AMD Update 7: The London Project To Cure Blindness – An Update
As you may know, the London Project To Cure Blindness is a 5 year research project based at University College London that launched in June 2007. The main aim of the project is to develop a surgical cell therapy for Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) by 2012, whereby the diseased retinal support cells, the retinal pigment epithelium cells (RPE), at the back of the eye are replaced by healthy RPE cells that have been derived from human embryonic stem cells. RPE cells form a monolayer behind the photoreceptors - the "seeing" part of the eye - and support their function by providing nutrients and removing debris. The degeneration of the RPE cell layer is the underlying cause of AMD. This therapy is primarily aimed at dry-AMD which accounts for approximately 90% of AMD cases and is currently untreatable. However, the therapy would be suitable for both dry and wet AMD.
(Editor’s Note: Although there are no current treatments for dry AMD, please look at AMD Update 6, which discusses new drug treatments for dry AMD that are in development.)
We are pleased to inform you that we have now moved into the stage of the project where we are ready to initiate the safety studies necessary prior to clinical trials, and are still on track for the initial human clinical trials to commence in, we hope, the first quarter of 2011. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that the exact launch date of the trials is very much in the hands of the regulatory bodies here in the UK, provided that they are fully satisfied with the safety study data that we are scheduled to submit to them at the end of 2010. Considering that these will be the first human embryonic stem cell trials in man in the UK, the project really will be breaking new ground.
Recent developments have revealed that there will be strict criteria for patient inclusion in the initial trials and that they will not be open to volunteers. There is no list on which patients can record their interest in trials. Once the initial trials are approved by the regulatory bodies they will take place at Moorfields Eye Hospital, where patients will be organized. Further information regarding the up-scaling of the trials and the patient criteria will likely become available after this point in time.
As I learn more, I will continue to update the team’s progress.