Scientists are developing an eye drop that could revolutionise the treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the developed world.
It is estimated that, by 2020, there will be about 200 million people worldwide with the condition, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
AMD is currently treated by injections of sight-saving drugs into the eye which must be administered by medical professionals.
Now, scientists have invented a method of delivering these otherwise-injected drug as eye drops.
The scientists investigated the effect of the eye drops in the eyes of rabbits and pigs, which are more similar to human eyes.
Their study, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (IOVS), demonstrates that the eye drops can deliver a therapeutically effective amount of the drugs to the retina of the larger mammalian eye.
The technology behind the eye drops is a cell-penetrating peptide that can deliver the drug to the retina (the back of the eye).
The scientists' pending patents for the eye drops are now owned by US-based company, Macregen Inc, and a team of Birmingham researchers is working with the company to develop a novel range of therapies for AMD and other eye diseases.
The combined team is now expediting proof of concept studies to confirm the validity of the therapeutic approach, researchers said.
Clinical trials will be imminent once these studies are completed, and could start as early as spring 2019, they said.
"For several years, our team has focused on the challenge of delivering drugs to the back of the eye," said Felicity de Cogan, from the University of Birmingham's Institute of Microbiology and Infection.
"From the outset, we realised that delivering drugs through eye drops would mean that patients can administer their treatment themselves, and this would be less costly, save time for patients and healthcare providers, and reduce the potential complications that can arise from injections," de Cogan said.