Southampton eye experts trial new drug to reduce sight loss

Eye experts in Southampton are leading UK trials of a new drug that could slow the progression of a currently untreatable form of blindness.

In a landmark study, patients at Southampton General Hospital who have suffered some visual loss as a result of 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% – but by 44% in some with a particular genetic feature.

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 a progressive and permanent loss of vision.

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 currently no approved treatments for the early, intermediate or advanced forms of dry AMD.

The remaining 10% of cases are caused by the ‘wet’ form of the disease, which develops when abnormal blood vessels appear underneath and within the retina and can lead to rapid vision loss – though it can be treated and stabilised using a class of drugs called anti-VEGF agents.

“Geographic atrophy secondary to AMD is a debilitating condition which affects around five million people worldwide and has been untreatable for a long period of time, so this study marks a major milestone for patients and clinicians,” explained Professor Andrew Lotery, a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital and the study’s chief investigator in the UK.

“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 onto one of two multi-national studies. Two-thirds of patients will receive a 10 mg dose of lampalizumab by intravitreal injection every four or six weeks and the other third will be treated with sham injections.

Prof Lotery, who is also a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton, added: “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.”

Any patient with GA who would like to be considered for participation in the study can be referred to Prof Lotery’s clinic by their GP or can contact Marie Nelson, senior research sister, on 023 8120 5266 or by email at

If suitable, they will be assessed in a purpose-built research clinic which has been made possible by support from the Gift of Sight Appeal ( Patients who have had previous treatment for wet AMD are not suitable for the study.

Posted on Friday 26 June 2015