As part of the ARVO 2012 Entrepreneurship in Ophthalmology symposium, we at eyesteve.com were impressed with start-up Oculeve for its innovative solution to dry eye disease. Estimated to affect more than 20 million Americans, with 1.6 million having the most severe form of the disease, dry eye disease causes significant impairment in vision and quality of life. Individuals with the disease are encouraged to avoid activities which decrease the frequency of blinking, including reading, computer usage, driving, or watching television. Worse still, activities which increase the evaporation of the endogenous tearing, such as air conditioned rooms and even the windy, dry, or dusty air of the outdoors, are similarly discouraged in order to maintain adequate corneal lubrication. Beyond these clearly inhibitory lifestyle modifications, patients are encouraged to use artificial tears such as restasis or cyclosporine every few hours for symptomatic improvement and to keep the cornea from becoming dry. Ultimately, however, patients may undergo a surgical procedure called a tarsorrhaphy, in which the eyelids are partially sewn together, thus reducing eyelid separation, tear evaporation, and dry eyes.
Oculeve was founded by a team of graduate students at Stanford University who, when preparing for a bioengineering design competition, interviewed ophthalmologists regarding the unmet needs in ophthalmology, and quickly determined the need for improved treatment of dry eye syndrome. Following several iterations of prototypes, and after raising private equity financing and participating in several entrepreneurship competitions, Oculeve is gaining momentum and has recently begun clinical trials in the UK. So how does Oculeve treat dry eye disease? According to CEO Michael Ackermann, PhD at the ARVO 2012 Entrepreneurship in Ophthalmology symposium, Oculeve has designed an extremely small device which, when placed adjacent to the lacrimal gland, stimulates endogenous tear secretion, thus providing symptomatic lubrication, as well as protecting the cornea from erosion, punctate keratopathy, ulceration, neovascularization, and possible scarring.
While clinical trials still await for Oculeve, this new approach to treating dry eye disease should be exciting and encouraging to the tens of millions who suffer from dry eye disease worldwide.