The team that discovered the first drug in the world for cataracts prevention won $100,000 at the Enterprize competition of the University of Queensland Business School’s in Australia.
The University of Queensland Business School MBA program was ranked 46th in the world by The Economist. Enterprize competition started in 2000 and it has assisted businesses like Fusion Sport, Southern Innovation and Vaxxas (which is pioneering the Nanopatch needle-free vaccine delivery system).
Dr Tim Lovell and Professor Andrew Abell and Dr Victoria Kopetz accepted the prize on October 13 after a final business pitch to the Enterprize judges at Pitch Day, held at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
Professor Abell, Professor of Chemistry at Adelaide University, is the lead inventor and he has been working in the last ten years on the class of drug compounds involved.
He and Dr Lovell are the co-founders of Calpain Therapeutics (Adelaide-based), which will commercialize the drug. The medicine, that slows cataracts formation and progression, targets a protein called calpain in the eye’s tissue. Calpain protein, a protease (proteolytic enzyme), can cause the cataracts clouding when it is activated by different triggers.
Dr Lovell has worked on drug design and development with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and was a business development manager at Bio Innovation SA in Adelaide.
“Calpain Therapeutics is pioneering a novel drug with application to the eye health of people around the world.The proposition of the drug is to significantly slow down cataracts on their path to causing blindness. With severe cataracts the leading cause of blindness around the world, the Business School is proud to support such a visionary innovation,” said Professor Iain Watson, the University of Queensland Business School’s Academic Dean and Head.
Calpain Therapeutics team was “thrilled to have won such a prestigious competition as Enterprize. The $100,000 Enterprize prize money will enable us to complete key human lens experiments, the next step before clinical trials. We will be able to start those very soon, and complete them in three to six months. Going through the Enterprize competition judging process has also been invaluable for us. It forced us to focus on and refine our business plan, to hone an engaging, informative business pitch to put to investors,” said Dr Lovell.
They won the prize on World Sight Day, an annual day of awareness to focus global attention on blindness, visual impairment and rehabilitation of the visually impaired. World Sight Day is held on the second Thursday of October. It is the main advocacy event for the prevention of blindness and for Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, a global effort to prevent blindness created by WHO and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.
The world-first drug that could prevent vision loss from cataracts has been effective in preliminary trials but is yet to be tested on humans.
This medicine could delay cataracts progression in such a manner that surgery might never be needed, said Abell.
“Optometrists can tell very early on whether you have signs of cataracts, well before they affect vision. By using the drug early, you could slow their development so much it would not actually develop,” Professor Abell told The Advertiser.
The medication could be either drops or a cream “that you put in your eyes each night before you go to sleep”, said Dr Lovell. “We see it as akin to brushing your teeth each day. You do that to prevent cavities. This would be a drop each day to prevent cataracts.”
“Through a routine eye examination, optometrists and ophthalmologists can see the early stages of a cataract forming. Once it’s detected, then you could start to use the drug to slow its progress. And because we know that if you have a cataract in one eye you will most likely get one in the other eye, you could start to apply the drug to both eyes, delaying the onset of a cataract in one while slowing the growth of the cataract that has been diagnosed,” he said.
Cataracts are opacities in the eyes lens, that lead to blurred vision or cloudiness.
The lens is the most important transparent structure in the eye that helps vision clarity. If the lens loses its elasticity and transparency, visual impairment appears, or even vision loss. The cataract can develop in one or in both eyes.
Cataract derives from the Latin cataracta meaning waterfall and from the Greek καταράκτης (kataraktēs), down-rushing (rapidly running water turns white, mature cataracts are white too). Romans performed cataracts interventions using the sharp end of a needle for surgery and the blunt end heated to cauterize the wound.
The most cataracts are age-related, senile, and usually appear after the age of 65. The cataracts can be congenital (appears in new-born) or caused by heavy smoking, heavy drinking, long-term use of steroid medication (drug-induced cataract), diabetes, eye injury (traumatic cataract), exposure to ultraviolet light.
Around 18 million people are blind from cataracts (48% of world blindness), lots of them in the world’s poorer regions, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness estimates. Childhood cataracts are very rare, affecting about 3 in 10,000 children in the UK.
Cataract has no scientifically proven prevention. Yet wearing ultraviolet-protecting sunglasses may slow the development of cataracts. An antioxidant N-acetylcarnosine has been shown in randomized controlled clinical trials to treat cataracts an it is a proposed treatment for ocular related to oxidative stress (glaucoma, retinal degeneration, corneal disorders, ocular inflammation).
Lutein and zeaxanthin, Bilberry extract, showed potential benefits in rat laboratory and in clinical studies.
Acetyl-carnosine eye drops are believed to reduce oxidation damage in the lens, crystallin crosslinking. Trials indicated the drops may be appropriate when the surgery cannot be performed.
The statins seem to have antioxidants properties besides lowering lipids, cholesterol. A study suggested statin use in an at-risk population may be associated with a lower risk of developing nuclear cataract disease. Systematic application of azapentacene sodium polysulfonate (Quinax) slows cataracts progression showed an observation of an average five years.
More than 200,000 cataracts surgeries are performed every year. The cloudy lens is replaced with a synthetic lens (an intraocular lens implant). Intraocular lenses are usually monofocal and the patient is dependent on glasses after surgery. New multifocal lenses are flexible and can be controlled using the same eye muscles used to control the natural lens, leading to a less need for glasses.
Cataracts surgery lasts 30-45 minutes. The vision is improved very soon after the procedure and normal vision (with glasses) is reported in around 95% of cases. Complications after surgery are relatively uncommon.