Envisia Therapeutics, a spinout from Morrisville-based nanotechology firm Liquidia, formally launched on Tuesday with investors committing $25 million to the new venture.

Its focus will be ophthalmology. The company will capitalize on its existing technology platform known as PRINT in pursuing eye treatments.

Neal Fowler, the chief executive officer of Liquidia, is the CEO of the new firm as well.

The management team of Liquidia also will direct the new venture, a company spokesperson said. He added that the new venture would not have any impact on other Liqiduia programs, including a partnership with GlaxoSmithKlein (NYSE: GSK).  [Wearing two hats: Neal Fowler discusses dual management roles in an interview with WRALTechWire.]

No plans have been announced yet for additional hiring, but “that may come down the road,” he added.

Some Liquidia personnel will be shifted to focus on the new venture.

Invfestors include RTP-based Pappas Ventures, North Carolina-based Wakefield Partners, Canaan Partners, New Enterprise Ventures and Morningside Technology Ventures. All are long-time investors in Liquidia.

“The success of multiple programs using the PRINT platform over the last several years has led to a wide range of opportunities in multiple therapeutic areas,” Fowler said in a statement. “With the formation and financing of Envisia, now we have the ability for both companies to optimally focus on their respective therapeutic areas—ophthalmology for Envisia, and vaccines and inhaled therapeutics for Liquidia.”

The new firm includes a pipeline of potential products, a spokesperson for the company said, including:

  • ENV515, a sustained-release prostaglandin-analogue for the treatment of glaucoma, which is touted as the lead product
  • ENV515 is being developed to provide a therapeutic benefit for more than four months – current treatments are applied daily.
  • ENV515 is currently in preclinical development with the intent to initiate clinical development by mid-2014.

Other potential products and programs will be announced later.

An Evolving Story 

News about the possibility of a spinoff venture surfaced in May.

Liquidia wasn’t ready to disclose a name for its new ophthalmology-focused company nor would it say much about its eye drugs in development.

But Fowler told WRAL Tech Wire that in the previous six months, the company has made so much progress toward clinical testing of a new glaucoma treatment that the company thought it was the right time to signal to the market its plans to set up a dedicated, focused company in ophthalmology.

Liquidia announced plans for the ophthalmology-focused spinoff but even before the announcement, Fowler said that pharmaceutical companies had expressed interest in ophthalmic applications of Liquidia’s proprietary nanoparticle manufacturing technology. Dubbed “PRINT,” Liquidia’s technology allows for the manufacture of nanoparticles of particular size, shape and chemistry. In drugs and vaccines, controlling those parameters affects how the product is delivered to the cells of the body. It can make the delivery more targeted and reduce side effects. The technology is still making inroads into ophthalmic applications.

“Our ability to control exactly what these particles do is of great interest to this market,” Fowler said.

In the eyes, Fowler said that the PRINT technology can be used in implants that need specificity about where they are implanted. It can also be used for targeted drug delivery in the eye. Fowler declined to elaborate on the glaucoma drug that Liquidia is advancing toward clinical trials. But he did say that the company had already been working in partnership with some pharmaceutical companies on eye treatments. Confidentiality agreements prevent Fowler from disclosing them but he said that the new company, in addition to developing its own products, will also have the capability to apply the nanoparticle manufacturing technology to a partner company’s existing therapies.

London-based research firm Visiongain projects that the global market for ophthalmic drugs will reach $21.9 billion in 2015, up from $17.5 billion in 2011. Fowler puts the market for glaucoma treatments alone at about $4 billion.

Liquidia has been working on its glaucoma product within the company over the last 18 mponths. The progress of that work made it clearer to Fowler of the benefits of a separate company. A new company would have its own focus from the standpoint of both research as well as clinical testing. The glaucoma treatment is expected to enter clinical trials in 2014.

Fowler added that a separate company also offers a a clearer investment path for the new ophthalmic-focused products, separate from the other nanotechnology work that Liquidia is doing. Last year, the company reached a licensing deal that gave GlaxoSmithKline exclusive rights to develop new vaccines with the technology. Liquidia is also pursuing consumer applications of its nanoparticle manufacturing technology, including products being developed through a Proctor & Gamble partnership.