Novartis has elected to exercise an option to in-license experimental eye drug ECF843 from US biopharma Lubris.

The move gives the Swiss drug giant worldwide rights (excluding Europe) to the drug for ophthalmic indications, with a primary focus on dry eye, a common condition that occurs when the eyes don't make enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly.

Explaining its interest in the drug, Novartis noted that instant relief of dry eye symptoms remains a high unmet medical need and a relevant factor for patient compliance and treatment success.

ECF843 is a recombinant human lubricin (rh-Lubricin) protein, which, in a Phase II clinical trial, showed potential to provide immediate improvement of symptoms likely by increasing lubrication across various eye and tear surfaces together with an improvement in signs of dry eye within 28 days - without reporting treatment-related adverse events.

If successful, the drug’s competition for share of the sizeable dry eye market will include Shire’s Xiidra (lifitegrast), launched in the US last year, and Allergan’s veteran blockbuster Restasis (cyclosporine).

The financial and other terms of the deal, which remains subject to customary closing conditions including regulatory approvals, were kept under wraps.