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UoB spinout to develop therapeutics for ocular disease and eye trauma

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The University of Birmingham (UoB) has launched a new spinout that will commercially develop a platform that delivers a ‘pro-healing’ microenvironment for the leading causes of preventable blindness.

Healome Therapeutics Ltd will focus on ocular surface diseases which are notoriously difficult to treat and have progressively larger impacts on quality of life as the diseases run their course.

The technology is a novel fluid-gel material that flows like a liquid, and self-structures into a thin, clear, protective layer over the surface of the eye which is gradually dispersed and cleared away by blinking over two to eight hours.

The gel can be used on its own or as a carrier molecule to deliver other therapeutics.

One of Healome’s therapeutics has already been shown to have anti-fibrotic (anti-scarring) activity and these healing properties are augmented by combining it with other therapeutics.

The technology was developed by a team led by Professor Liam Grover who is Director of the University’s Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI).

The researcher anticipate that that treatments will come in the form of clear degradable ‘ocular bandages’ that can be applied like normal eye drops.

Professor Grover, who is also a co-founder of Healome Therapeutics, commented:

“There are many cutting edge drugs on the market or in development for diseases that affect the surface of the eye.

“One of the biggest challenges is to keep therapeutics on the surface of the eye for sufficient time for them to have an effect and more generally to regain or replace all the functions of the tear film.”

Although Healome will initially focus on Dry Eye Diseases, in the long term, the company aims to partner with healthcare companies to co-develop new therapeutics for delivery to the surface of the eye.

The gels respond to shear stress, which allows it to change back and forth from a liquid to a soft-solid consistency according to the physical forces applied to it, such as extrusion from a container, or blinking.

Its mechanical and drug diffusion properties can be ‘tuned’ by physical rather than chemical changes to the base polymers.

These attributes mean that pre-clinical or early clinical safety studies for new formulations will not need to be repeated and will reduce the time and cost to bring new products to market.

CEO of Healome, Dr Richard Williams, commented:

“Ocular surface diseases leading to Dry Eye have a disproportionately large impact on health, well-being and the ability to enjoy life.

“These conditions can also be very expensive for patients to manage. There are many unmet patient, clinical and industrial needs in this area, which Healome Therapeutics is well-placed to address.

“Pre-clinical safety of the platform is well-established, GMP manufacturing has been set up to supply planned phase 1 trials and we have brought in significant executive experience in eye care to accelerate plans.”

The researchers behind Healome have already raised £2.8m grant funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to progress the original concept from lab bench to completing phase 1 human trials.

The developed platform and supply chain was then applied to help tackle challenges in ocular surface diseases via a £1.3m grant from the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation programme.

The platform has also shown early promise in dermal and orthopaedic applications.

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