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Dr Miriam Stoppard: New drug brings hope of slowing sight failure

Experimental drug AXT107 gives hope to those who suffer from vision problems associated with age and diabetes.

As we get older, our vision becomes vulnerable to age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) and diabetic macular edema (DMO). Both conditions will lead to blindness if not treated. Their main feature is the excessive growth of blood vessels that can flow in the eyes that interfere with vision. This is due to fluid leakage from abnormal blood vessels. But now the experimental drug brings hope.

This drug may be twice as successful in dealing with loss of vision than it seems at first glance. The drug, labeled AXT107, prevents fluid from leaking from abnormal blood vessels. The last study refers to a previous work showing that the drug stopped the growth of abnormal vessels.

In healthy eyes, the cells that form blood vessels are tightly bound together like Velcro to create a fluid-tight connection that prevents leakage. In DMO, gaps form between the cells, opening up spaces big enough to allow fluids to leak into the surrounding tissue, damaging your vision. But when AXT107 was applied to leaking cells they began rebuilding connections so that one cell fitted snugly with another, forming a ­watertight seal.

“It was like zipping them up with a zipper,” said Dr ­Aleksander Popel, professor of biomedical engineering and oncology at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr ­Popel said that previous studies of AXT107 in animal models have shown that the drug acts longer than current treatment methods, forming a transparent gel in the eye with a slow release of the drug. If they are effective in patients, they may need only one or two injections into the eye per year instead of the monthly injections currently required.

Professor feels AXT107 is a new treatment approach, and said: “In addition to potentially improving the response for patients, the longer ­duration of AXT107 may allow for less frequent dosing, thus reducing the treatment burden for patients.”

The researchers say they’re preparing to test the AXT107 for safety and efficacy in clinical trials of people with DMO next year. This will be welcome news for patients.