Revolutionary eye drop trial starts for common eye diseases

Research conducted by UNSW Sydney has paved the way for clinical testing of an eye drop treatment for diabetic macular oedema and wet age-related macular degeneration, the leading causes of blindness in the developed world.

A clinical trial has commenced across Australia for a novel eye drop treatment that could improve the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases. If successful, the eye drops will revolutionise treatment for these diseases, which currently involves serial injections of an antibody into the back of the eye.

Based on initial work carried out at the UNSW School of Chemistry, Professor Jonathan Morris collaborated with Exonate Limited to design the molecule used in the trial.

“The new eye drop treatment is an excellent example of UNSW researchers being able to translate their research into the clinic,” Prof. Morris said.

Professor Jonathan Morris

Professor Jonathan Morris. Photo: UNSW.

“I’m thrilled to be involved in a collaborative project that could result in a game-changing therapy for retinal vascular diseases. Eye drops offer patients a more effective and accessible treatment that can be self-administered in a painless and convenient way.”

The clinical trial is being conducted at centres across Australia, including UNSW’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences.

Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton at UNSW’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences said: “This project reinforces UNSW School of Optometry and Vision Science’s expertise in clinical trials for ocular pharmaceuticals. We are excited to be able to participate in the clinical testing of this novel and much needed treatment for retinal disease.”

Retinal vascular diseases, including macular degeneration and diabetic macular oedema, are the main cause of loss of sight in developed countries.

UNSW researchers identified novel compounds that modulate the growth factor causing retinal vascular diseases. As they are absorbed in the eye, the compounds allow retinal vascular disease treatment to be given via eye drop rather than injections directly into the eye.

Professor Nicholas Fisk, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at UNSW, including responsibility for knowledge exchange, is pleased that UNSW research with the potential to improve healthcare worldwide has attracted international investment from venture capital, including UniSeed, as well as Big Pharma.

“This is an exemplar of UNSW initiated technology being pivotally commercialised with international partners to deliver healthcare benefits and societal impact,” Prof. Fisk said.

Dr Catherine Beech, Chief Executive Officer of Exonate, said: “The initiation of our first clinical trial is an important step in the validation of our eye drop approach. This is a unique opportunity to create a drug that may have the potential to improve the treatment of patients with retinal vascular diseases and transform the lives of those suffering from vision loss.”

Exonate, a company focused on retinal diseases, is collaborating on the trial with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

Results from the trial – which will be undertaken in 48 diabetic patients with macular oedema – are expected in early 2022.

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