Promising new drug for diabetic retinopathy hits clinical trials

Posted on 03 September 2014

A completely new treatment for diabetic retinopathy has started being tested in people for the first time. The first-in-man trials of experimental drug KVD001 began this month, focussing on assessing the safety and tolerability of the drug in treating diabetic macular oedema (a particular type of retinopathy).

The trials are being conducted at the world renowned Beetham Eye Institute (part of the Joslin Diabetes Centre at Harvard Medical School in Boston) and recruitment will gradually roll out through five centres in the US.

The company behind the drug, KalVista, is a small biotechnology company based near Southampton. JDRF has been working with KalVista on the drug for a number of years, and indeed JDRF supported the academic research that identified the biological pathway the drug is designed to target.

The only drug currently licensed specifically for treating diabetic macular oedema, is ranizumab (brand name Lucentis). This drug is designed to target a molecule called vascular endothelial growth factor and so prevent the disordered growth of blood vessels that contributes to vision loss. While treatment with Lucentis has been able to help many people with diabetic macular oedema, it doesn’t work for everyone. KVD001 is a type of molecule called a plasma kallikrein inhibitor, and targets a different biological pathway to Lucentis – so KalVista’s new drug may be able to help those for whom Lucentis does not work.

Rachel Connor, Head of Research Communication at JDRF in the UK said: ‘As complications of living with type 1 go, vision loss is one of the most feared. JDRF’s research strategy prioritises work to understand diabetic retinopathy and devise new ways to treat and prevent it for exactly this reason. So we’re excited to see KVD001, a drug that we have helped Kalvista to develop, make it to the first phase of clinical testing. There is of course still a long way to go, but if this treatment works it will provide a new option for people who develop diabetic macular oedema.’

To read more about JDRF’s work to help treat type 1 diabetes and its complications and find out how you can help to support research projects like this, click here.