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London Project to Cure Blindness

29 September 2015

A pioneering trial of a new treatment derived from stem cells for people with ‘wet’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has commenced at Moorfields Eye Hospital following a successful operation on a patient.

Patch graft

This first operation is a major milestone in the London Project to Cure Blindness, which was established 10 years ago with the aim of curing vision loss in patients with wet AMD, and is the result of a partnership between the hospital, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, UCL Business PLC and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Pfizer Inc. joined the partnership [in 2009] with the goal of helping to turn the original idea into a potential therapy.

The trial is investigating the safety and efficacy of transplanting eye cells (retinal pigment epithelium) derived from stem cells to treat people with sudden severe visual loss from wet AMD. These cells are used to replace those at the back of the eye that are diseased in AMD. This is done using a specially engineered patch inserted behind the retina in an operation lasting one to two hours.

The first surgery was successfully performed on a patient last month and there have been no complications to date. The patient wishes to remain anonymous, but the team hope to determine her outcome in terms of initial visual recovery by early December (2015).

“There is real potential that people with wet age-related macular degeneration will benefit in the future from transplantation of these cells,” says retinal surgeon Professor Lyndon Da Cruz from Moorfields Eye Hospital, who is performing the operations and is co-leading the London Project.

The trial will recruit 10 patients in total over a period of 18 months. Each patient will be followed for a year to assess the safety and stability of the cells and whether there is an effect in restoring vision.

Professor Pete Coffey of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, who is also co-leading the London Project, said: “We are tremendously pleased to have reached this stage in the research for a new therapeutic approach. Although we recognise this clinical trial focuses on a small group of AMD patients who have experienced sudden severe visual loss, we hope that many patients may benefit in the future.”

Although we recognise this clinical trial focuses on a small group of AMD patients who have experienced sudden severe visual loss, we hope that many patients may benefit in the future.

Professor Pete Coffey

Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre based at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, added: “We are delighted to be the site for this very exciting new clinical trial in stem cell therapy, which has the potential to give hope and make such a difference to the lives of people with blinding retinal conditions,”.

Professor Philip J Luthert, Director of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “The trial has shown the power of collaboration between the University, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Pfizer in establishing a new treatment paradigm for AMD. The London Project has been funded by large philanthropic donations, government funding agencies, charities, the NIHR and many private donors over the past few years, and Pfizer’s commitment has been vital in moving this project forward.”

Mr Cengiz Tarhan, Managing Director of UCLB said: “Seeing this project in clinic is extremely encouraging and we look forward to continuing to support this collaboration as it enters its next phase of development"

Dr Berkeley Phillips, UK Medical Director, Pfizer Ltd concluded: “At Pfizer we believe that great science comes through collaboration; no one person has all the answers and together, we can achieve more and move faster. Stem cell-derived therapy was only a theory until recent years, and to be part of a project that is applying the latest scientific breakthroughs to help restore patients’ eyesight is truly rewarding”.

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Images

  • Graphic showing patch in eye (Courtesy of Moorfield's Eye Hospital and paper authors)

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Media contact

Siobhan Pipa

Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9041

Email: s.pipa [at] ucl.ac.uk