Not a Dry Eye in the House

I love how it is so often the case that a biopharmaceutical compound created for one purpose turns out to be at least as useful (if not more) for something completely different. Case in point: Otsuka Pharmaceuticals’ rebamipide. Novartis has obtained rights for the product (currently in Phase III testing) to use for treating dry eye — a large and growing market, not least because of the impact of lasik — but the product’s original purpose was ulcer prevention. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, mucin-secretion matters in both cases:

BASEL, Switzerland, Feb. 7, 2005 (PRIMEZONE) — Novartis announced today that it has in-licensed rebamipide, an investigational treatment for dry eye, from Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd. Currently being tested in two Phase III studies in the U.S., rebamipide is expected to demonstrate a novel mechanism of action to enhance tear secretion and increase the levels of mucin covering the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye.

Dry eye is a condition characterized by a patient’s inability to produce enough tears or the appropriate quality of tears to keep the eye healthy and comfortable. There are currently 22 million patients who visit an ophthalmologist worldwide for dry eye symptoms and many more who self-treat or do not treat their condition at all.

“As dry eye can have many causes and affects a large and growing patient population, there is a high unmet medical need and opportunities exist for several new pharmacological treatment approaches,” said Flemming Ornskov, MD, President of Novartis Ophthalmics. “We expect rebamipide to provide distinct advantages to patients over currently available products.”

Dysfunction in the delicate balance in the tear film may develop from aging, systemic inflammatory diseases, ocular surface diseases, or different medications. Palliative treatments for dry eye include artificial tears, which patients can self-administer four or more times per day. Unlike artificial tears, which simply lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture1, rebamipide provides a new and unique pharmacologic approach to treatment of dry eye by increasing mucin secretion. It is expected to increase tear quality and may improve corneal health.