If you have dry, red, gritty, or sore eyes, researchers at South East Technological University (SETU) would like to hear from you. The OcuHealth project currently underway at South East Technological University (SETU) is working to develop new technologies for the treatment of Dry Eye Disease.

Dry Eye Disease is a chronic disease that affects more than 350 million people globally and is one of the most common reasons that patients visit eye-care providers. Known as the ‘vicious cycle of dry eye disease,’ the condition includes tear film instability, followed by poor lubrication, and inflammation, which leads to multiple signs and symptoms that include red, gritty, dry, and painful eyes.

Two researchers at SETU were recently awarded funding for three years by Enterprise Ireland through its Commercialisation Fund to continue the development of novel eye drop formulations, with the ultimate aim of creating a high potential start-up company focused on bringing a range of ophthalmic products to treat Dry Eye Disease to market.

The project will be overseen at SETU by Principal Investigator Dr Laurence Fitzhenry of the Ocular Therapeutics Research Group (OTRG) in the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre (PMBRC) in Waterford.

Dr Fitzhenry, who has moderate Dry Eye Disease, outlined just some of the problems associated with the condition: “I have been using artificial tears for years, and often need to apply them six or eight times throughout the day. Many people can use them up to 15 times daily or require a variety of different treatments and drops, increasing the burden on these individuals.

“The health-related quality of life scores for those living with severe dry eye are recognised as being as high as living with regular kidney dialysis, while there are multiple anecdotal reports of people moving country and having to leave their job due to this condition. A product that could treat both the signs and symptoms of this condition, with reduced need for multiple dosing, would be a significant benefit to people living with Dry Eye Disease.”

Dr Fitzhenry’s experience with the current treatments, as well as extensive patient engagement and discussion with specialist clinicians, highlights the need for innovative, patient-centric solutions. This is the second commercialisation fund award for this project, which aims to address these challenges through the continued development of innovative drug delivery strategies and the investigation of a novel drug developed by the team.

Dr Alison Reynolds, Assistant Professor in Veterinary Biosciences at University College Dublin (UCD) will also be a formal collaborator on the project. “We are delighted to bring together novel technologies from UCD and SETU to form OcuHealth. Our goal is to provide treatments for patients living with Dry Eye Disease, a chronic, painful condition which is underserved by current options,” said Dr Reynolds.

The environment, screen time, stage of life and certain medications can affect dry eye and the severity of symptoms. Current treatment strategies including medical devices, as well as both over the counter and pharmaceutical products, are sub-optimal, and many patients are left with significant symptoms. Dry Eye Disease represents a significant unmet clinical need and a growing societal burden. The development of improved over the counter and prescription products represents a major commercial opportunity and could benefit millions of people around the world.

To help with the development of this technology, the project team is currently conducting ongoing research through surveys and interviews of people living with Dry Eye Disease, whether or not you have had a formal diagnosis of dry eye.

If you would like to participate, click here, or contact Laurence.Fitzhenry@setu.ie.