SOURCE: Versant Ventures

March 04, 2010 05:30 ET

Retinal Innovation Symposium and Dining in the Dark March Event in Southern California Already Attracting Hundreds of Attendees

Retinal Degenerative Research Experts Will Gather With Drug and Device Developers, to Speed Development of Important New Modalities; Event Co-Chaired by Versant Ventures Managing Director, William J. Link, Ph.D., and Internationally Recognized Retinal UCI Specialist Dr. Baruch Kuppermann

NEWPORT BEACH, CA--(Marketwire - March 4, 2010) -  As part of an on-going effort to benefit millions of Americans who are losing their sight to retinal degenerative diseases, the annual Retinal Innovation Symposium and Dining in the Dark event will be held March 25, 2010 at the Fairmont Newport Beach Hotel in Newport Beach, California. 

The third annual Retinal Innovation Symposium, a one-day event, will bring leaders in translational academic research together with developers of drugs and devices focused on retinal degenerative diseases. Presentations will be made by experts in academic, industry and healthcare investing in cutting-edge projects. There will also be panel discussions and presentations by venture-backed companies developing drugs and devices in this arena. The Symposium will be co-chaired by Baruch Kuppermann, MD, Ph.D., a renowned professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California at Irvine, and William J. Link, Ph.D., a managing director of leading healthcare venture capital firm Versant Ventures. Versant (www.versantventures.com) has 16 portfolio companies from its legacy and current investments in the ophthalmology area -- more than any other venture capital firm in the world.

The Symposium will be immediately followed by the fourth annual Orange County Dining in the Dark, a unique, sensory awareness experience in which dinner guests participate in a dining adventure in complete darkness. They will rely solely on their senses of smell, sound and touch and will be served by blind waiters and waitresses. Recognizing efforts to fight blindness, the dinner will honor Gavin S. Herbert, founder and chairman emeritus of Allergan Inc., and Roger F. Steinert, MD, U-C Irvine's Ophthalmology Department chairman and director of the university's Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

Both events are organized and sponsored by The Foundation Fighting Blindness, the world's largest private funding source for retinal degenerative disease, as well as private donors.

The mission of both events will be to continue to drive the research and introduction of medical products that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Usher syndrome and similar diseases. The most common of these afflictions is AMD, which affects more than 10 million adults in the United States alone and is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 55.

"Most Americans know more about the problems of obesity and related complications, such as diabetes," said Kuppermann, MD, Ph.D. "But retinal degenerative disease is another gigantic problem, and it doesn't attract nearly as much attention even though some retinal diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, are as serious an affliction as diabetes."

"Some studies have shown that more than half of elderly respondents have never heard of AMD or know little about it," Kuppermann added. "People must become more educated about these diseases because intervention is typically more effective sooner, rather than later. That's one reason why we host the symposium."

A decade ago, treatment for retinal diseases was very limited. Today, there are several products on the market and many more in development. For example, Genentech's Lucentis drug is injected in patients with "wet" AMD every four to six weeks to substantially mitigate their loss of visual acuity. This five-year-old drug treats hundreds of thousands of patients annually and has sales of about $2 billion annually.

Drs. Link and Kuppermann believe that the pace of improvements in retinal disease treatment will accelerate over the next decade, building on improvements in improved refractive surgery, including safer and less invasive procedures. The recent success of new drugs and technologies will be a major stimulant, as well as the aging baby boomer market.

"The ophthalmic industry has made significant gains in improving the state of the art, but it is still really only in its infancy," said William J. Link, Ph.D. "The industry needs to accomplish more, and it will. Awareness of retinal degenerative diseases is rapidly growing, and the heightened development of successful modalities is driving more money into this space."

Symposium presenters and dinner guests will include invited keynote speaker, Douglas C. Wallace, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Human Genetics Division and Metabolism, and Director of the Center for Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine and Genetics, University of California, Irvine. In addition to Dr. Wallace, an industry panel will be held with business development and R&D executives from the ophthalmic industry. This panel will be moderated by Dr. Scott Whitcup, Executive Vice President of R&D of Allergan, Inc. Another panel will discuss mid- and late-stage companies that are approaching market launch or are already in the market. This panel will be hosted by James V. Mazzo, Senior Vice President of Abbott Medical Optics.

For more information, please contact William J. Link, Ph.D., at Versant Ventures at (949) 729- 4000 or Amy Thompson at Foundation for Fighting Blindness at (310) 207-2089 or email Amy Thompson at athompson@fightblindness.org or visit www.fightblindness.org.

About Versant Ventures

Versant Ventures is a leading healthcare-focused venture capital firm specializing in seed, early stage, and selective later-stage investments in medical devices, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Founded in 1999, the firm consists of a seasoned team of 10 managing directors with more than 170 years of venture capital investing experience and approximately 145 years of operating experience. It currently manages 95 companies in its portfolio and more than $1.6 billion in capital. Versant Ventures has three offices in California in Silicon Valley, Orange County and San Francisco. For more information, visit www.versantventures.com

Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB)

FFB is committed to driving research that will provide prevention, treatment and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and other retinal degenerative diseases. As a non-profit foundation, based in Owing Mills, Maryland, the Foundation has raised more than $350 million since its inception in 1971 and currently funds 151 grants at 80 institutions. It has 50 volunteer-led groups across the United States. For more information, visit www.fightblindness.org. or email Amy Thompson at athompson@fightblindness.org.

About The Retinal Innovation Symposium

The Retinal Innovation Symposium sponsors day-long sessions that strive to continue driving the research and introduction of medical products that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and similar diseases. The third annual Orange County Retinal Innovation Symposium will be held March 25, 2010 at the Fairmont Hotel Newport Beach and be co-chaired by Barry Kupperman MD, Ph.D., professor and chief of retina services in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California at Irvine, and William J. Link, Ph.D., a managing director at leading healthcare venture capital firm Versant Ventures (www.versantventures.com). The Symposium will feature a series of presentations by corporate leaders and major researchers in the ophthalmologic industry regarding cutting-edge products focused on retinal degenerative diseases, as well as updates by private ophthalmic companies on the status of their development work.

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