Dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (dry-AMD) is the number one cause of unpreventable blindness in the world. In the United States, more patients turn blind due to AMD than due to glaucoma and cataract combined. As dry-AMD is a chronic disease of aging, the number of people affected by AMD is expected to dramatically increase over the next few years. Because of the absence of treatment, the disease is however not as well known as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's diseases, despite the fact that there are more patients affected by dry-AMD than patients suffering from by Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. The disease mostly affects people over 50 years of age and there is currently no FDA approved drug for dry-AMD.
There are two forms of AMD: dry-AMD and wet-AMD. If both forms may eventually lead to partial or complete blindness, these two diseases are different in nature:
Despite high prevalence, dry-AMD remains untreated due to historically poor understanding of the disease, which slowed the discovery of novel medicines. Recent data has helped elucidate the origins of dry-AMD and how it subsequently progresses. Most of this information was acquired during long term clinical studies (the AREDS studies) sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI).
The data generated by AREDS also helped demonstrate that a specific blend of vitamins and antioxidants (available over the counter) could at least slow the rate of progression of AMD. Although this discovery was encouraging, an actual pharmaceutical treatment is still needed to potentially completely stop the progression of vision loss in dry-AMD. Such a treatment would benefit millions of patients worldwide.
Although one would hope for a drug that can treat all patients equally, medicines that are designed to prevent progression are different than those aimed at regenerating dead tissue. For example, a drug that stops the disease progression, also called a "disease-modifying drug" would most likely benefit those patients with minimal vision loss, whereas a treatment that could help restore some of the lost vision would benefit patients with more advanced vision loss. Clinicians grade AMD in approximately 3 stages:
Once diagnosed by a retinal specialist, patients with AMD are monitored annually (ore more often if diagnosed with wet-AMD). The lack of treatment option for dry-AMD makes patients more likely to feel depressed and scientists and physicians are eager to develop new treatments.
Alkeus is developing novel medicines to slow or stop the progression of dry-AMD.