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Stem Cells in Ophthalmology Update 15: Wills Eye Joins ACT’s Clinical Trials for Dry AMD Using Embryonic Stem Cell-derived

Posted Jan 18 2012 5:37pm
Advanced Cell Technology announced yesterday that the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia had received institutional review board (IRB) approval to become a site for the Phase I/II clinical trial for dry age-related macular degeneration (Dry AMD) using human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. Wills will join UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London as sites participating in the clinical trials for Dry AMD, under ACT’s National Clinical Trials protocols.

"The participation of Wills Eye Institute in this trial will significantly enhance our clinical program," said Robert Lanza, M.D., ACT's chief scientific officer. "Wills Eye Institute is the oldest eye-care facility in the United States and is consistently ranked as one of the best ophthalmology hospitals in the country by the U.S. News & World Report. We are looking forward to working with Dr. Regillo and his team to address the unmet medical needs of degenerative diseases of the retina. With this latest approval, the company continues to assemble a clinical team that includes the best eye hospitals and surgeons in the world in our effort to find an effective therapy for this devastating eye disease."

The Phase I/II trial for dry AMD is a prospective, open-label study designed to determine the safety and tolerability of the hESC-derived RPE cells following sub-retinal transplantation into patients with dry AMD. The trial will ultimately enroll 12 patients, with cohorts of three patients each in an ascending dosage format. Which patients will be enrolled at the Wills Eye Institute will be determined in the near future.
"Degenerative diseases of the retina often lead to a significant visual impairment," said Carl Regillo, M.D., director of clinical retina research at Wills Eye Institute and professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University. "Replacing lost or damaged cells with functional and healthy cells may provide a treatment option that could slow vision loss, and perhaps even reverse the effects of disease. We are looking forward to collaborating with ACT to evaluate the potential of the stem cell-derived RPE cells for debilitating diseases such as Stargardt's macular dystrophy and dry AMD."
Dry AMD, or "central geographic atrophy," is the "dry" form of advanced age-related macular degeneration. Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells (photoreceptors) in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye, often progressing to blindness. The loss of photoreceptors is a direct result of a preceding degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) layer of cells just below the retina. As many as 30 million people in the United States and Europe suffer from macular degeneration, which represents a $25-30 billion worldwide market that has yet to be effectively addressed. Approximately 10% of people ages 66 to 74 will have symptoms of macular degeneration, the vast majority suffering from the "dry" form of AMD -- which is currently untreatable. The prevalence increases to 30% in patients 75 to 85 years of age.
"We are honored to have the opportunity to work with one of the foremost eye care centers in the world", said Gary Rabin, chairman and chief executive officer of ACT. "This clinical trial represents the culmination of years of innovation and hard work by ACT's scientific team. The whole world is focused on our trials, most especially patients suffering from dry AMD and other forms of macular degeneration. Wills Eye Institute has a strong tradition of innovation and discovery, and we are excited at their participation in bringing this cutting-edge technology through the clinic."
Additional details about these studies, for which the Jules Stein Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London have also received IRB approval, can be found at ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01344993 .

Editors Note: As noted in the above quote from Dr. Regillo, it can be speculated that Wills Eye will soon join both Jules Stein and Moorfields in also treating Stargardt’s disease, under ACT’s National Clinical Trials NCT01345006 and NCT01469832 .
It should also be noted that Wills Eye is also one of the clinical sites participating in the Centecor (J&J) clinical study of Dry AMD using adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood, NTC01226628 .

Breaking News – as of January 19th, Wills Eye had been added to ACT’s clinical protocol for treating Dry AMD with embryonic stem cell-derived RPE cells, and was actively recruiting patients.
About Wills Eye Institute
Wills Eye Institute is a global leader in ophthalmology, established in 1832 as the nation's first hospital specializing in eye care. U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked Wills Eye as one of America's top three ophthalmology centers since the survey began in 1990. Wills Eye is a premier training site for all levels of medical education. Its resident and post-graduate training programs are among the most competitive in the country. One of the core strengths of Wills is the close connection between innovative research and advanced patient care. Wills provides the full range of primary and subspecialty eye care for improving and preserving sight, including cataract, cornea, retina, emergency care, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, ocular oncology, oculoplastics, pathology, pediatric ophthalmology and ocular genetics, refractive surgery and retina. Ocular Services include the Wills Laser Correction Center, Low Vision Service, and Diagnostic Center. Its 24/7 Emergency Service is the only one of its kind in the region. Wills Eye also has a network of nine multi-specialty, ambulatory surgery centers throughout the tri-state area. To learn more, please visit www.willseye.org .
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