Discovering the Therapeutic Power of Collagen with Eric Schlumpf

PODCAST EPISODE 292

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Eric Schlumpf, president and CEO of Stuart Therapeutics, took a winding path to launch his South Florida-based eye-care company.

Along the way, he met academic researchers studying a family of collagen mimetic peptides (CMPs) that appeared to have a powerful reparative effect on many human conditions, including several in ophthalmology. Eric and his leadership team have moved in one focused direction ever since.

In April 2021 – about a month after receiving an $11 million Series A round of funding – Stuart Therapeutics got the green light from the Food and Drug Administration to begin Phase II clinical trials for ST-100, a topical drop designed to treat dry eye disease. The company is also researching indications for glaucoma and dry age-related macular degeneration.

The product’s key active pharmaceutical ingredient: that collagen peptide family Eric learned of, now patented as PolyCol. In mouse models, researchers found PolyCol produced complete healing to corneal tissues in 24 hours or less.

The mechanism of action (MOA) is applicable across a wide range of ocular surface indications, from dry eye disease to corneal erosions and recurrent erosions.

In this episode, host Rob Rothman, MD, speaks with Eric from his steamy home base to discuss the Stuart Therapeutics pipeline and the circuitous path that led him to the company – from electrical engineering to C-Suite roles in waste management and telecommunications to growing early stage start-ups.

Listen to this episode to take a deep dive into PolyCol’s unique MOA and find out how a PolyCol-based product differs from other dry eye therapeutics. You’ll also discover:

• How Eric found the PolyCol family of CMPs, how Stuart Therapeutics obtained patent protection, and how the company expanded its IP portfolio.
• How the FDA has responded to preclinical and clinical trial data so far.
• More about Eric’s unique journey to leading an ophthalmic drug development company and the common thread in his diverse resume.
• The secret to the successful working relationship between Eric and his cofounder, chairman and CMO Robert Baratta, MD, and how they collaborate in an intense, competitive environment.

To get more information or for any inquiries please email Eric at Eric@StuartTherapeutics.com.
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Transcript:

Rob Rothman: Hello OIS podcast audience, it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you again. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Rob Rothman. I am the Co-founder and Co-managing member InFocus Capital Partners, which is an ophthalmic focused venture capital fund. We have currently completed our investment cycle for fun one, closing with about closing with 13 assets, all focused on different areas inside of ophthalmology. I spend some part of my working hours as a clinically practicing ophthalmologist and welcome specialist by training. So I have the ability to hopefully speak with some interesting people regarding their ophthalmic opportunities and understand those opportunities from both the perspective of a condition and an investor. Having said that, it is my absolute pleasure today to be speaking with Eric Schlumpf, who is the president and CEO of Stuart Therapeutics, for full disclosure, in focus has invested in Stuart Therapeutics, one of our first investments actually, early on in our cycle. And I believe that some of the recent developments regarding Stuart’s progress as both a business and an ophthalmic asset have accelerated to the point where it probably is a good idea for her to have the chance to present some of that information to the listening audience. So Eric, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I can see for your background that you have similar weather, to me, except it’s probably about 100 degrees hotter where you are than I am.

Eric Schlumpf: Maybe not 100 warmer, definitely.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, the humidity is probably higher, too.

Eric Schlumpf: Indeed. Indeed.

Rob Rothman: So too bad. So let me first get this going by, you know, I’ve had an opportunity to know you for several years now, during the whole due diligence process, right from InFocus. And, you know, over the last couple of years since we’ve invested in helping or trying to help Stuart progress. So I think that one of the reasons why I was interested in having you as a guest is because I think your background and the story as to how you got to where you are is very compelling. So, you know, maybe you could just start by taking us through, you know, Eric Schlumpf’ journey from, you know, small boy, all the way through, all the way through Presidency of Stuart and, you know, obviously, I think understanding your background from both where you grew up and educationally and important, but mostly through your work experience, and how it led you to do it. So fire away, though, and I will sort of, you know, direct you towards those things, I think are super interesting.

Eric Schlumpf: Okay. Great. Thanks, Rob and appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today. So I got started as an engineer, I’m an electrical engineer by training. And then I got bored with that very quickly and decided to get into business and got a master’s in business and did some merger and acquisition work for a handful of years as I was getting started, and ultimately started to graduate and gravitate towards startups and early-stage companies. And even when I’ve worked in large organizations, I’ve been doing the new thing or the or the new venture within a large organization, how to turn in the waste management industry, got involved in management consulting, started a management consulting firm that was quite successful and got sold. And I ran a big piece of T mobile’s business for a while. So I’ve kind of bounced around a little bit in telecommunications, and so forth. But a big chunk of my advisory services work was in advising large pharma companies and in some medium sized companies as well on product development activities, as well as supply chain issues. And that got me exposed to pharma and interested in that side of the world. And as I was involved in some businesses in Southern California, I got to know my current business partner, Bob Baratta, who’s our chairman, and Bob and I just hit it off. He’s a longtime ophthalmologist here in South Florida, just a tremendous guy, very, very sharp business guy, you know, sort of the antithesis to all the jokes about doctors not being great businesspeople. Bob’s a fabulous businessman, and Bob and I got to know each other, got involved in some businesses related to bovine collagen, and wanting to do some work in that. And as we were researching those business opportunities, we got a hold of some technology that we found at the University of Wisconsin, and the inventor guy by the name of Ron Raines, who’s now at MIT, had come up with an idea to synthesize a fragment of type one collagen, so it’s a synthetic fragment, and he designed it so that it would bind to damaged collagen, triple helixes and heal them were very, very rapidly. And as we began to talk to Ron about the applications of this technology, we got really, really excited about it, it seemed like a whitespace that no one else was looking at. It seemed like something that had applicability in a large number of different diseases inflammatory diseases, where matrix metalloproteinases are digesting collagen and creating an inflammatory cycle. So we grabbed the license the technology from Wisconsin, and we spent about six weeks arriving at what turns out to be the inevitable conclusion that we’re going to be an ophthalmology with Bob being an ophthalmologist. And we started Stuart Therapeutics. And our first series of tests that we ran were on corneal wound models in mice, and we found that we had a dramatic healing effect on damage to corneal tissues. And then we’ve just expanded since then we’ve done additional testing to get a deeper dive into the mechanism of action, we’ve carried the initial corneal wound testing into an application and a drug candidate for dry eye disease, which is now in phase two clinical trials. And we’re right behind it with two additional indications one for neuro protection, the optic nerve in glaucoma, and then the final one, we think we’ve got real possibilities in his grade related macular degeneration so that all of that journey took about three and a half to four years, it’s been good, we’ve appreciated the support of those that have helped us along the way, including InFocus have been tremendous partners for us, as well as the University of Wisconsin folks at the alumni Research Foundation, who then good licensed partners, as well as investors in the company. So it’s been a great journey, we’ve had a great time with it so far. And we’re in a good place right now. We think things are moving, not moving along nicely.

Rob Rothman: Okay, we’re gonna get to all that. But we have to go back a few steps. Because I think that it’s, there’s some, you know, missing Darwinian links there and the evolution of you, right example, you know, waste management, Telecom. Right. So waste management Telecom, so you know, just thinking about this skill set that you have, and again, you know, with the caveat that I know you fairly well, how does that occur? I mean, is that just a job shift? Is that just that, you know, there are lots of people who listen to this podcast from all different walks of life. And some of them might be people who are wondering, how do you become the CEO of a startup ophthalmology company. So it isn’t in we’re going to get to that comment, which is the third missing link, which is bovine collagen, which you just go in there, right? You know, it’s not common to have a waste management guy throwing around terms like matrix metalloproteinase, and all these other cool things. So let’s just so how do you go from somebody involved in a service industry to another service industry, to eventually into, you know, biotech at the startup level because those are completely different worlds?

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, well, I think there are a couple different dynamics that have gone on, I think one of the things that I wanted to do early in my career was get out of being a staff guy worked in a corporation. So the first thing I did was to desperately try to find a new area of business that I could go off and lead. And that, you know, the first one that lined up was the waste business. And I got into medical waste, because I wrote a business plan for the CEO of the company that I was working for. And I happened to turn it in on the Friday before the New York Times articles came out about all the med waste rolling up on the shores of Long Island a few years ago, many years ago, unfortunately. So my timing was perfect. And so I got handed that opportunity. And I got involved in the waste industry in that way. And I ran that string out for a while. And it led me into startups and how to deal with young organizations and how to build staffs and make sure that you don’t make the mistake of not deciding on things which I think is critical in startup companies. So that was one dynamic. And I think that led me to be creative and interested in doing new things. Maybe that’s the I get bored easy dynamic in my life, but it also forced me to not get out work. I always want to get into something, and I want to know it and I want to understand it so that I can communicate it effectively to people who are interested in it. So that’s another thing that’s been a constant through my career. I you know, beyond that, when you get into the other elements of my career, a lot of it was built off of being a partner in management consulting firms, because you’re exposed to senior executives, you’ve got to be on your game when you go in to meet with them. And you got to know your you get to know your stuff about their industry, and you don’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. So it forces you to prioritize knowledge and prioritize how you approach problem solving. And I think that’s a secret to being successful in any small venture, just as it is being successful in advising companies about their business, you can’t be credible unless you are able to make that prioritization happen. So that’s kind of got me into a number of these situations the telecommunications thing came about because of a friend of a friend and T Mobile was going through a merger major changes, and they needed someone to run one of the largest business units for them. And my, I just hit it off with the CEO at that time and had a great time working for that organization learned a lot about large companies and large numbers of customers and statistics and in the process, but I think as I kind of did, it got involved in life sciences, off and on in my life, you know, laboratory services, pathology laboratories, and management, consulting to major corporations. What always intrigued me was the opportunity to try to help folks to solve health problems in you know, the situation with ophthalmology is a close one to me, my folks both have problems with their eyes, and being able to provide solutions that are going to ultimately help them was something that was important to me. So that’s that that kind of drove me in this direction in a big way.

Rob Rothman: So how did you first meet Bob? And what was the impetus for you to decide that, you know, Hey, man, I’m gonna leave my, you know, highly compensated management role with a large, you know, company and try and slog it out in the trenches of startup, ophthalmology, corporate life, I mean, how did that happen? What was between you and Bob at that time? And how did that get started?

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, Bob, and I got introduced by friend of a friend. And, you know, I came out to visit him here in Florida, my wife’s family, we’re getting into end-of-life challenges. And it started to become smart for us to think about being here in Florida to help them out to deal with some of that burden that her sister had been carrying for a number of years. So when Bob and I talked, and I got to know him a little bit better, I just found a creative guy, you know, kind of a kindred spirit in terms of somebody that’s interested in trying and doing new things, and somebody who had a brilliant background of his own. And I think that, that made that makes a difference. I mean, you don’t run into people like that often in your life, where you feel like you can work together and you feel like you can work effectively together, who you also enjoy being around, and you need to grab those opportunities as much as you can. One of my other colleagues who I’ve worked with for a long, long time always says you can do a lot of work. But it’s always a whole lot better when you can do with people that you enjoy being around. So we hit it off very well, our interests are aligned very nicely. And we’re pretty complimentary, you know, I, I’m kind of the commercial and business development and financial oriented kind of guy and Bob’s great at the patient and physician and clinical aspects of things. And when you surround yourself with our other business partners, which include folks like InFocus, of course, the folks that are our CRM partners at ORA, and so forth, it really makes for it really makes for a great combination.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. I mean, again, a little bit biased because I know the path in the story. But I agree, you know, obviously, you have to have people surrounding you are a complimentary pleasure to be with one of the valuable lessons that we’ve learned in the investment cycle, you know, part of our business, doing diligence, every check is first three check boxes for any company or diligence, you know, management, management management, yeah, right. Manager, manager, management is in check, check, check, and it doesn’t really matter for the most part, how good the asset is, it’s just going to be very difficult to get anything to move forward. So

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, Indeed. Indeed.

Rob Rothman: So yeah, we would agree that, you know, you’ve found those some great people to work with you. And that’s most definitely helped propagate you. How just a little bit more detail how to find Polycol, because, again, you know, as an investor and company, we’re fascinated with that product. And we think that it’s going to be incredibly natural. But how did you really find it? I mean, it’s you hear these stories all the time about, you know, assets, or compounds or chemicals or whatever, they are sitting in some, you know, portfolio, a library, and somebody finds it realizes there’s an opportunity and a potential and they dusted off, and they turn it into something incredibly amazing. So how does that happen? How did that become apparent to you? And where did you come across it? And how did you get involved with Wisconsin people?

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, it was Bob and I, we were engaged in what really amounted to a roll up of wound chair companies for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter to the Polycol story. And one of the challenges that you run into with bovine collagen is mad cow disease. And there’s always that sort of specter lurking in the background that somebody is gonna end up with zoonotic indication because they use a product that emanated from cattle, and it pops up often enough that it’s kind of the thing you look over your shoulder about in that industry. So we had decided to look into and research if there were any synthetic opportunities in college and that were being researched. And they’re really only three, maybe four folks in the United States at that time, who’d been doing any work at all in synthesized collagen, and it was all focused in a variety of different directions, that didn’t seem to matter too much. And then we found Ron at Wisconsin, and his technology caught our attention because he had done some, some wound healing tests in mice with it. And we saw dramatic results in animal skin wounds. And because we’ve been in the burn area, and the wound business, a little bit, knew a little bit about that it really raised our eyebrows. And we just kind of on a whim decided we were going to zip up to Madison and sit down with Ron, we set an appointment with him. And we spent a day with him and talk to him about what he had in mind what he did. And you know, a lot of this conversation was over my head because he’s just one of the most brilliant chemists in the country, very well-known guy. But as we began to talk about and began to think about the application, and where it could go in medicine, Bob and I got very excited about it. So as we left, we contacted the IP office there at Wisconsin at the Wisconsin alumni Research Foundation and asked them if we could negotiate an option on the license and which we did. And then we took some time to figure out what we wanted to do with it. And the mechanism of action of this thing is pretty interesting. It binds to the portion of the triple helix in collagen, triple helix domain that is unraveled by collagen axis matrix metalloproteinase. And that unraveling creates a structural dysfunction, the cells that depend upon collagen can’t effectively heal or propagate. And it also creates a cell signaling dynamic, that’s pretty important. It’s contributory. Once it’s unraveled, it contributes to the inflammation, and it ceases to offer the cell propagation and proliferation signaling that is normal tissue homeostasis. So when we looked at that, and we started to think about where we could take that the eye was an obvious place for us to go, there’s a lot of collagen in the eye, there’s a lot of opportunity in the eye. And we felt like it would be potentially an option for a number of different inflammatory indications, chronic indications for which there are great set or satisfactory solutions. So that’s kind of how we set it on that. That’s how we got it rolled in, we branded it as Polycol, we have the rights to a number of sequences from the University of Wisconsin, each one unique we utilize different ones for the different disease states that we’re pursuing disease indications, excuse me. And we’re also found additional intellectual property with some new sequences of our own design and additional use applications as well. So it’s been a nicely expanding intellectual property portfolio, it seems to be fast and effective. As I mentioned, I think at the beginning, it’s kind of a whitespace product. There’s nobody else really looking at this kind of thing right now. And it gives us a free field, in ophthalmology for indications that we find important, and we hope to have a great impact.

Rob Rothman: Yes. So there’s a couple of questions that I think would be important for the audience to understand. And I think they should hear from you. In terms of why you think this is important. You know, I don’t have to tell you, and I certainly don’t have to tell most of the people who listen to these, that, you know, better therapy for dry eye is sort of a key component of almost every investor in ophthalmology, everybody’s looking for something better than what’s currently available. And there are a multitude of reasons why the currently approved you know, non-OTC remedies for dry, I have been sort of relatively lackluster in their performance, despite the fact that they continue to generate significant, you know, 10 digit sales, right, despite the fact that if you ask almost every condition out there, they’re not great. Right. So why do you say why is Polycol going to be something that’s better than what’s out there? And why do we think is unique? And, you know, how does it stand out against the other potential products that are currently in development is, you know, in broad terms, like that.

Eric Schlumpf: I think the two biggest elements of our value proposition and dry eye disease, and I agree with you, by the way, that it’s one of those things where everybody hates the result, but they’re still spending money on it is that we work very quickly. The results that we’ve gotten in animal models have been 24-hour results to a complete healing in fairly severe corneal wounds. So speed of action is important. And I think that’s the big missing element in almost every therapeutic and dry eye disease right now. And then the other element of this is that the breadth of applicability, so the narrowness of some of the therapies, brand name, therapies that are out there and being prescribed right now. Is such that it’s a little bit of a crapshoot, if you’ll pardon the term for patients when they In the doctor’s office as to whether the therapeutic is going to work for them or not, we see collagen damage in almost all dry disease patients. There’s an extracellular matrix collagen inside of the epithelial layer in the eye, there’s the Bowman’s layer in the stromal tissues and underlying that. And everyone knows that matrix metalloproteinase levels are elevated and dry-eyed disease patients and that that substance has one role in life. And that’s to act as a collagen nasal damage, damage collagen and it does it by opening up those triple helix domains in collagen in the eye. So we see a wide-open field for us, we see ourselves as being very broadly applicable and working very quickly. The other element that we’ve seen, and this has been some invitro work that we’ve done more recently is in the restoration of the cell signaling role of the triple helix collagen. And once we do our repair, we’re having an impact on inflammation. That’s pretty dramatic. The invitro testing that we’ve done on IL-6, IL-9 expression by epithelial cells shows us returning within 16 hours or less, the IL-6 and IL-8 levels to naive, and that’s suggestive that this mechanism of action is a very robust one. And we’re excited about the ramifications that has for ocular surface indications as well as indications in other parts of the eye.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, so and again, just to simplify that I think for people who aren’t as familiar with the whole disease process, but dry eyes, and multifactorial disease, right, there are loads of different pathways of inflammation that may be at play here. There are multiple, different causes. And one of the concerns that we’ve had, for example, as an investor has been, well, how do we know if we invest in your novel anti-inflammatory approach towards dry eye that that’s the pathway that’s most important. Rather, you are focusing on the end product, which is the actual damage to the surface epithelium of the cornea, and again, to repair the corneal epithelium, then you’re going to decrease the signaling for inflammation that causes symptoms of drives from the reverse way. So it’s sort of a reverse approach towards drivers, let’s just fix the problem. And everything else goes away, it makes sense. If you close a wound and you heal the wound, you’re not going to have anything asking for an inflammatory process, right? I mean, that’s the way that’s the simplified way that we looked at it is this is you’re trying to fix the damage, forget trying to, you know, figure out where the termites are living on the ground, let’s just actually make a house that you can’t burn down.

Eric Schlumpf: That’s exactly I think being agnostic to the cause, or the ideology, the diseases is actually an advantage for us. We don’t we don’t really care whether you’ve got to make meibomian gland dysfunction or a tear film challenge composition challenge, or he’s got exposure issues or what have you. We’re going after the causal damage in the tissues that’s starting this, as it’s described in the literature of vicious cycle of inflammation. And so we think that’s a winning formula.

Rob Rothman: So how did the FDA handle this? This is something new, right? This is not typical for the FDA, in terms of evaluating dry eye. So how was that process? I know that it wasn’t very, it wasn’t a US sort of thing to breeze through it a little bit. So how did it go? I mean, what did what was their response? I mean, I know you’re in the middle of clinical trials. So you can discuss that a little bit if you want. But I think the FDA was fairly receptive to this.

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, I think part of the benefit that we had is that are the molecule is an approximate mimic of a fractional strand of type one collagen. So it’s got the same amino acid sequences and the similar kinds of order that you normally see in collagen. And I think when we spoke with the agency, they looked at that, and they said, Okay, this looks pretty benign. If you can come to us and show us in your preclinical work that you’ve got two species, toxin pharmacokinetics, that are squared away, then, you know, I’m paraphrasing here, I don’t think the FDA versus squared away, but you know, if you can come to this, and that data, then will allow you to move directly into a phase two. And that was attractive to us, because we wanted to get the technology into a phase two trial as quickly as we possibly could shorten the development cycle and not have to go through several months of, you know, phase one exercise. So we took that path. We got all of the data; the toxin pharmacokinetics work was completely clean. We expected that but it’s always nice to get that confirmation in our industry. So we got that, and we submitted the IND earlier this year, and it turned around with let’s go get it done. And we’ve got phase two underway right now that we expect to have top line results in October.

Rob Rothman: So formulation, CMC, all that stuff, relatively quick. I mean, this is really just a vehicle for delivery more than anything else.

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, it’s the CMC. The formulation itself is saline with a minor tweak to pH and a little bit of an osmolarity change. So it’s not too much different than saline. The peptide itself is manufactured as a salt, dry salt that’s then dissolved in solution, it appears to be quite stable. So a lot of the unknowns about the development of this as a marketable drug substance were knocked out during the CMC process for us. And we’re very fortunate that that went well. I’d say in terms of how quick it went, it was frustratingly slow from my perspective, last year was kind of a nightmare for a lot of reasons. But, you know, we got we got through it okay, we stayed more or less on schedule, we had a couple of minor delays that slowed us down, unfortunately. But being able to go into the first quarter and being able to get the IND submitted in the first quarter of this year was about when we wanted to get it done. So we’re pleased with where we sit right now.

Rob Rothman: And it’s a pretty straightforward study. Right? So yeah, straightforward study. That’s not very long. Not a whole lot of patience required. And we expect that you will have data some time to discuss,

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, October top line, and hopefully November for the full report out. It’s just it’s the kind of a standard dry eye clinical trial about 150 patients, we got two different dose levels and one control cohort in the trial itself.

Rob Rothman: Fantastic. So okay, so we got the dry eye now talk. I think that it’s really compelling to discuss at this point, some of the other potential applications I leave you and I think you do clearly view Polycol’s platform technology, right. There are other applications here. Because we are fairly certain I think, as scientists that collagen damage has a role in every disease state clearly, there’s focus now on glaucoma, potentially having some impact from collagen damage at the level of lamina cribrosa. Even ganglion cell structuring complexes that contain collagen. And then there’s clearly obviously the known issues with collagen damage and AMD I think, to some degree, so how does that all play into where you’re going to go with this moving forward? Because there are other indications to pursue here, right? I mean, it’s not common to see platform technology for getting, Let’s forget the fact that they have to get this product to the target tissue. And we’re not going to talk about the delivery or anything like that. Just theoretically, how do you foresee Polycol interacting with other disease states in the eye?

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, I think the one that is probably next in line for us, is there a protection for glaucoma, and our Chief Science Officer David Calkins, who’s also at Vanderbilt University, and he’s, this is his field. And from the day he got connected with us, he was bugging me to allow him to run a test series of tests on this compound or related sequence in the family of compounds, if you will, in some models that he had of glaucoma. And when we were able to afford those tests, we ran them. And what we found was pretty remarkable degree of protection of the retinal signal to the portion of the brain that processes that, David’s model elevates interactive pressure, and he allows a damage cycle to occur. And he does it in both rodents as well as primates. And then he has a unique way of measuring signal transport from the retina to the brain by using a dye that travels up the optic nerve. And when we ran those tests, we found that Polycol and Polycol variant was incredibly protective of vision transport, which is one of the earliest issues in glaucoma, it starts to drop out early. The actual nerve fiber layer drops out happens much later in the process. So those effects are important. And when we when we ran those tests, he called me very excitedly and said, Boy, this is he does these tests for all the major pharma companies for neuroprotective compounds. He said this is as good or better as anything, I’ve seen it as apparently none of the off-target effects. So that combination of apparent safety and effectiveness is profound in this particular opportunity. That mean it’s not going to be complicated. neuro protections got a storied history in clinical trials. And we’re gonna have to figure out a way to get that done economically and get our head together with the FDA, which we’re hoping to do this fall, about what the clinical trial might look like and what those endpoints are, but you know, I always say that, you know, if somebody is going to do it, it might as well be us. So let’s figure out a way to get that done and get something out there that’s really going to help people who struggle with a disease that still blinds an awful lot of people every year. And, you know, that’s near and dear to my heart, my dad suffers from some pretty severe glaucoma challenges and love to be able to have something where I could knock that out and attack that problem in a big way.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, it’ll be interesting, I think we’re excited to see that as well. And obviously, I think the same concept applies towards the AMD pathway down the road, I think it’ll be great to see how you can navigate the pathway of trying to either prove that this drug has a benefit, or at least get some indication that that’s the case and then subsequent funding to develop those products in some way.

Eric Schlumpf: With AMD it’s interesting because you’ve got a you know, where we work in the front of the eye with moments layer and the stromal tissues supporting the corneal epithelium. You’ve got a corollary in the back of the eye and the retina with the retinal pigment epithelial monolayers, supported by bricks membrane, and we know there’s damage back there, we know that it’s disrupted in dry AMD. And our feeling was that we could apply in a similar way this product to the back of the eye and create some healing to bricks membrane, and a more friendly environment for RP recovery if we can be as bold to say that there’s also extracellular matrix collagen around the ganglion cell layer that we know about in the nerve, excuse me, the nerve fiber layer. And we think that there’s applicability there as well. But we got a lot more work to do, I think on the AMD side of things, just in terms of proof points and, and understanding the details of the mechanism of action and how it applies there. We’re not quite as far along there as we are in our prediction.

Rob Rothman: Right? Well, dry eye is clearly the low hanging fruit yet, today, the easiest validated that you have and obviously presents an opportunity for significant return to the company in terms of its ability to, you know, propagate itself into other areas, obviously, this potential future investment from people who are specifically interested in things other than dry eye. So I think the opportunities there for you. And, you know, based on the results of the dry eye study, it’ll be interesting to see what happens after that, you’ve raised a pretty significant amount of money, which is great. Partially thanks to spice. But clearly not, not an easy task. And you know, raising funds over the past two years is one of the challenge I know firsthand, for you so that when you Richie achieved your funding target correctly raised how much?

Eric Schlumpf: Well we raised, we’ll put a total of about 12.7 into the company. The round sear, a round was an 11 million round, we started off with a $6 million series a round and then a number of things happened, including COVID last year, which slowed things down. And as we kind of got towards the end of last year, we sat down and took a hard look in the mirror and said look, we want to we want to push this forward, we want to get this thing into a phase two trial. And we think the right strategy is to bump around from six to 11 take a little bit more dilution. And we’ve made more progress. And we’ve got more to talk about now at that time than we did before. Before COVID kicked in. And let’s just go ahead and rate increase the round and let’s push the pedal to the floor and try to get it in so that we can get the IND fall in the first quarter. You know, I’m happy where we’re at right now I keep thinking back to the weeks in March of 2020, where we had a couple of venture capital firms, small medium venture capital firms that were ready to sign up with us. And then COVID started looking bad. And they said we need to retreat around our portfolio. So we sort of swallowed hard and said, Okay, we’ll figure out a way through this. And ultimately, we did. You know, I think it’s always hard to raise funds to support something that’s new and different, which we represent. You know, it’s easy for people to say yes to even gene therapy nowadays, right. But we represented something that required a little bit more explanation. And hats off to the InFocus folks and the other folks that have been confident in us and invested in the company, because I think they had the vision to see that this could be something different that would be fundamental and important. That process was tough to get through, but rewarding, nonetheless.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, I would agree. And then so what about future funding needs? you’re contemplating some additional capital now?

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, we’re raising a convertible note right now relatively soon. One, we want to push both the dry AMD and the neuro protection assets as quickly as we can to where we can be a real viable three indication entity next year, we’ve got, you know, we’ll have some decisions to make about what we do with the dry eye acid, depending on the results of the phase two trial, you know, there’s interest, I think, in the outcome there, you know, it’s, I got a long list of people that say, Come see me when you got phase two results. So that’s probably not terribly unique. But we see real strong interest in the in the platform beginning to form and we see opportunities in adjacent areas, you know, the dry eye product, because our mechanism of action is something that could be applicable across a wide array of ocular surface indications for which there are no real good solutions, things like corneal ulcers and recurring erosions come to mind. And post-surgical applications as well. As well as prep for measurements for cataract surgery, starting to become an issue with folks’ anterior segment, folks. The other opportunities, you know, include things like solutions to support extending the life of a where for a contact lens company, if we were able to come up with a variant that would be packed with contact lenses. And that just means you instead of putting them on the shelf at age 50, you put them on the shelf at age 50 to 55, or 60. So that could be a good value proposition as well. So we’re looking at all those things, we think there’s great opportunity in those adjacent areas, and the conversations are starting to become the nicer kind of conversations you’d like to have, as opposed to the ones where you’re trying to punch through the door.

Rob Rothman: Yeah, look, listen. You know, it’s a fascinating approach. And again, I think you hit it on the head that I believe the group of people who have supported the company, at this time are those who are interested in seeing something new and unique and potentially disruptive into the market for dry eye. That is not another version of cyclosporin.

Eric Schlumpf: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Rothman: Which is always been the bane of most, you know, dry eye specialist or, you know, I have I have cyclosporin A, cyclosporin B and cyclosporin C, for you to try, and artificial tears, and you know, maybe this will be better. So I think that everybody and I’ve had conversations with a lot of those investors, you know, over the course of the last two years, obviously, and they all seem to have the same mindset, which is that this is seems so elegantly simple, and so logically sound that it’s a viable place to try and invest. So congratulations on identifying that and propagating it, it has not been an easy time you chose to pursue the clinical pathway, probably at the worst time in history, at least.

Eric Schlumpf: Exactly.

Rob Rothman: And, and managed to fund the company, get a clinical trial approved and initiated to the point where you will have top line data within the next two to three months. So I think with that as sort of a final sentiment, I obviously want to congratulate you.

Eric Schlumpf: Thank you, appreciate it.

Rob Rothman: I’m looking forward to seeing what the data looks like and seeing how the company continues to progress from being a dry company to being a platform company that may potentially address things as important as glaucoma and macular degeneration as well. So, for the audience, I will say thank you. We obviously all wish you much success. Again, Eric Schlumpf President and CEO of Stuart Therapeutics. You know, pay attention to this company. We think it’s going to be a big one. So, thanks, everybody for listening in and I’m looking forward to a future podcast with you down the road.

Eric Schlumpf: Thanks, Rob. Take care.

Rob Rothman: Take care.

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