According to the Population Reference Bureau, 40 million people in the United States are aged 65 and older. This number is expected to more than double by the year 2050 when approximately 90 million individuals will be 65 years old or older. Old age is a risk factor for many diseases and among these are age-related vision problems such as cataracts, diabetic macular edema, and certain types of macular degeneration. Diabetic macular edema and macular degeneration often lead to low vision or blindness as these disorders deteriorate the retina of the eye. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and sends signals, via the optic nerve, to the brain to make sense of what we are seeing. Degeneration of the retina leads to low vision and blindness, which refers to a permanent loss of vision that interferes with common age-appropriate seeing tasks and is not capable of being corrected with eyeglasses or surgical interventions.
One current treatment for diabetic macular edema and macular degeneration is called Eylea, an medication that is injected directly into the eye every 1 to 2 months. This drug has been life changing for patients as it helps to preserve vision in older adults with these eye disorders. In fact, Eylea was the fifth best-selling drugworldwide in 2020. However, the monthly regimen of the drug is often cumbersome for patients as it requires frequent visits to their physician. Recently, the pharmaceutical company Roche announced its data on their novel drug, Faricimab, that was designed to treat diabetic macular edema and macular degeneration and is longer lasting than Eylea.
Faricimab is an injectable antibody that targets two signaling pathways that drive the degeneration of the retina in these conditions. While this is a similar mechanism of treatment as Eylea, Faricimab is promising because it only requires an injection once every four months, instead of Eylea’s monthly regimen. Dr. Jeffery Heier, the director of Retinal Research at Ophthalmic Consultants in Boston said, “Faricimab’s potential to extend time between treatments may benefit those patients who struggle to keep up with the regular physician visits and eye injections needed to preserve their vision.”
Roche announced in February that in four clinical studies on diabetic macular edema and neurovascular age-related macular degeneration, many of the patients that received Faricimab every four months maintained their initial vision without further vision loss and with minimal side effects. Dr. Levi Garraway, Chief Medical Officer at Roche, summed up these studies by saying that, “these positive results show the potential for Faricimab as the first new type of medicine in 15 years for people with [age-related vision problems…and] we hope to bring these potential treatments to people living with vision-threatening retinal conditions as soon as possible.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted the application for Faricimab and is currently reviewing the data. The FDA is projected to make a decision on its approval by the end of December 2021.