Interview with OPKO Health VP Samuel Reich

Sep. 8.08 | About: OPKO Health, (OPK)

On September 8, The Wall Street Transcript interviewed Samuel J. Reich, Executive Vice President, Ophthalmics, at OPKO Health, Inc. (NASDAQ:OPK). Key excerpts follow:

TWST: May we start with a short history and overview of your company?

Mr. Reich: Opko Health was formed in March 2007 by merging two companies that had ophthalmology pharmaceutical research and product development. One company was Acuity Pharmaceuticals, which was from Philadelphia, founded in 2002 developing and treating candidates for wet macular degeneration using a small interfering RNA. And in fact, Acuity was the first ever company to develop a small interfering RNA drug, with the first in human, the first Phase II and now the first Phase III trial.

The other company was called Froptix and that was a company with dry macular degeneration technology. The architect of the merger was an individual named Phillip Frost. Dr. Frost has had a long, successful career in the pharmaceutical industry and after selling his previous company IVAX to Teva, he became interested in ophthalmology. He founded Froptix and formed OPKO by merging Acuity and Froptix.

We are now building OPKO to be the leading ophthalmology business. I think today we have an excellent team from the corporate side to the research and development side, all with strong focus and experience in ophthalmologic research, development and commercialization. Our strategy is to develop or pipeline and create commercial drugs and devices; to acquire companies with innovative technology that is either first in class or best in class and to be international, developing drugs and finding opportunities beyond the US. We are a US company, but one thing that we will do differently is to be international. This has been a strategy that our CEO, Dr. Frost, has employed with success in previous enterprises.

TWST: What is your current product focus and what is the development activity surrounding it?

Mr. Reich: We have several products in development. Our most advanced product is called Bevasiranib and that is a small interfering RNA that inhibits a target called vascular endothelial growth factor. That target has been shown to be responsible for the disease called wet macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of vision loss in the developed world. Our drug Bevasiranib is now in Phase III, the last stage of testing before FDA review and hopefully approval and we are hopeful that the data from the Phase III will support an approval and that we will have a commercial product in this very important disease area. It's a devastating disease in which patients go blind if left untreated, and hopefully we will have a drug that makes a significant impact and changes wet AMD patients' lives for the better.

In addition to Bevasiranib, we have several other drugs in the clinical stage of development, drugs or devices also aimed at unmet medical diseases in ophthalmology. We have a drug called civamide that we are developing. It's a clinical stage drug and we are entering a Phase II trial later this year or early 2009. The clinical stage drug is for dry eye and dry eye is becoming an increasingly big problem and represents a very large market. We see dry eye as an unmet medical need and an important area of focus for OPKO.

We have an antiviral eyedrop, a drug called CTC-96. CTC-96 is an antiviral compound that has been tested clinically, including completing a successful Phase I as an ocular administration, which can kill Herpes and adenovirus, which are two of the main causes of viral conjunctivitis, probably representing greater than 90% of the cases of viral conjunctivitis. Currently there is no approved drug for viral conjunctivitis.

We also have two devices in development. One device is for refractory glaucoma. Glaucoma is an area that Opko has identified as a critical area for research and development. Our device is a shunt, which is a product that drains the anterior chamber to reduce intraocular hypertension. Glaucoma is a common disease affecting millions of patients and a fraction of those patients cannot be treated by the drugs available. So today there are good drugs available for glaucoma, several classes of good drugs, but there remains a substantial population who have what we call refractory glaucoma that do not respond well to the drugs. At that point in time, doctors need to intervene with surgery. So the shunt that we are developing would be an improvement on the surgery and allow that surgical procedure to put something in the eye that will maintain and improve the efficacy of the surgery that will be needed in those patients.

Another product in our pipeline that's currently in development is a dressing for the eye. Over the last few years as the treatment of patients has changed due to the advent of new medicines and new surgical procedures, the incidence of a serious ocular infection called endophthalmitis has increased dramatically. Endophthalmitis is the worst thing that can happen to an ophthalmology patient. These patients often need their eye to be removed or lose total vision. It is a terrible infection of the eye and what we are developing is a collagen product to dress the point of incision or injection to prevent patients from getting endophthalmitis. It's rather a simple product, but we think that the market needs it and the physician will very readily take it to prevent this terrible infection from happening to their patients. We called that product the Ret-saver.

TWST: What would be the most compelling reason for investors to buy shares in your company?

Mr. Reich: I think that Opko has a very bright future. We have a deep and rich pipeline that sets us apart from the vast majority of other development stage pharmaceutical companies. We have a strong management team that can give the investors confidence in our ability to execute our business model.

TWST: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Mr. Reich: I will say that Opko Health is a young company and an entrepreneurial company that is devoted to being a leading ophthalmology business. We have a strong management team with a proven track record that is dedicated to creating value in this company by creating a leading international ophthalmology business that has products that are both high tech as well as low tech in order to provide important solutions for ophthalmologists and their patients.