New spinout to tackle blindness with novel gel  

A new spinout has launched from the University of Birmingham targeting treatments for the leading causes of preventable blindness. 

Healome Therapeutics is developing a platform that delivers a ‘pro-healing’ microenvironment for causes of preventable blindness. The company’s platform will be targeted at ocular surface diseases, which are notoriously challenging conditions to treat, and have progressively larger impacts on quality of life as the diseases run their course.   

Healome has developed a novel fluid-gel material that flows like a liquid, and self-structures into a thin, clear, protective layer over the surface of the eye which is gradually dispersed and cleared away by blinking over two-eight hours. It can be used either on its own or as a carrier molecule to deliver other therapeutics.  

Healome will initially concentrate on Dry Eye Disease, but its long-term goal is to partner with healthcare companies to co-develop new therapies for delivery to the surface of the eyes.  

Healome’s formulations respond to shear stress, which allows it to change back and forth from a liquid to a soft-solid consistency according to the physical forces applied to it, such as extrusion from a container, or blinking.  

Its mechanical and drug diffusion properties can be ‘tuned’ by physical rather than chemical changes to the base polymers. These attributes mean that pre-clinical or early clinical safety studies for new formulations will not need to be repeated and will reduce the time and cost to bring new products to market.  

The technology was developed by a team led by Professor Liam Grover who is Director of the University’s Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI).  It is envisaged that treatments developed from this platform will come in the form of clear degradable ‘ocular bandages’ that can be applied like normal eye drops. 

The researchers behind Healome have already raised £2.8m grant funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to progress the original concept from lab bench to completing phase I human trials. The developed platform and supply chain was then applied to help tackle challenges in ocular surface diseases via a £1.3m grant from the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation programme. The platform has also shown early promise in dermal and orthopaedic applications. 

The company itself has raised £400,000 from Innovate UK and SFC Capital and is now establishing its own laboratories at the Birmingham Research Park.  

Official comments 

Professor Grover, who is also a co-founder of Healome Therapeutics, said: “There are many cutting edge drugs on the market or in development for diseases that affect the surface of the eye. One of the biggest challenges is to keep therapeutics on the surface of the eye for sufficient time for them to have an effect and more generally to regain or replace all the functions of the tear film.”   

CEO of Healome, Dr Richard Williams, added: “Ocular surface diseases leading to Dry Eye have a disproportionately large impact on health, well-being and the ability to enjoy life. These conditions can also be very expensive for patients to manage. There are many unmet patient, clinical and industrial needs in this area, which Healome Therapeutics is well-placed to address. Pre-clinical safety of the platform is well-established, GMP manufacturing has been set up to supply planned phase 1 trials and we have brought in significant executive experience in eye care to accelerate plans.” 

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