Macular Week [25 June – 1 July]: Fight for Sight research could see an end to eye injections for patients with macular degeneration

25 June 18

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Press Office

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Eye research charity Fight for Sight has today announced funding for a research project that could help see an end to eye injections for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

We have made the announcement at the start of Macular Week 2018. We will be funding researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Bristol to develop medicines that could be given in ‘drop’ form rather than through the usual method of eye injection.

Standard eye drops are currently unable to reach the back of the eye which means treatments for wet AMD are currently delivered directly into the eyeball though injections. These can be highly invasive and uncomfortable for patients. 

Over the course of the three year project the researchers, led by Professor Alastair Denniston and Dr Lisa Hill in Birmingham, and Professor Andrew Dick in Bristol, will be investigating a novel approach that can deliver drugs to the back of the eye in ‘drop’ form. 

Dr Neil Ebenezer, Director of Research, Policy and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said: “A new drop-based drug could potentially reduce the need for injections and provide treatment in a way that is more comfortable for patients, which is why we are delighted to fund this important project. It’s early days but this work could pave the way for improved treatments that will make it easier for patients to continue with their treatment.

“We believe that through research we can find the answers to tackle both types of AMD and other eye conditions that have a significant impact on people’s lives. We will continue to invest in pioneering research as well as raising awareness of the need for more funding in this area.”

Dr Lisa Hill from the University of Birmingham said: ”We believe being able to deliver new immunotherapies by eye drop instead of regular intraocular injections will be of great benefit to patients with AMD”.

Ed Laxton was diagnosed with AMD eight years ago. He said: "An eye drop sounds much more inviting than an injection - I’ve now had more than 40 injections in each eye. In good daylight I can still read a newspaper, so it’s great that the treatment is having an impact, but it would make life easier for patients to have medication in drop form.”

It is estimated that there are 600,000 people in the UK with sight loss caused by AMD and this number will more than double to 1.3 million by 2050. The condition is responsible for two thirds of registrations of visual impairment or blindness in the UK.

AMD affects a small region of the retina at the back of the eye, called the macula. It is the commonest cause of severe visual impairment in older adults in the developed world. There are two types of AMD – ‘dry’ AMD which occurs when cells of the macula become damaged as a result of a build-up of deposits, and ‘wet’ AMD which occurs when unhealthy blood vessels form under the macula and cause damage to light sensing cells in the retina.

Fight for Sight is currently investing £8 million pounds in over 160 research projects into eye conditions. Addressing AMD is a vital part of the organisation’s research strategy. Additionally, Fight for Sight has increased their AMD research effort by forming Action Against AMD in collaboration with Blind Veterans, Macular Society and Scottish War Blinded.

Professor Alastair Denniston, Professor Andrew Dick, Dr Lisa Hill and their team will identify new highly targeted anti-inflammatory molecules coupled with a novel drug delivery system to enable the drugs to be delivered in ‘drop’ form to the back of the eye. A pivotal inflammatory cytokine in the retina has been identified which plays a role in visual loss in AMD by regulating the cells that cause abnormal blood vessels and scar formation. Professor Denniston and Dr Hill’s group at the University of Birmingham has developed a novel ‘penetration enhancing agent’ that can deliver drugs to the retina in ‘drop’ form, including those drugs which have previously required an injection such as the anti-VEGF therapies for wet AMD.

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