Glaucoma is a general grouping of eye diseases that impact the optic nerve, resulting in progressive vision loss. According to the NIH National Eye Institute, currently, over 2.7 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, and approximately 11 million are projected to be afflicted by 2050. For many years, clinicians have struggled to find an efficacious treatment for glaucoma. To date, first-line drugs have had limited effectiveness due to progression of the disease or low patient compliance, and conventional surgical methods lacked the efficacy to produce a long-term cure. In the late 1990s, researchers began thinking about non-traditional approaches for treating glaucoma. Glaukos Corporation, was one of the first eye disease-specializing companies founded to advance ophthalmic medical devices. Now, as a publicly-traded company, Glaukos has its first Micro-Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS) device that is FDA-cleared and commercially available.
The San Clemente-based Glaukos Corporation has many roots in Southern California, including through one of the founders and seminal inventors of its first MIGS device, UCI Emeritus Professor Richard Hill. Prof. Hill was a researcher and physician in the Ophthalmology department of UCI School of Medicine. He specialized in difficult-to-treat adult and pediatric forms of glaucoma, and made significant progress in developing laser and surgical methods of therapy. Prof. Hill’s pioneering invention, which Glaukos was founded around, is a very small, surgically-implanted device that reestablishes drainage of fluid from the eye. This simple device has a drastic impact in reducing ocular pressure, which is the primary cause of damage to the optic nerve in glaucoma. In addition to designing the pressure-alleviating shunt device, this well-practiced physician, in the original disclosure and granted patents, also detailed the appropriate surgical methods for precision implantation. The small device is implanted in the trabecular meshwork of the eye. The trabecular meshwork is a tissue of the eye that naturally facilitates the drainage of aqueous humor fluid that accumulates in the eye. In glaucoma patients that have excess undrained fluid, the device serves as a shunt to facilitate drainage, thus reducing intraocular pressure.
Model showing placement of iStent implant
In 2012, Glaukos received FDA clearance and launched Prof. Hill’s invention, dubbed the iStent. The device, a mere 1.0 mm by 0.3 mm, is the first in a comprehensive portfolio of “injectable micro-scale therapies” that will uniquely target the entire range of glaucoma types and severities. Currently, this first iStent technology is ideal for patients with mild-to-moderate open-angle glaucoma, and is implanted during cataract surgery to sustain optimal intraocular pressure. To date, over 200,000 devices have been implanted in patients, many of whom have been able to decrease the use of pharmaceutical medications to reduce their eye pressure. Today, Glaukos continues to revolutionize medical technologies for treating glaucoma, and with the tremendous success of its first iStent, will likely be quickly expanding its device portfolio to address all disease states and progression.
Alvin Viray, J.D., Associate Director of UCI’s Invention Transfer Group (ITG) managed Prof. Hill’s intellectual property portfolio and negotiated the license with Glaukos. He celebrates the iStent’s launch: “In seeing the iStent glaucoma treatment now available to patients, we have a tangible example of a successful collaboration that also resulted in economic development in the form of Glaukos’ successful IPO and local job creation.” He elaborates that “the relationship with Glaukos helps fulfill one of ITG’s missions: to facilitate the transfer of university research and technologies into commerce for the public benefit.” Viray hopes that other researchers in Ophthalmology, Medicine, and the rest of campus look at the rapid development and entry-to-market of Glaukos’ iStent, and are inspired to invent and collaborate with ITG and Applied Innovation to advance their next big innovation.
To learn more about Glaukos, please visit glaukos.com