I have had doctors stick needles in my eyes, so trust me when I tell you this: Not Fun. Eyeball injections are sometimes necessary to get drugs into hard-to-reach parts of the eye, but things can go wrong. Touch an eyelash on the way in, for instance, and you could inject bacteria as well; point the needle the wrong way and you could detach the retina. Eye drops? Problem there is that only about 5 percent of the drug actually gets into the eye—for certain eye problems, that keeps the dose of a drug far too low to be useful. How about taking a pill? You can, but there’s a barrier between the blood system and the eye that makes it very difficult to get drugs through, necessitating massive doses with potential side-effects. And only small-molecule drugs can get through at all. Anything based on a protein, DNA, or RNA, such as the RNA-interference drugs that people think have so much promise, is out of luck.
This is where Waltham-based EyeGate Pharma comes in. The company has developed a device to deliver various drugs, such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, and antivirals, into the eye. The technology is based on a process called iontophoresis, which takes advantage of the fact that like charges repel each other to essentially push the drugs in.
The EyeGate device is basically a small plastic cylinder that can be pressed against the white of the eye, with the cornea peeking through the center. The drug is dissolved in water and loaded into a foam ring inside the cylinder. Once the device is in place, the doctor switches on the power to an electrode at the back of the gizmo; the charge pushes the drug molecules out of the foam and into the eye.
“You don’t feel anything,” says Stephen From, EyeGate CEO. By controlling the strength of the current and the time the device runs, doctors can control exactly how much of the drug goes into the eye and how deep it penetrates. Depending on the drug, the treatment takes from one to five minutes. Occasionally it produces some redness in the eye, which quickly goes away, From says.
The eye conditions the company’s targeting first include uveitis—which is actually a suite of problems, all of which cause inflammation—and macular edema, a problem caused by such conditions as diabetic retinopathy that can potentially lead to blindness. It plans to reformulate generic drugs to work with the device, which has two advantages—as known entities, these drugs can get through the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process faster, but as reformulations they can be patented. EyeGate has about a dozen drugs in its reformulation pipeline right now, and plans to file for FDA permission to begin patient tests for the first one in a little over a month. From hopes that … Next Page »