A breakthrough drug called Syfovre – the first approved by the FDA for dry macular degeneration – offers relief from the dry form of age related macular degeneration, or AMD. Syfovre specifically treats geographic atrophy (GA), a form of dry macular degeneration that results over time in extreme central vision loss.
Age-related macular degeneration remains the likeliest cause of vision loss in people over 50. That disease, which prevents the center of your retina from transmitting information, comes in two forms: the “wet” type and the more common “dry” type. Wet AMD is more severe but, until recently, has been more treatable.
How Does AMD Affect Us?
Age related macular degeneration refers to a breakdown in the macula, the central section of the retina. The macula is responsible for our most detailed vision; every other part of the retina is used for peripheral vision. In AMD, a buildup of cellular debris called drusen causes atrophy or loss of function of the macula. You have a harder time reading, seeing faces, driving or doing close-up work, such as cooking. Over time, unchecked dry AMD can leave a person with only peripheral vision.
Dry AMD usually strikes first. But in addition to the dry AMD, some patients develop abnormal blood vessel growth that leaks or bleeds, causing wet AMD. Before doctors could treat wet AMD, about one patient in seven progressed to the harsher wet form. Wet AMD accounted for 90 per cent of vision loss from macular degeneration, so researchers naturally concentrated on it. Today, doctors can inject several types of drugs into the eye, treating the wet version with a high success rate that sends abnormal vessel growth into remission.
However, the dry form of AMD still worsens slowly over time, decreasing vision. That’s where pegcetacoplan, marketed as Syfovre by Apellis Pharmaceuticals, comes in.
How Does Syfovre Work?
Studies have shown that age, family history and smoking all affect the growth of central scotomas. These are the visual blind spots that form in GA. Inflammation also plays a pivotal role in the progression of the disease. Several inflammatory pathways exist in the human body. However, one called the complement pathway appears to be significant in making geographic atrophy worse.
Syfovre inhibits that pathway to slow the progression of GA. It’s given by a painless injection into the eye every one to two months: Doctors numb the eye and use tiny sharp needles, so the shots don’t hurt.
Syfovre slows down the progression of GA by 17 to 22 percent, depending on whether it’s given every month or every two months. Starting treatment early with Syfovre and continuing for longer periods may compound the benefits. Consequently, patients should expect to commit to an injection schedule over a period of years. You don’t want to wait until the GA has advanced before treating it, because Syfovre cannot reverse or cure GA. In fact, nothing can.
Potential side effects, most of them short-lived and minor, may accompany the shots. Patients do face a 7 per cent risk of developing wet AMD when receiving Syfovre every two months and a 12% risk when getting it monthly. In those cases, an injected medication for wet AMD needs to be given in addition to Syfovre injections.
What Does the Future Hold?
Though Syfovre represents significant progress in the treatment of GA, researchers haven’t stopped there. Another drug, avacincaptad pegol, may receive FDA approval later this year. These results provide real hope for saving vision in patients with GA, and the next 10 years hold great promise for discovering even more effective treatments.
To schedule a consultation with a retina specialist at Horizon Eye Care, call 704-365-0555 Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The optical department closes on Fridays at 2:30 p.m.