Novartis is looking to expand its already-strong presence in the eye disease market in a link-up with Ophthotech Corp that could net the latter over $1 billion.

The deal centres around Fovista (anti-PDGF aptamer) which is in late-stage trials for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration. Novartis has bagged the rights to market Fovista outside the USA and is paying an upfront fee of $200 million and Phase III enrolment-based milestones of up to $130 million.

Ophthotech is eligible to receive contingent future ex-US marketing approval milestones totalling up to $300 million and up to $400 million more from sales, plus royalties. Fovista is being studied in combination with current anti-VEGF agents for wet AMD and  Novartis will also develop a co-formulation of the drug with one of its own anti-VEGF treatment.

Interestingly, Ophthotech said the collaboration continues its strategy "to remain agnostic with respect to the choice of the anti-VEGF agent administered in combination with Fovista". It is in trials with Novartis' Lucentis (ranibizumab) but also in combination with Bayer/Regeneron’s rival product Eylea (aflibercept) and Roche's cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab) which is used off-label for wet AMD.

Novartis pharmaceuticals head David Epstein said Fovista in combination with currently available anti-VEGF treatments "could further improve outcomes of patients suffering from avoidable vision loss". If approved, and topline Phase III data is expected in 2016, it would be the first to market in this class of therapies.

David Guyer, Ophthotech chief executive, noted that the pact is "one of the largest ex-US partnering deals ever in the biotechnology industry". He said it provides "a substantial strategic and financial benefit to Ophthotech [and] also begins to put in place essential elements designed to expand the reach of Fovista outside the USA", where the firm will retain the marketing rights.