UPDATE 1-Bayer to test drug to treat eye disease in Asia

FRANKFURT/HONG KONG, Jan 18 (Reuters) - German drugmaker Bayer BAYGn.DE will launch a phase III trial in several Asian countries this year to test a compound to treat an eye disease related to severe shortsightedness. [ID:nWEA1867]

The disease, choroidal neovascularisation, occurs when abnormal blood vessel growth beneath the retina causes leakage of fluid and blood in the eye, and can result in blindness.

The disease occurs in some people with severe myopia, about 1-2 percent of the myopic population. The absolute number is sizeable given 60-80 percent of people in parts of east Asia require spectacles by the time they reach high school.

Elke Reissig, who heads Bayer’s healthcare clinical development, said 248 patients will be recruited in China,, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Professor Wong Tien Yin, director of the Singapore Eye Research Institute, which is collaborating with Bayer on the trial, said people with severe myopia were vulnerable.

“One reason is that the eyeball (can be) abnormally long in highly shortsighted eyes. Because of that, the supporting structure in the retina is very thin and weak and allows blood vessels to grow and leak,” Wong told Reuters.

Ressig said the compound, VEGF Trap-Eye, blocks a naturally occurring chemical, vascular endothelial growth factor, that promotes blood vessel growth.

“But in certain conditions (such as people with severe myophia) ... there is ingrowth of vessels in the eye. The result is it impairs the eye,” Ressig told Reuters by telephone. “This compound traps the growth factor and renders it ineffective.”

Bayer expects results of the trial to be available in 2013. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong and Frankfurt newsroom; Editing by Dan Lalor)