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Early Trial Shows Arthritis Drug Can Treat Dry Eye Disease

Reza Dana

Reza Dana (Mass. Eye and Ear)

Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear hospital, Brigham and Women’s hospital, and Harvard Medical School, found eye drops made of anakinra, a biologic agent to treat arthritis, could safely reduce symptoms associated with dry eye disease. The team led by Mass Eye and Ear ophthalmologist and immunologist Reza Dana published its findings yesterday in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology (paid subscription required).

Dry eye disease is a condition where the eye does not produce tears properly or tears are not chemically consistent and evaporate too quickly. Dry eyes can be caused by a number of factors, including inflammation of the surface of the eye. Mass Eye and Ear says dry eye disease is the most common reason for people visiting an ophthalmologist, with some nine million people in the U.S. suffering from acute forms of the disorder.

The clinical trial led by Dana’s team tested the drug anakinra, marketed by Amgen under the brand name Kineret, developed initially and approved by the FDA to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Anakinra is an engineered version of the cell signaling protein interleukin-1 that plays a role in the regulation of inflammatory responses to infection. Preclinical studies with lab animals showed the direct application of interleukin-1 has the potential to treat inflammation associated with various eye conditions, including dry eye disease.

The trial tested the safety and efficacy of eye drops with two concentrations of anakinra — 2.5 percent and 5 percent — against an artificial tear/eye lubricant placebo. Some 75 participants in the 16-week study were randomly given one of the two concentrations or the placebo. The tests gauged the effectiveness of the drug on corneal staining, a clinical measurement of ocular surface disease, and dry eye disease symptoms in general.

The results showed anakinra at 2.5 percent is four times more likely than the placebo to eliminate corneal staining. Anakinra eye drops are also six times more effective than the placebo at reducing symptoms of dry eye disease. In addition, discontinuing anakinra after 12 weeks showed a recurrence of the dry eye disease symptoms.

“We possibly have found a safe, well tolerated eye drop that can treat the underlying cause of dry eye rather than just temporarily mask the symptoms,” says Dana. “We have never seen results such as this before in a trial to treat dry eye disease.”

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