With the launch last week of BromSite to treat inflammation and prevent pain after cataract surgery, India-based Sun Pharma has taken a significant step in commercializing its strategy to build its branded ophthalmic drug business in the US.
For development-stage companies in the US, that strategy could mean more licensing and partnership opportunities with the world’s fifth largest specialty generic drug company in the way it did for InSite Vision, the Alameda, CA-based developer of BromSite that Sun Pharma acquired a year ago. More recently, in October 2016, Sun Pharma announced it would acquire Ocular Technologies and rights to its Seciera cyclosporine ophthalmic solution for treatment of dry eye, now in a Phase III confirmatory trial. The businesses will operate under the Sun Ophthalmics division.
Ophthalmology is one of the four therapeutic categories Sun Pharma has focused its branded business on, Jerry St. Peter, vice president and head for Sun Ophthalmics, says in an exclusive interview with Eye On Innovation. The other three are dermatology, neurosciences, and oncology. (St. Peter also was a guest on the OIS Podcast earlier this year.)
Sun’s strategy is to not only build its ophthalmic business through acquisitions, but also to seek out licensing opportunities through what St. Peter called “organic growth” from its own worldwide R&D. That includes the ability to license in products from its sister company, Sun Pharma Research Center, or SPARC, a Sun subsidiary focused solely on R&D. Last year Sun Ophthalmics licensed in SPARC-developed Xelpros, a preservative-free latanoprost solution for open angle glaucoma that uses SPARC’s novel Swollen Micelle Microemulsion technology.
Besides BromSite, Seciera, and Xelpros, Sun Ophthalmics also has in its pipeline DexaSite, a dexamethasone solution for treatment of blepharitis.
St. Peter says Sun Ophthalmics is just getting started. “We have been opportunistic with recent M&A and in-licensing moves; thus, we will continue to evaluate growth drivers for the business.”
One reason Mumbai-based Sun is making a play in ophthalmology in the US is because of consolidation in the space in the past five years, St. Peter says. “You’ve literally seen the number of companies within ophthalmic pharmaceutical eye drops over the past seven to nine years drop from 15 to 16 players down to essentially four players in the past year,” he says. “That consolidation, while it’s healthy in some respects, also gets to the point where physicians are looking for other companies to enter the space, to create more competition, to bring more products to market, to give them more choices for their patients. This is a perfect opportunity for Sun to enter into ophthalmics.”
It took Sun Ophthalmics about 18 months to get to this point. In May 2015 Sun hired St. Peter to head the ophthalmics division, tapping into his experience in the space. He had been executive vice president and general manager for Nicox, which Valeant acquired in 2014, and served as senior VP, ophthalmology, at Inspire Pharmaceuticals, which Merck & Co. acquired in 2011.
Since then, St. Peter added three key hires to his executive team: Jason Menzo, former senior director, head of marketing and operations at Nicox, joined Sun Ophthalmics as VP of sales and marketing; Jason Warner, VP of strategy; and Mark Jasek, PhD, VP of medical and scientific affairs. In all, Sun Ophthalmics has 100-plus employees in the US, and with the launch of BromSite has a sales force “perfectly sized to be competitive,” St. Peter says.