Plunging a needle into an eyeball sounds horrific, but it is a common way to administer drugs for treating eye diseases currently. However, an innovative technology company in HKSTP has invented a safer and more reliable alternative, with which patients will hopefully be less resistant to treatment and more confident of recovery.
Intravitreal injection has many drawbacks
There are more than 250 million eye disease patients globally. Many of them are diagnosed with Diabetic Mellitus Retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion and macular degeneration. The traditional therapy of intravitreal injection, though effective, involves inserting a needle into patients’ eyeballs to deliver medicine to the infected area. The treatment takes more than half an hour, and requires a doctor supported by multiple nurses. The whole course of treatment takes weeks or months to finish. The treatment could cause discomfort, leave a wound or even cause retinal haemorrhage, increased intraocular pressure, eye infections and other complications. Prolonged treatment also makes a patient more reluctant to undergo treatment.
Alleviating pressure of patients and medical staffs
Langston Suen, Ph.D., Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology of HKUST, and his research team have invented the revolutionary non-invasive ultrasound eye drug delivery method. The method involves a handy eye drug delivery device that makes use of ultrasound’s property of increasing cell membrane permeability, to administer drugs into patients’ eyes. By using this method, patients no longer need to undergo intravitreal injection and risk any injury. It takes only 5 to 15 minutes and can be administered by nurses. This would reduce the pressure on both medical institutions and patients. The handy device makes use of disposable capsules, so as to maximise convenience and minimise bacterial infection.
Dr Suen cooperated with Chau Ying, Association Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering of HKUST, in 2008 and started their research. They proved ultrasound’s effect on cell membrane permeability, and then initiated more thorough research, development and test. Finally they turned their research findings into application.
International Recognition confirm product’s viability
Dr Suen founded Sonikure Technology HK in 2015 and became the company’s CEO. He moved his company to Science Park and joined HKSTP’s Incu-Bio program. In the subsequent two years, Sonikure cooperated with universities and ophthalmology doctors on a research to improve its technology and complete the prototype of its product. It garnered multiple awards in the 45th Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions in 2017.
In late 2017, Dr Suen won the first round of financing for his company. In a milestone move, the company changed its name to Opharmic Technology (HK) Limited (Opharmic) in early 2018.
HKSTP helps develop business network
Looking back on his company's development, Dr Suen said HKSTP has provided assistance in financing, market development and operations. With the help of HKSTP, Opharmic has taken part in various international exhibitions and accessed potential cooperation opportunities. HKSTP's incubation team has provided opinions on operation and negotiation strategies which saved them from going the wrong way. To Dr Suen, the most important assistance from HKSTP is helping them get in touch with investors and business partners like well-established manufacturers, so that his company can focus on core technology research and maintain a steady pace of development.
As Opharmic has obtained the patent for ultrasound eye drug delivery technology, and the technology has been proven safe and feasible clinically, Dr Suen anticipated that human testing would be approved in the end of 2019. They are applying for international certification from drug regulatory bodies, including the FDA, in the US, EU and mainland China, and expect to obtain certification within two to three years.
Hopefully, Opharmic's technology will be made available in the market as soon as possible for the benefit of eye disease patients.