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University of Galway leading new project to tackle rare diseases that impact sight


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

University of Galway leading new project to tackle rare diseases that impact sight University of Galway leading new project to tackle rare diseases that impact sight

A consortium of 10 European academic, clinical and enterprise partners, led by the University of Galway, has been formed for a special project to test new treatments for rare eye diseases that affect the surface of the eye.

Some 30 million people in Europe suffer from blindness and visual impairment. Rare eye diseases are a major cause of blindness in children and young adults and also affect adults and the ageing population. Current management is expensive, has low efficacy, and significant side effects, according to those involved in the RESTORE VISION consortium

They plan to address this by formulating novel treatments and using repurposed drugs that have been validated in different disease indications.

The project will target seven rare eye diseases: aniridia-associated keratopathy; neurotrophic keratopathy; limbal stem cell deficiency; ocular cicatricial pemphigoid; EEC syndrome; ocular graft versus host disease; and corneal neovascularisation.

Many rare eye diseases have common denominators and treating the overlapping mechanisms of these different conditions should greatly increase the prospects of discovering new sight-restoring therapies. That’s according to Professor of Medicine at the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Galway, Thomas Ritter.

Professor Ritter, a Science Foundation Ireland-funded investigator at Galway’s medical devices research centre, CÚRAM, is leading the consortium and has described the role as “a great honour”.

The diseases being targeted through the RESTORE VISION consortium are estimated to affect more than 500,000 people, representing 1.7% of the total visual impairment and blindness population in Europe.

The project involves six top institutions: the University of Galway; Linköping University, Sweden; Ospedale San Raffaele, Italy; Universidad Miguel Hernandez De Elche, Spain; INSERM, France; and University Hospital Cologne, Germany.

Three European SMEs are enterprise partners in the project – Cell2Cure, Denmark; Laboratoires KÔL, France; and Catalyze, the Netherlands. And a European patient organisation is also a partner – Aniridia Europe, Norway. Aniridia is a condition which results in a partial or complete absence of the iris.

The consortium will seek to improve eye health by verifying disease mechanisms, using cutting-edge models for each disease to test novel and repurposed compounds; formulating safe eye-drop suspensions or subconjunctival drugs; and performing first-in-human trials of novel therapies.

Common denominators in rare eye diseases include impaired wound healing at the cornea and ocular surface; excessive inflammation; nerve degeneration; stem cell dysfunction; and aberrant vessel ingrowth.  According to the researchers, these represent a critical medical problem and an area of unmet medical need.

Drugs that have been extensively tested in pre-clinical studies by the RESTORE VISION academic and pharma partners, or treatments that are already on the market will be used in the project.

This will significantly reduce the usually lengthy and complex regulatory and drug development processes, ensuring rapid translation of these innovative treatments into the clinic, according to the consortium.



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