Business

Novartis buying Fort Worth eye-care startup Encore Vision

Bill Burns, founder of Encore Vision, and Les Kreis, who runs a local venture capital firm and is involved with the Cowtown Angels investor network.
Bill Burns, founder of Encore Vision, and Les Kreis, who runs a local venture capital firm and is involved with the Cowtown Angels investor network. Star-Telegram

Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that owns Alcon, is buying Encore Vision, a Fort Worth startup that has developed a drug to treat presbyopia.

Novartis said Tuesday that the acquisition would add a “first-in-class” treatment to its ophthalmology pipeline, “providing a potentially disruptive innovation to patients in a new therapeutic area of high unmet need and high prevalence.” Terms were not disclosed.

Presbyopia is a hardening of the eye lens experienced by about 80 percent of people over the age of 45, which results in loss of near-distance vision and the need for reading glasses. Encore’s EV06 eye drop, which softens the lens, has shown positive results in phase I/II clinical trials.

Encore Vision was founded 10 years ago by Bill Burns, a former Alcon executive, who set up shop at the TECH Fort Worth business incubator and received $1.25 million in seed money from the Cowtown Angels, a local investor network. Bios Partners, a Fort Worth venture capital firm run by Les Kreis, is one of Encore’s largest shareholders.

Burns, 68, said Tuesday that the deal with Novartis was the result of a “competitive process.”

“This is such a wonderful outcome,” Burns said, calling Novartis “a great partner” that will have the resources to continue the development of EV06.

Burns said the eye drop is still at least a couple of years away from the marketplace, with both Phase II and Phase III clinical studies to be completed. But he said the notion of treating presbyopia, which affects hundreds of millions of people around the world, is worth the long wait.

“There’s never been a medical treatment for presbyopia,” Burns said. “There hasn’t been an advance since Ben Franklin invented bifocals. So it’s time.”

In a statement, Vasant Narasimhan, global head of drug development and chief medical officer at Novartis, said the large need for such a drug drew the attention of Novartis. “There is currently no disease-modifying treatment available at all,” Narasimhan said. “Novartis confirms its leadership in ophthalmology by entering another new therapy area.”

Novartis acquired Fort Worth-based Alcon, a leading producer of surgical equipment and pharmaceuticals for the eye-care market, in 2011. In January, it announced a restructuring that combined Alcon’s ophthalmic drug business with the Novartis pharmaceutical division, which has its U.S. offices in New Jersey. Encore will become part of Novartis Ophthalmology.

Alcon, based off I-35 in south Fort Worth, continues to focus on its surgical equipment and contact lens businesses.

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko

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