Thorsteinn Loftsson and Einar Stefánsson
Nanotechnology-based eye treatment
Some 28 million people live with diabetic macular edema, a debilitating eye condition that is the leading cause of blindness in diabetic patients. While effective treatments exist, they require eye injections or surgical implants, which are invasive, costly and must be administered by a medical professional. Thorsteinn Loftsson and Einar Stefánsson, despite initial scepticism from fellow researchers, dedicated over two decades to developing a solution – nanotechnology-based eye drops.
The eye drops are made up of nanoparticles and microparticles that are created from a sugar molecule called cyclodextrine. When the nanoparticles break down during dilution, the complexes are released into the water layer by the eye's surface. Unlike conventional eye drops, the drug is not washed away quickly but instead remains stuck to the mucus of the eye for an extended period.
Their technology, currently undergoing clinical trials, has been proven to be effective in treating several retinal diseases that cause blindness. The eye drops are easy for patients to administer and only need to be delivered once a day. Once commercially available, the drops could improve the lives of people in resource-poor or rural regions, where patients may face logistical challenges in getting medical treatment.
Friends, business partners, pioneers
Both academics studied in the United States in the 1980s and returned to Iceland in the 1990s to become professors at the University of Iceland, Loftsson in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Stefánsson in Ophthalmology. After being introduced by a mutual friend, the pair decided to work together on cyclodextrin and the stabilisation of nanoparticles. However, their journey was not always straightforward, as Loftsonn points out, “Einar and I have been exploring topical drug delivery to the eye since the early 1990s. It took us 25 years to develop this technology and we were just stubborn.”
Over the past decade, they have worked together on several studies and publications, and have built a robust patent portfolio. “We had a very good patent attorney that we worked with from the beginning,” says Stefánsson, “and so we had a very sound basis for the IP. And in pharma, no IP, no future.”
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