New target for macular degeneration gets funding for clinical trials

20 November 2015

The Medical Research Council is to fund researchers at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital to conduct clinical trials into the use of a humanised monoclonal antibody to treat patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 60. More than three million people in Europe and North America suffer from a neovascular form of AMD (‘wet’ AMD).

Current treatments involve injections which block a protein known as VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor). The protein has an important role because it stimulates the formation of new blood vessels needed for healthy circulation and for healing damaged tissue. But in disease, the new blood vessels that are formed are abnormal and, in the case of AMD, grow underneath the macula (the central part of the retina) and leak fluid. This leakage, together with bleeds and scar tissue, eventually leads to loss of central vision and distortions where, for example, straight lines appear wavy.

Preventing the abnormal growth arrests the course of the disease. Unfortunately, the existing treatment doesn’t work for between 10 and 15 per cent of patients and their eyesight becomes progressively worse, preventing them from being able to drive and hampering their ability to read, watch television or recognise faces easily.

A few years ago, a team led by Professors John Greenwood and Stephen Moss at UCL identified a different protein called LRG1 which also causes the abnormal vessel growth. They developed a monoclonal antibody – Magacizumab – which, in mice, specifically targets LRG1 and prevents the formation of abnormal blood vessels.

The researchers have now been given over £5.5m to conduct Phase 1 and Phase 2a clinical trials to see whether the drug is safe for humans and whether it will halt the disease in patients who are no longer responsive to the standard treatment. If these trials are successful, the team will then assess whether the treatment works for newly diagnosed patients.

Professor Stephen Moss said: “Around 40,000 people a year develop wet AMD and it severely limits what they can do and their enjoyment of life.  If the trial is successful, it will be followed by larger trials and, we hope, development by a pharmaceutical company.” Professor John Greenwood added, “We are particularly excited by this approach as it targets a novel pathway involved in abnormal vessel formation”.

The team will likely begin recruiting patients for the trial in 2018, once the safety of this new potential therapy has been assessed in animal studies, and will take place at the NIHR Clinical Research Facility and Biomedical Research Centre based at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The funding comes from the Biomedical Catalyst scheme which supports UK academics and small to medium-sized businesses seeking to take their research from discovery through to commercialisation in order to deliver patient benefit.  Dr Chris Watkins, Director of Translational Research & Industry at the MRC, said: “This is an extremely exciting project because abnormal blood vessel growth is a feature of a whole range of diseases, including cancer.  If the trial’s outcomes are good, this work could have important implications for other areas of medicine.

Professors Greenwood and Moss worked closely with UCL Business PLC, the technology transfer office of UCL, to protect Magacizumab through a portfolio of patents that is managed by UCLB.

For more information or if you wish to contact either Professor Greenwood or Moss, please contact the MRC press office on 0207 395 2345 (out of hours: 07818 427 297) or email press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

About The Medical Research Council
The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-one MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

For further information, please visit: www.mrc.ac.uk

About UCL Business PLC
UCLB is a leading technology transfer company that supports and commercialises research and innovations arising from UCL, one of the UK’s top research-led universities. UCLB has a successful track record and a strong reputation for identifying and protecting promising new technologies and innovations from UCL academics. It invests directly in development projects to maximise the potential of the research and manages the commercialisation process of technologies from the laboratory to market. UCLB supports UCL’s Grand Challenges of increasing UCL’s positive impact on and contribution to Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.

For further information, please visit: www.uclb.com

About NIHR Biomedical Research Centre
About NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology is a partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.  Established in April 2007, its purpose is to conduct ‘translational research’ that is designed to take advances in basic medical research from the laboratory to the clinic, enabling patients to benefit more quickly from new scientific breakthroughs.  Our centre is currently one of 12 biomedical research centres that were awarded in 2007 to NHS/university partnerships with an outstanding international reputation for medical research and expertise, and experience of translating that research into the clinical setting.  For further information, please visit www.brcophthalmolgy.org/

About Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is one of the world’s leading eye hospitals, providing expertise in clinical care, research and education.  We have provided excellence in eye care for more than 200 years and we continue to be at the forefront of new breakthroughs and developments.  We are an integral part of one of the UK’s first academic health science centres, UCL Partners, and now one of the first academic health science networks,  were one of the first organisations to become an NHS foundation trust in 2004.  For further information, please visit www.moorfields.nhs.uk

About UCL Institute of Ophthalmology
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology is one of a number of specialised research centres within UCL (University College London) and is, together with Moorfields Eye Hospital, one of the leading centres for eye research worldwide. The most recent Research Assessment Exercise confirmed the outstanding quality of research carried out at the Institute, with 40 per cent of investigators ranked 4* (world-leading) together with a further 30 per cent ranked as internationally excellent. The combination of the Institute’s research resource with the resources of Moorfields Eye Hospital, which has the largest ophthalmic patient population in the Western World, opens the way for advances at the forefront of vision research.

For further information, please visit: www.ucl.ac.uk

About The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government’s strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence, and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world.

For further information, visit the NIHR website: www.nihr.ac.uk