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FDA Approves EYLEA Injections to Treat Diabetic Retinopathy

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved EYLEA to treat all stages of diabetic retinopathy. This injection from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. can help reduce the chances of partial and complete blindness, and even reverse vision loss to a certain extent.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Over eight million people live with diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that causes progressive blindness if not treated properly.

Diabetic retinopathy happens when blood vessels in the retina begin to bleed or leak fluid. This distorts vision and leads to vision loss and blindness in people with diabetes. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes will develop diabetic retinopathy in their lifetime.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include:

  • Floaters
  • Blurriness
  • Dark areas of vision
  • Difficulty perceiving colors

According to the National Eye Institute, diabetic retinopathy has four stages:

  1. Mild nonproliferative retinopathy. Blood vessels in the retina may swell and leak fluid.
  2. Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy. Swollen blood vessels lose their ability to transport blood, damaging blood vessels and decreasing vision.
  3. Severe nonproliferative retinopathy. Areas with blocked blood vessels release growth factor to encourage new blood vessels to grow on top of the retina.
  4. Proliferative dibaetic retinopathy (PDR). Fragile new blood vessels may leak and bleed, and scar tissue may cause retinal detachment.

The study

The study’s researchers divided 402 patients with diabetic retinopathy into three groups.

  • Group 1 did not receive EYLEA injections, and 20 percent of participants experienced worsening vision loss.
  • Group 2 received five monthly initial injections, and then one injection every 16 weeks. These participants reduced their risk of worsening vision by 85 percent.
  • Group 3 received five monthly initial injections, and then one injection every eight weeks. These participants reduced their risk of worsening vision by 88 percent.

How EYLEA injections work

Although many people may balk at the idea of receiving an injection in their eye, rest easy. The eye is anesthetized during the procedure, and it’s completely painless.

EYLEA works by halting the growth of new blood vessels on the retina, and decreases the ability of fluid to pass through the blood vessels. Although the latter doesn’t sound like a good thing, it prevents the blood vessels from swelling, leaking, and causing retinal detachment.

EYLEA has already been approved to treat macular degeneration, but more research and trials are needed before it’s approved to treat other forms of diabetic eye disease.