Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Forsight Scores Big

With the Red Sox and Indians facing off in the American League Championship Series, IN VIVO Blog would like nothing more than to toss in an old baseball metaphor to describe how well investors in Forsight Labs second company did with their investment, but even the ever popular grand salami falls a bit short.

So with the shameless favorite sports team plug firmly inserted, we can go on to tell you that Forsight Newco II, founded just 10 months ago, raised approximately $5 million from investors to cover costs of product development and some early clinical testing of the company’s drug-eluting ocular punctual plug, a technology that can deliver drugs through the eyes’ own tears. For a video showing the product go here.

Now, just 10 months after the company’s inception, QLT stepped forward to pay $42 million upfront for the company. But the potential returns don't stop there. QLT also agreed to pay $5 million payment upon the initiation of phase III clinical trial for the first product; $20 million for the first commercialization of a product; $20 million for the commercialization of a second product; and $15 million on first commercialization of each subsequent product.

For those keeping score at home, that’s $67 million if QLT succeeds in getting one of these products on the market; $87 million if it gets two; $102 million for three and so on. To be sure, all of these potential payments are years off. QLT will need a few years to run the plugs through clinical study and isn't likely to get a product to market until 2011 or 2012.

QLT management is being criticized for overpaying, but Bob Butchofsky, president and chief executive officer of QLT, says the company’s punctual plug, which is inserted in one of the two ducts that drains tears from the eye, will put QLT in position to challenge the $6 billion eye drop market.

Unlike standard punctual plugs, which only slow the drainage of tears from the eye as a means of treating dry eye, QLT’s new plug contains a drug core. As the tear film flows against the plug, the drug is released delivering a steady stream of drug. The Newco identified glaucoma as a first application for the device, but the plug could be used to deliver any drugs currently delivered as eye drops. “I believe this is a start of a major change on how we treat ocular disease,” Butchofsky told analysts in a conference call this morning.

Others aren’t as impressed. QLT shares hit a 52-week low today after the deal was announced. An item on the Globe and Mail web site reported:

National Bank Financial analyst Prakash Gowd calls the deal pricey, citing “very limited data supporting the theoretical benefits of [ForSight’s] punctal plug technology. Moreover, he figures the technology is likely to be a “very competitive area and patents have not yet been clarified.”

QLT must be high on the technology as it made the only real bid for the company. Forsight CEO K. Angela Macfarlane says while Forsight had talks with other companies about its various programs, Newco II wasn’t being shopped around. (Curious about Forsight's first product? Go here.)

Robin Bellas, general partner at Morgenthaler Ventures, one of the investors, called the acquisition, "quite a surprise. We always expected to raise another round. It was unusual that QLT came to us and expressed strong interest in the program. We had no plans to sell it.”

For more about Forsight Labs go here.

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