Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans, so it’s no real surprise that Ocata Therapeutics has plenty of competition in its pursuit of a treatment for it. But what makes the Marlborough company’s approach unique is that it’s trying to help patients actually regrow the cells in the eye which cause it, rather than treating the symptoms using drugs.
Ocata (Nasdaq: OCAT) plans to start mid-stage, placebo-controlled trials in 60 patients with AMD in the next month and a half, where it hopes to repeat the results of a smaller trial that attracted worldwide attention last year. That trial, published in the medical journal, The Lancet, transplanted Ocata’s stem cells into the eyes of 18 patients with two kinds of macular degeneration: dry age-related, and a rare, inherited genetic form called Stargardt’s which affects patients in their teens. The treatment stopped the progression of disease in 17 out of 18 patients after six months, and even more promising, it actually helped improve vision in 10 of 18 of those patients.