drug candidate, AR-101, could begin clinical trials next year.

“AR-101 presents a major opportunity to provide improved treatment options to glaucoma patients, and this funding will accelerate our efforts to bring these innovative products to market,” said Tom van Harrlem, an MD, who is president and chief executive officer of Aerie. Van Harrlem has worked for both Pharmacia and Pfizer in areas of ophthalmology research. He joined Aerie in 2005.

Aerie is also exploring ways to improve the penetration of drugs in the eye, van Harrlem added. “There is tremendous potential for innovation in this area, with an additional large group of high risk patients with Ocular Hypertension who are currently undiagnosed and/or untreated. We have now brought together the talent, technology and ambition necessary to succeed,” he said in a statement.

The funding will be used for AR-101 development as well as the filing of an investigational new drug application for another compound, the company said.

“Aerie has all the hallmarks of a promising early stage biotechnology company,” Mack said in a statement. “Initial animal testing has been very encouraging. Our products target a rapidly growing $3 billion dollar global market that has seen little innovation and is ripe for improvement. We have a seasoned team of senior executives who will successfully shepherd AR-101 into the clinic, and we have provided the necessary capital to get them there.”

Alta Partners has more than $1.5 billion under management and has invested in 85 life science firms.

Texas Pacific Group Ventures has more than $500 million under management.