Dr. Michael Tolentino

Dr. Michael J Tolentino attended Deerfield Academy and received his honors Bachelor’s degree in computer science and organizational behavior from Brown University and his Medical degree from the University of Massachusetts. During College he studied at Nanjing University in China. During high school and college he worked at Harvard Medical School at the Schepens Eye Research Insitute in his father's laboratory. His father (Felipe Tolentino MD) is one of the founders of the field of vitreoretinal surgery and was a partner of Charles Schepens the founder of the Schepens Eye Research Institute of the Harvard Medical School.

In the lab he worked on perfluoronated carbons to be used on scleral contact lenses (1) and on silicone oil for retinal detachment repair. He also worked at the National Eye Institute to develop an imaging system to monitor cataract formation for purposes of clinical trials. (2) In medical school he developed a model of glioblastoma multiforme in a rat and helped test an antibody-ricin linked toxin in this model.  He also worked in the laboratory of Drs. Elliot Berson (Professor Harvard Medical School and Director of Berman Gund Laboratory) /Thaddeus Dryja (Head Novartis Ophthalmology)/Michael Sandberg (Professor Harvard Medical School) on macular and retinal degeneration. In this Lab he worked on developing Electroretinograms.

After medical school he did a post-doctoral angiogenesis research fellowship at the Harvard Medical School with Dr. Judah Folkman, Anthony Adamis (Senior VP Global head of Ophthalmology/Immunology Roche), Joan Miller (Chair Harvard Medical School Ophthalmology), Patricia D’Amore ( Director of SERI), Robert D’Amato( Inventor of Revilimid) During this fellowship he helped develop a xenograft model system to identify endogenous anti-angiogenic therapies. (3) This model was the basis for isolating angiogenic inhibitors such as endostatin and angiostatin. He then switched his research focus to retinal disease by studying Verteporfrin (Photodynamic Therapy) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). He demonstrated that PDT's effect on vasculature was not a result of thermal damage. For VEGF, he demonstrated that VEGF was sufficient and necessary to produce all the findings of diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration. (4-6)

It was during this time that he helped develop anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) therapies such as Avastin, Lucentis Macugen and Eylea treatments used today for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.  Working with Napolean Ferrara (Inventor of Avastin and Lucentis) of Genentech, he was the first to administer Avastin in an animal model of human retinal disease.(7-8) In order to inject the precursor to Avastin into the eye, he identified the need to eliminate endotoxin by utilizing the limulus lysate assay to identify any presence of endotoxin in the Avastin preparation. The purification of Avastin and elimination of endotoxin allowed future clinicians the ability to inject Avastin a drug approved for cancer to be injected into the eye.

This work formed the basis for the founding of Eyetech a company that manufactured Macugen the first anti-VEGF therapy developed for retinal diseases. This work also served as the basis for Genentech’s Lucentis program and Regeneron’s Eylea program. In parallel, Dr. Tolentino also completed an ophthalmology residency at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary/Harvard Medical. He then moved to Philadelphia where he finished a vitreo-retinal surgical fellowship while joining the ophthalmology and molecular biology faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Tolentino earned numerous awards and received several prestigious grants while at UPenn including the Heed/Knapp, AOS, Ron Michels, AUPO fellowships as well as RPB and K08 NEI research grants. His research focused on gene, cellular and stem cell therapies. He collaborated with Drs. Jim Wilson (Inventor of Ex Vivo Gene Therapy) and Jean Bennett (Inventor of Gene therapy for LCA) on the development of regulatable adeno-associated gene therapy vectors to deliver anti-angiogenic therapies. (9-10) His major accomplishment is his invention of a new class of gene silencing molecules called small interfering RNA  (siRNA). against anti-angiogenic targets. (11) He has 3 issued patents on the use of these molecules for treating neovascular diseases such as age related macular degeneration and cancer. (12-16) He was the first to demonstrate that the RNA interference mechanism worked in vertebrate organisms.

With these inventions Dr. Tolentino co-founded and served as the initial CEO for Acuity Pharmaceuticals where he raised 3 million dollars from friends and family and helped raise 21 million in venture funding (Psilos, Mitsubishi and J&J Development). He guided the company from invention, start up, clinical trials to exit. After the successful phase II trial of Bevasiranib for macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, Acuity pharmaceuticals merged with a publically traded company Exegenic, owned completely by the Miami Based Frost Gamma private equity group, to form OPKO health (NYSE: OPK) a publically traded biopharmaceutical company. This deal was valued at over 200 million. OPKO’s current market cap is over 3 Billion. (17) Dr. Phillip Frost is current CEO and also the Chairman of the Board of TEVA pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Tolentino is currently a practicing vitreoretinal surgeon specializing in the surgery and treatment of macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachment, macular pucker, retinal vein occlusions. Patients travel from around the world and from other states to obtain treatment for their retinal conditions.

He has been the top enrolling principal investigator for Phase I to III FDA registration and Phase IV trials for drugs such as Eylea, Lucentis, Verteporfrin, Macugen, Iluvien, Jetrea AREDS II, Psvidia, and SphingoMAB and has been involved in the approval process for several of these drugs. He has been involved in the early development of novel molecules such as eyedrops for AMD (GSK, Panoptica, Bayer), anti-PDGF (Ophthotech, Regeneron), Anti-Complement antibodies (Novartis. Ophthotech, Genentech, Pfizer), TIE-2 manipulators (Aerpio,Regeneron), siRNA-VEGF(OPKO), Esbatech Molecule(Alcon), siRNA (Quark), AntiSense (I-Cos) Anti-Amyloid(Pfizer), Squalamine, Sirolimus (Santen), Anti-Inflammatory(Xoma), DARPINs against VEGF (Allergan) and anti- C2/C5 (Pfizer)  He has also helped develop devices such as the Foresee Home and microinfusion of anti-VEGF. 

Dr. Tolentino is a frequent international lecturer on anti-angiogenic, retinal and macular therapies. He is currently lecturing on preventative strategies for delaying macular degeneration as well as on the history and state of the art management of macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. He has organized several ophthalmic education meetings in Florida as well as in other states. He is the co director of the Snowmass CME meeting in Aspen Colorado.  He also serves on the faculty of University of Central Florida School of Medicine and is an Associate Clinical Professor and teaches advance ophthalmology course to medical students.

Dr. Tolentino has served on several scientific advisory panels and is or has been a consultant, advisor or speaker for several pharmaceutical companies including Bayer, Regeneron, Pfizer, Novartis, Genentech, Allergan, Eyetech, QLT, Bausch and Lomb/Valeant, Theravance, Thrombogenics and Glaxo Smith Kline. He served as the Chief Medical Officer for a stem cell company Cryotooth. He also served as founding CEO of Altiok Oncosystems a spin off Company from the Moffitt Cancer Center. He has also served as advisor to several biotech, device and startup companies including, Promedior, Eyelten, Ophthotech, LPath, Alimera, Eyesolutions, AMS Biotek, Panoptica, Sequenom, Arctic DX, Optherion, Occulogix, Clanotech, Asahi Medical, Sightpath, Theravance, Esight Eyewear and Notal Vision.  He is also a consultant for the investment community and has recently consulted for Morganthaler, SSRI, and Gerson Lehrman Group. He has consulted for Soros Biotech Fund, and Healthcare Ventures in the past. He is currently on the speakers bureau for Bayer, Regeneron, Allergan, and Thrombogenic, but has been a speaker for Pfizer, Novartis, GSK, Eyetech and Genentech. He has given over 200 international lectures and talks.

He has published over 80 peer-reviewed papers, and over 100 publications in the field of anti-angiogenic, retinal and macular therapies. He is a former high skill high wage board member in the Lakeland economic development council. He is former vice chair of Applied Medicine for the Tampa Bay Partnership Business Plan Initiative. He is currently on the Foundation Board of the Florida Poly, He also has founded a mutual fund in the late 90’s called Physicians Investment Group and Co founded a hedge fund PhileoSecurities. Both funds had at least annualized returns of over 40 percent during their existence. 

He has started the Tolentino Eye Research Foundation focused on promoting novel eye research and entrepeneurship in eye research and he also serves on the board of Restoring Sight International.

He has won numerous awards

1988    Sigma Xi (Science Honor Society)

1988    All American Scholar

1988    National Deans List

1989    Honors Graduate Brown University

1990    National Eye Institute Summer Research Grant

1990    National Heart, Lung and Blood Summer Research Grant

1993    Senior Scholar at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary

1994- 96    Research Prevent Blindness Unrestricted Grant

1995    ARVO Traveling Fellow for Retina

1999    Heed Ophthalmic Fellow

2000    AUPO fellow presenter

2000    Hernan Knapp-AOS Fellow

2000    Ronald G. Michels Vitreoretinal Fellowship

2001    Strathmore’s Who’s Who

2002    Charles Schepens Research Award Most Outstanding Research Paper

2003    AUPO fellow presenter Senior author

2003    Mentor for Alpha Omega Alpha Student Research Fellowship

2010    Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine Medical Researcher of the Year.

2012    Best Doctors

2012    Peoples Choice Award

He has received several prestigious grants including NIH – K08, R03, RPB Career development ward, AHAF.

He currently lives in Lakeland with his wife Agnes and 3 children. He is an avid skier, gardener and practioner of Feng Shui.


1) Refojo MF, Leong FL, Friend J, Tolentino M. “ Perfluoro-1-Methyl Decalin as a potential oxygen carrier with fluid scleral lens. “ Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1985, 26 (3); S144.

2) Datiles MB, Tolentino M, Sibug ME, Podgor M, Shumer J, Lee J. “ Cataract Progression Using the Zeiss Schiempflug Camera. “ Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1990, 31 (4); S304.

3) Chen C, Parangi S, Tolentino MJ, Folkman J: A strategy to discover circulating Angiogenesis Inhibitors Generated by Human Tumors, Cancer Research. 1996, 55,pp 4230-4233.

4) Tolentino M, Miller J, Gragoudas E, Chatzistefanou K, Ferrara N, Adamis A. Vascular endothelial growth factor is sufficient to produce iris neovascularization and neovascular glaucoma in a non-human primate. Arch Ophthalmol. 1996;114:964-70.

5) Tolentino MJ, Miller JW, Gragoudas ES, Jakobiec FA, Flynn E, Chatzistefanou K, Ferrara N, Adamis AP Intravitreal Injections of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Produce Retinal Ischemia and Microangiopathy in an adult primate. Ophthalmology. 1996;103:pp.1820-28.

6) Tolentino MJ,  McLeod DS, Taomoto M,  Otsuji T, Adamis AP, Lutty GA. Pathologic features of VEGF-induced retinopathy in the non-human primate.   American Journal of Ophthalmology 2002 Mar;133(3):373-85.

7) Adamis AP, Shima DT, Tolentino MJ, Gragoudas ES, Ferrara N, Miller JW: Inhibition of Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Prevents Retinal Ischemia-Associated Iris Neovascularization in a Nonhuman Primate, Arch Ophthalmol, 1996; 114, pp 66-71.

8) Tolentino MJ, Husain D, Theodosiadis P, Gragoudas ES, Connolly E, Kahn J, Cleland J , Adamis AP, Cuthbertson A, Miller JW. Angiography of fluoresceinated anti-VEGF antibody and  dextrans in experimental choroidal neovascularization. Arch Ophthalmol 2000; 118(1)

9) Auricchio, A., Rivera, V., Clackson, T., Maguire, A., O'Connor, E., Tolentino, M., Bennett, J. & Wilson, J. Rapamycin-inducible Secretion of a Therapeutic Protein in the Eye After Transduction With Viral Vectors. Molecular Therapy 2002 Aug;6(2):238.

10) Auricchio A, Behling KC , O'Connor EE, Maguire AM, Bennett J, Wilson JM, Tolentino MJ. AAV-Mediated Retinal Transfer Of Anti-angiogenic Genes In A Murine Model Of Retinopathy Of Prematurity (ROP).  Molecular Therapy 2002 Oct;6(4):490.

11) Reich SJ,  Fosnot J, Kuroki A, Tang W, Yang X, Maguire AM, Bennett J, Tolentino MJ.  Small interfering RNA targeting VEGF effectively inhibits laser induced choroidal neovascularization.  Molecular Vision, 2003 May 30;9:210-6.

12) US Patent 7,148,342:  Tolentino MJ, Reich SJ. Compositions and methods for sirna inhibition of angiogenesis.

13) US Patent 7,521,431  Reich SJ, Surace EM, Tolentino MJ. Compositions and methods for siRNA inhibition of HIF-1 alpha.

14) US Patent Application 20040248174 Reich SJ, Tolentino MJ. Compositions and methods for siRNA inhibition of angiopoietin 1and 2 and their receptor Tie2 .

15) US Patent Application 20060287259  Reich SJ, Tolentino MJ. Compositions and methods for combined therapy of disease.

16) US Patent Application 20040220129  Reich SJ, Tolentino MJ. Compositions and methods for siRNA inhibition of ICAM-1.

17) http://investor.opko.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=279164