Collaboration between business, medicine may save glaucoma patients from blindness


AURORA | At an eye clinic in the Philippines, as many as 80 patients could get some relief from their glaucoma because of a groundbreaking device.

The device uses sonic waves to stimulate the drainage of fluid from the eye, relieving the pressure that causes many glaucoma patients to go blind.

Deep Wave Trabeculoplasty

A Deep Wave Trabeculoplasty (DWT) device uses carefully calibrated external sonic oscillations to stimulate drainage of the eye's fluid which reduces eye pressure and treats glaucoma. With the help of this device, a new glaucoma procedure could offer patients a non-surgical treatment option. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Deep Wave Trabeculoplasty

A Deep Wave Trabeculoplasty (DWT) device uses carefully calibrated external sonic oscillations to stimulate drainage of the eye's fluid which reduces eye pressure and treats glaucoma. With the help of this device, a new glaucoma procedure could offer patients a non-surgical treatment option. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Dr. Malik Kahook

Dr. Malik Kahook explains how glaucoma causes blindness March 25 at Anschutz Medical Campus. Kahook led a research team to develop a non-invasive device that uses sonic oscillation to stimulate drainage of the eye's fluid which reduces eye pressure and in turn can be used to treat glaucoma. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Dr. Malik Kahook

Dr. Malik Kahook explains how glaucoma causes blindness March 25 at Anschutz Medical Campus. Kahook led a research team to develop a non-invasive device that uses sonic oscillation to stimulate drainage of the eye's fluid which reduces eye pressure and in turn can be used to treat glaucoma. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Dr. Malik Kahook

Dr. Malik Kahook explains how glaucoma causes blindness March 25 at Anschutz Medical Campus. Kahook led a research team to develop a non-invasive device that uses sonic oscillation to stimulate drainage of the eye's fluid which reduces eye pressure and in turn can be used to treat glaucoma. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

That clinic might be half a world away from Aurora, but much of the credit for the technology goes to researchers at University of Colorado School of Medicine who teamed with engineers and investors to create the device.

Last week, the school announced it had entered into a licensing agreement with a new biotech company, OcuTherix, Inc. to continue developing the product.

Dr. Malik Kahook, a professor and researcher in the department of opthalmology who first came up with the idea to use sonic energy to help drain fluid from the eye several years ago, said he is hopeful the treatment could be in widespread use within three years.

Kahook, who is the vice chairman of clinical and translational research at the school of medicine, said he had the idea to use sonic energy to treat glaucoma several years ago.

Other treatments for the disease come with several drawbacks, he said. The most common treatment is eye drops, but that can lead to redness and irritation and patients simply forgetting to take their drops. Lasers and invasive surgery can be used as well, but those damage other tissues and generally can’t be used more than once. Sonic energy is less invasive, he said, and the treatments don’t damage other tissues so they can be used more than once.

Kahook said the university’s eye clinic is the ideal place for this type of research because they team researchers with engineers and business leaders to not only develop a product, but also do it with an eye toward one day bringing it to market.

“We want to take that research and really make sure it actually influences patient care,” he said.

Eventually, with funding from the school, Kahook said researchers were able to undergo a clinical trial of the device in Mexico City in 2009 and 2010. That trial proved the device was effective and researchers later teamed with investors and OcuTherix was born. Kahook serves as a consultant for the company.

OcuTherix CEO Robert Atkinson said he sees great potential in the company’s product.

“Gradual vision loss is devastating, and I am proud to be working with outstanding partners to develop Deep Wave Trabeculoplasty as we strive to save vision in people with glaucoma,” he said in a statement announcing the agreement with CU. “I strongly believe that DWT represents a new age in glaucoma treatment.”

Agreements like the one between the medical school and OcuTherix are something officials at CU’s Technology Transfer Office strive for because they mean research has taken the leap from the laboratory to the real world.

“We believe this device represents a completely novel approach to the treatment of glaucoma, and the university is excited to work with a company that will help Dr. Kahook develop such a pioneering technique,” David Poticha of CU’s Technology Transfer Office said in a statement.

Kahook said there are plenty of similar ideas that could lead to marketable products coming out of CU. In just four years, the eye clinic alone has launched eight businesses, he said.

But the researchers still face a tough road in terms of securing funding for their products. The bulk of venture capitalists are on the nation’s coasts, Kahook said, which makes it tough for local researchers to launch a business here.

He said researchers want investors to understand that they are itching to work with them and see their products take off.

“Our doors are open,” he said.

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