Ophthalmic industry shifts efforts to combat COVID-19
The ophthalmic industry is focusing its efforts on innovative ways to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, finding new avenues of therapeutics to help patients afflicted with the virus and donating necessary supplies to aid medical providers.
Biogen announced on March 18 its Biogen Foundation would commit $10 million to support global response efforts and communities around the world affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The funds will be used to address immediate critical needs, with the majority going to support nonprofit organizations in the United States, Italy and other affected countries.
The company has also provided medical equipment and supplies to Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts to help diagnose COVID-19 in a greater number of people.
Allergan donated 1 million yen to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation on Jan. 31 to fund medical masks, robes, gloves, eyewear and other protective equipment for medical providers in Wuhan.
Several companies have recently received FDA emergency use authorization approval for new SARS-CoV-2 tests. Quidel received the authorization for its Lyra SARS-CoV-2 assay, a real-time test designed to detect the COVID-19 nucleic acid in nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab specimens for potentially infected patients.
Avellino also received FDA emergency use authorization for its newly developed test, the Avellino SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 test (AvellinoCoV2). The test is performed in a physician’s office by collecting cell samples swabbed from the patient’s throat and nose.
After receiving FDA authorization, Avellino added production shifts for AvellinoCoV2 in order to meet the growing public health demand. It temporarily suspended sequencing operations of its AvaGen genetic test, which identifies the risk for developing keratoconus and the presence of corneal dystrophies, to help meet testing demand.
Several other companies announced efforts to find possible therapeutics to combat the pandemic. Genentech announced on March 23 it had received FDA approval to conduct a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 clinical trial in collaboration with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to evaluate the safety and efficacy of intravenous Actemra (tocilizumab) plus standard of care in hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.
Several independent global trials have begun to explore the efficacy and safety of Actemra for patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia, but there are no well-controlled studies and limited published evidence on its safety and efficacy. Actemra is not currently approved for this use by the FDA, according to Genentech.
In addition, Genentech pledged 10,000 vials of Actemra to the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile for potential future use at the direction of the HHS.
When hydroxychloroquine was found to reportedly have treatment benefits, several companies announced donations of the drug worldwide. On March 20, Novartis committed to donating up to 130 million doses of generic hydroxychloroquine to support the global COVID-19 pandemic response. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a related drug, are currently under evaluation in clinical trials.
The company intends to donate up to 130 million 200 mg doses by the end of May, including its current stock of 50 million 200 mg doses.
Sun Pharmaceutical Industries also announced it would donate 2.5 million hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets in the U.S. to help meeting the growing demand for the drug.
Bausch Health announced it would increase manufacturing of chloroquine and azithromycin in Europe and is seeking emergency access in certain countries with the goal of donating where and when needed. In Spain, the Bausch Foundation is making available for donation its Artelac Splash eye drops for use in local hospitals.
Aldeyra Therapeutics announced on March 24 it would begin screening its library of novel reactive aldehyde species (RASP) inhibitors, including ADX-629 and reproxalap, for potential anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity in the treatment of COVID-19. A proposal was submitted to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop ADX-629 as a potential treatment.
To keep surgeons safe during examinations that require close proximity, several companies are offering free or price-reduced protective breath shields for use on slit lamps. Topcon Healthcare announced it would provide free breath shields to all Topcon customers for their slit lamps.
“The use of mounted breath shields is now recognized as a best practice by the American Academy of Ophthalmology,” John Trefethen, global vice president of marketing and product design at Topcon, told Healio/OSN. “Topcon Healthcare is contributing to the fight against COVID-19 by providing these breath shields, free of charge, to our customers as quickly as possible. We’re striving to ensure that when slit lamp examination is warranted, both physician and patient benefit from improved safety.”
Zeiss Medical Technology is also offering practices up to two free breath shields for a variety of slit lamp makes and models.
SimulEYE announced it would be selling its new SimulEYE slit lamp breath and germ shield to customers at a reduced cost of $13.99 each.
“It is our honor to support the ophthalmic community at this critical time. We have focused 100% of our energy and manufacturing capabilities to produce personal protective equipment. Our SimulEYE breath and germ shield was created out of necessity and is now being ordered by our customers all over the USA and the world. We are offering our PPE products at cost to help ensure the safety of front-line doctors and their patients,” Stuart Stoll, MD, founder and president of SimulEYE, told Healio/OSN.
Telemedicine has become a necessary strategy for ophthalmologists to keep in touch with patients from their own homes during the pandemic. ImprimisRx announced a unique partnership with Doxy.me, a full-service telemedicine solution, to provide all ImprimisRx ophthalmology, optometry and wellness practices with the “clinic” level Doxy.me telemedicine solution at no charge. Doxy.me is one of the largest telemedicine software solutions in the world, providing video, audio and text for patients and health care providers to communicate.
“Telemedicine has been growing rapidly even prior to the recent news about COVID-19. ImprimisRx was already in the early planning stages to offer the Doxy.me service to its customers but accelerated this offering when the news about the pandemic escalated. Our company has always been on the forefront of helping doctors and patients with unmet needs,” John Saharek, president of ImprimisRx, told Healio/OSN.
Additionally, FocalPoint Holdings, a privately held investment and management firm specializing in health care and technology companies, announced it would set up its telehealth programs at ophthalmic practices at no charge for 30 days to allow staff and patients to communicate. The program can be installed and operational in approximately 48 hours, according to the company.
A new online resource for the low vision community and eSight customers has been launched by eSight Corporation to provide resources for people with visual impairments and tools during the global pandemic. The tools include low vision resources, at-home entertainment, educational materials and apps ideal for social distancing, according to the company. – by Robert Linnehan