New drug tackles eye degeneration
Eye experts are leading a landmark trial in the UK of a new drug that could slow the progression of an untreatable form of blindness.
Patients who have suffered some visual loss due to geographic atrophy (GA) - an advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - are receiving injections of lampalizumab.
It is believed the treatment, now in its final clinical trial phase, could reduce the area of damage in most sufferers by around 20%.
Some with a particular genetic feature could see the damage reduced by 44%, according to experts at Southampton General Hospital who are leading the UK trials.
The condition, which occurs when cells in the part of the eye responsible for vision become damaged by the build-up of waste deposits called drusen, causes progressive and permanent vision loss.
Despite accounting for 90% of all cases of AMD - the leading cause of blindness in the UK affecting around 500,000 people over the age of 50 - there are no approved treatments for either the early, intermediate or advanced forms of dry AMD.
Professor Andrew Lotery, a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital and the study's chief investigator in the UK, said the study was a "major milestone" for patients and clinicians.
He said: "Lampalizumab has already been shown to reduce damage caused by GA by 20% in most cases and, for some patients with a specific genetic biomarker, by up to 44% in early-stage trials.
"These are significant reductions and, if they are replicated in this larger study, it will revolutionise the way we treat the condition and mean patients are no longer condemned to blindness when diagnosed."
The two-year project will see just under 2,000 patients enrolled on to one of two multi-national studies.
Two-thirds of patients will receive a 10mg dose of lampalizumab by intravitreal injection every four or six weeks and the other third will be treated with sham injections.
Prof Lotery said: "We are still recruiting for the study, so it is important we get the message out to sufferers that they can come forward and be part of what we hope will be a very exciting development."