Looking Forward to 2021

Even the most optimistic person will admit that 2020 was a 365-day slog through dangers, disasters, and disappointments. In a year that offered little relief, considering that its famous number might have been expected to boost our spirits with good news about vision. And that’s why it might help us to look ahead at some promising events during the coming new year.

First treatment for geographic atrophy

Earlier this year, Apellis announced the completion of patient enrollment in the ongoing Phase 3 DERBY and OAKS studies investigating APL-2 in patients with geographic atrophy (GA), the advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration affecting approximately five million people globally.

No approved treatment has yet been approved for GA, but the year 2021 may see that happen. APL-2 is the only targeted complement system therapy in Phase 3 clinical trials for GA. Trial results have found that monthly injections of APL-2 reduced the rate of progression to GA by 39 percent in areas of the retina outside of areas with prior damage. Top-line results from these pivotal trials are expected in the third quarter of 2021.

New delivery method for anti-VEGF drug in treatment of wet AMD

Genentech has now announced that Phase III trial data on their port delivery system (PDS) enabled over 98% of patients to go six months between clinical visits for treatment of wet AMD. The PDS is a tiny refillable implant that provides patients continuous delivery of Lucentis as necessary.

The PDS is the first wet AMD therapy to achieve positive Phase III results for this extended length of time between treatments. The current standard of care for wet AMD requires eye injections of anti-VEGF therapy as often as monthly to help maintain vision gains or prevent vision loss. This high treatment burden can lead to under-treatment and, potentially, less than optimal vision outcomes.

With approval of the PDS in 2021, clinical use will not be far behind, and patients can say goodbye to needles.

Collaboration among major AMD organizations to be unveiled

For the first time, all major age-related macular degeneration organizations are collaborating to help patients and caregivers more easily find resources about AMD. Navigating the plethora of AMD information online can be overwhelming, and many people don’t know where to start. But now a new website, to be unveiled before the summer of 2021, will help resolve that issue.

The site is being designed to empower patients and their caregivers to take ownership of their eye condition as a catalyst to change the way they manage their health and wellness. It will help patients and family members learn about AMD clinically and provide practical advice for living with low vision so that they can better manage the disease.

The contributing nonprofit patient advocacy organizations are all trusted members of the vision community and are crucial in supporting people impacted by AMD. Look for announcements in the Spring.

TeleHealth is making doctor visits easier

Telehealth is a service made available by way of telecommunication devices like computers and smart phones. Using this recent technology, people who find it difficult to visit their physicians regularly can be diagnosed and monitored remotely and can take part in live consultations from home.

According to a survey conducted by Updox, a significant percentage of users find telehealth visits to be more convenient than in-person appointments, they are grateful for not having to be exposed to other people, they like that scheduling appointments is easier, and they find follow-ups to be more streamlined.

Telehealth appears to be here to stay. If the technology remains user-friendly, and if it gains wide professional acceptance, remote clinical visits could greatly ease the burdens of time and cost on doctors and patients alike.

More information

Artificial intelligence is making us more efficient

Artificial intelligence (AI) makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs, and perform human-like tasks. It provides us with human-like interactions with computers and helps us with difficult decision making.

AI processing allows computers to perform human-like tasks, such as recognizing speech, identifying images, or making predictions. It helps computers understand, interpret, and manipulate human language. It is what helps computers communicate with humans by reading text, hearing and interpreting speech, recognizing emotion, and determining which of those parts are important.

AI is in the process of incorporation into many devices for blind and visually impaired people. Such devices include self-driving vehicles, reading machines, face recognition software, and navigation software.

2021 will see AI playing a major role by ensuring drug safety, hastening development of new therapies, ensuring more accurate diagnostic and treatment choices, and improving the quality of our daily lives. The capabilities of AI in tandem with eye care, diagnosis, and treatment are being dramatically realized, with new uses seemingly being discovered daily.

These are five positive reasons for optimism about 2021. That’s five times the number we can attribute to 2020. And that doesn’t even include the most exciting event yet to come: the end of the worst pandemic the world has ever seen.

Thanks to the amazing science that will bring the virus under control, and to the personal sacrifices we have made, we will recreate our sense of normalcy. And, as we have learned throughout history, that new normalcy will be based upon important things we have learned about ourselves and our planet. Let’s look forward to that new day!

Dan Roberts
Living Well With Low Vision