The project aims to bring a range of ophthalmic products to market, reduce the need for multiple dosing, and benefit millions of sufferers around the world

Researchers at South East Technological University (SETU) have been awarded funding of up to €705,000 by Enterprise Ireland through its Commercialisation Fund to continue the development of novel eye drop formulations, with the ultimate aim of creating a high potential start-up company focused on bringing a range of ophthalmic products to treat Dry Eye Disease (DED) to market.

The funded project Innovative Nanomaterials for Improved Ocular Health (OcuHealth) will be overseen at SETU by Principal Investigator Dr Laurence Fitzhenry of the Ocular Therapeutics Research Group (OTRG) in the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre (PMBRC) in Waterford.

Chronic disease affecting 350 million globally

DED is a chronic disease that affects more than 350 million people globally and is one of the most common reasons that patients visit eye-care providers. Known as the ‘vicious cycle of dry eye disease,’ the condition includes tear film instability, followed by poor lubrication, and inflammation, which leads to multiple signs and symptoms that include red, gritty, dry, and painful eyes.

Dr Fitzhenry, who has moderate DED, outlined just some of the problems associated with the condition: “I have been using artificial tears for years, and often need to apply them six or eight times throughout the day. Many people can use them up to 15 times daily or require a variety of different treatments and drops, increasing the burden on these individuals.

Need for innovative, patient-centric solutions

“The health-related quality of life scores for those living with severe dry eye are recognised as being as high as living with regular kidney dialysis, while there are multiple anecdotal reports of people moving country and having to leave their job due to this condition. A product that could treat both the signs and symptoms of this condition, with reduced need for multiple dosing, would be a significant benefit to people living with DED.”

Dr Fitzhenry’s experience with the current treatments, as well as extensive patient engagement and discussion with specialist clinicians, highlights the need for innovative, patient-centric solutions. This is the second commercialisation fund award for this project, which aims to address these challenges through the continued development of innovative drug delivery strategies and the investigation of a novel drug, developed by the team.

Potential to significantly improve quality of life

The OcuHealth project is transdisciplinary in nature, incorporating chemical, biomedical, nanotechnology, industrial clinical and pre-clinical expertise, as well as being highly relevant to patients and industry. Prof Peter McLoughlin, Head of the School of Science and Computing at SETU in Waterford highlighted the significance of this research and its focus on developing novel therapeutics which are “easier for patients to use and have the potential to significantly improve the quality of life for those impacted by this debilitating disease.”

Dr Orla O' Donovan, Head of Department of Science, added that “this project aims to develop a more effective therapeutic treatment for those suffering from Dry Eye Disease which would reduce the number of applications of the drug and could be hugely beneficial for these DED patients.”

Dr Alison Reynolds, Assistant Professor in Veterinary Biosciences at University College Dublin (UCD) will also be a formal collaborator on the project. “We are delighted to bring together novel technologies from UCD and SETU to form OcuHealth. Our goal is to provide treatments for patients living with dry eye disease, a chronic, painful condition which is underserved by current options,” said Dr Reynolds.

Take part in the OcuHealth survey

The environment, screen time, stage of life and certain medications can affect dry eye and the severity of symptoms. Current treatment strategies including medical devices, as well as both over the counter and pharmaceutical products, are sub-optimal, and many patients are left with significant symptoms. DED represents a significant unmet clinical need and a growing societal burden. The development of improved over the counter and prescription products represents a major commercial opportunity and could benefit millions of people around the world.

To help with the development of this technology, the project team is currently conducting ongoing research through surveys and interviews of people living with DED.

If you would like to participate, click here, or contact [email protected].


Photo caption: The OcuHealth team, from back left: Dr Fitzhenry, Dr O'Reilly, Dr Lynch, Ms Ames, Dr Reynolds, and Dr Muhammad. Photo Credit: George Goulding