ASCRS 2024: At Eyecelerator, a New Zealand-based startup pitches eye drops for keratoconus


Ahead of the ASCRS 2024 meeting, TheiaNova CEO Carissa Fonseca, PhD, pitched a novel keratoconus treatment

Just before the ASCRS meeting in Boston, Carissa Fonseca, PhD, CEO of TheiaNova Limited, presented at the Eyecelerator innovation conference. Fonseca was a finalist in the Winning Pitch Challenge and was awarded a cash prize, which will further her company's work on a therapy for keratoconus and corneal ectasia.

In an exclusive interview with Ophthalmology Times Europe, Fonseca shared highlights from the presentation she delivered to an audience of nearly 600 ophthalmic industry leaders, and let us know what to expect from TheiaNova in the future.

Editor's note: The below transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Hi, my name is Carissa Fonseca, and I am the CEO of TheiaNova. We are a small startup based in New Zealand and we are developing a therapy for keratoconus and other corneal ectasia. I'm here at the ASCRS meeting, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, in Boston. And prior to the meeting, I was a finalist in the Eyecelerator competition pitching about our company and informing everyone about the therapy that we are bringing to market.

Just to be absolutely clear, this is not yet available commercially or clinically. It's not approved anywhere for clinical use. We are still developing the formulation. It is an eyedrop formulation to treat keratoconus. Attending ASCRS has been such an incredible experience, for me personally, but also in terms of the development of our company and our product. Getting input from so many clinicians, ophthalmologists, as well as one or two optometrists, has been really useful. We're pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest that has been generated by pitching at Eyecelerator as well as just being here at ASCRS. People are genuinely interested in this product because it is different. It's a different approach to treating a disease that, in some ways, is still a huge problem, and there is an unmet need.

Our eyedrops contain dexamethasone sodium phosphate and transforming growth factor beta three, and this unique combination causes the corneal cells, the keratocytes, to produce collagen. It works a bit differently to current techniques, in that you have collagen cross-linking, for example, where more bonds between the existing collagen fibers are created by that procedure. However, eye drops are not really creating more bonds. In fact, it's introducing additional collagen into the cornea, strengthening it, stiffening it and stabilising it.

We believe in addition to keratoconus, there is an application for stabilising the cornea prior to refractive surgery, as well as treating ectasia that can sometimes occur after refractive surgery. We have some studies to do in the future. And this is one of the reasons we are raising funds to support our company and to continue our latest late-stage trials beyond the proof of concept study that we'll be running in New Zealand, and will have data from, later this year.

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