PERSPECTIVES

Research opportunities for treating age-related macular degeneration

Globally speaking, age-related macular degeneration (or AMD) is a leading cause of blindness, especially in the Western countries. There are two subtypes: ‘wet’ AMD and a more common ‘dry’ form that affects 85 - 90% of all AMD patients. At Oxurion, we’re discovering new ways to treat both forms.

Current treatments don’t suffice

Wet AMD is usually treated with anti-VEGF injections. This therapy is often effective, but quite invasive: patients have to have several injections in the eye. Moreover, it’s not easy to predict when and how patients will respond to the therapy. Improvements can occur quickly and significantly, or in a delayed manner, or unfortunately in some cases not at all.

For dry AMD (the more common form of the disease) there’s currently no effective treatment.

“We need an alternative for patients who currently can’t be treated with existing therapies,” stresses professor Alan Stitt, Dean of Innovation and Impact and the McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology at Queen’s University Belfast. ”We should broaden the research horizon and look for treatments that we can combine with existing ones. In addition to that, we need to look for therapies that can fight several conditions simultaneously.”

Researching alternatives

As an expert back of the eye diseases, Oxurion develops therapies for conditions such as advanced dry AMD and wet AMD. The molecule THR-687, now in a Clinical Phase I Trial with DME patients, also has the potential to treat patients with wet AMD.

The company also teamed up with the Australian Beta Therapeutics Pyt Ltd to develop new enzymes that could treat dry AMD: heparanase inhibitors. Heparanase is an enzyme that plays a key role in modifying the matrix surrounding the cell and in inflammatory processes.

Professor Alan Stitt confirms that Oxurion’s clinical trials for treating not only DME, but also for PDR and MacTel1, could unlock opportunities for other eye diseases as well. “The anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective aspects of e.g. anti-PlGF could potentially have some efficacy in dry AMD,” he says.

Challenges and opportunities

“We can see great opportunities in the treatment of AMD. Part of the challenge is to better understand the onset and progression of the disease. We can partly meet this challenge by developing improved preclinical models as tools to identify therapeutic targets. These targets can then be matched to a specific group: patients with early-stage dry AMD. It would already be a significant step for ophthalmic science if we could halt this disease in its early stages, because that’s when we have the best chance of controlling the damage” says professor Alan Stitt.

Stitt praises Oxurion’s solid knowledge base on retinal diseases. “It’s a strong foundation to start examining other back of the eye diseases, like AMD. There could be interesting overlaps between the hallmarks of diabetic eye disease and AMD. Oxurion’s core expertise in retinal disease places them in a unique and promising position for the near future.”

Cantilis
Prof. Alan Stitt

Dean of Innovation & Impact and the McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology