Repeated surveys (e.g. one from Cintas Corporation) have revealed that sight is the sense people would least like to lose, and vision loss is, in fact, considered to be one of the greatest health concerns for many. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that, in the U.S., 24.4 million people suffer from cataracts, 2.7 million from glaucoma, 11.2 million from age-related macular degeneration (a leading cause of irreversible blindness and visual impairment in the world, and a number that is expected to double in the U.S. by 2050), 7.7 million from diabetic retinopathy, and 4.88 million from dry eye syndrome, with nearly one million eye infections treated each year. The global cost of treating all causes of vision loss is estimated to be $3 trillion.
With statistics like these, which will become even greater as the population ages, life science companies are investing more heavily in the ophthalmic market; GBI Research reported that the global ophthalmic drug market, valued at $13.7 billion in 2015, is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2022. North America is the market leader, while Asia’s market is the fastest-growing. Key global players include Novartis (the market leader, with over 24% of market share), Santen, Pfizer, Allergan, Roche, and Merck & Co., and the top three drugs are Regeneron’s Eylea (aflibercept), Allergan’s Restasis (cyclosporine), and Roche’s Lucentis (ranibizumab), which earned a combined $6.5 billion in 2015.
There are currently over 700 ophthalmic drugs being developed, the majority of which are in pre-clinical or early stage development, almost all of which are coming from drug companies, rather than universities. There has also been noticeable M&A activity, with large pharma companies taking interest in smaller ophthalmic companies to build up their presence in the ophthalmology space. As patents on many drugs are expiring in the next 5-10 years, biosimilars, biosuperiors, and small molecule agents are also coming under development; smaller companies are coming up with innovative twists to treat the same conditions (e.g. Adverum Biotechnologies is utilizing gene therapies and viral vectors in its eye drugs); and large companies are advancing new applications for their existing drugs.
Although challenges exist in the development of ophthalmic drugs – including a very stringent approval process that results from the complexity of the eye, and the difficulty in diagnosing and treating eye diseases – it will obviously continue to be a strong area of focus in the biopharmaceutical space, addressing existing areas of unmet clinical need.
Contributed by Holly Valovick -QLK