New target in war against macular degeneration

MIT Technology Review has taken a close-up snapshot of the science behind Acucela's clinical-stage therapy for macular degeneration. Researchers for the developer are zeroing in on a photopigment that leaks into nearby eye tissue.

A derivative of vitamin A, the photopigment kills cells and damages photoreceptors. By slowing the cycle in photoreceptors needed for night vision, receptors that are often overworked during daylight hours, researchers believe they can slow down the damage without seriously interfering with daytime vision. Acucela has developed a compound that inhibits an enzyme at work in the process.

Ryo Kubota, the founder of the Seattle-based start-up, is gearing up a trial for late-stage dry macular degeneration with other trials planned for diabetic retinopathy and Stargardt disease. Sirion Therapeutics, meanwhile, is testing its own drug that is designed to do much the same thing through a separate mechanism. And early results indicate it can reduce the scarring resulting from the condition by 45 percent.

"If you can treat dry AMD, you can kill two birds with one stone" -- reducing early symptoms and preventing progression to the wet form of macular degeneration, Paul Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute, tells Technology Review.

- check out the report in MIT Technology Review