Getting the upper *hound* on eye health (by JC)
By John Carrigan
I recently recalled a story from my younger days that summed up the changing relationship we have with our pets. It revolved around a family who lived not far from us and who owned a racing kennel. Of the 20 dogs that were housed there, one of them was an especially well bred speedster called “Big Muffin”. I say speedster but in fact, Big Muffin was the slowest dog in the kennel and probably the neighbourhood for that matter.
Considering the often highly strung personality of greyhounds, he was particularly amiable in nature. He would cosy up to all and sundry for a pat on the back and would allow any kid to jump all over him without ever thinking of baring a tooth. During his short racing career, he became more of a kennel clown, seemingly happier to lay on the porch than chase a hare, real or mechanical.
One day, much to the dismay of the children, Big Muffin went to the place where all underachieving greyhounds were supposed to go — the vet for his last rites. The family operated a business and mouths had to be fed so slow dogs were given the boot as quickly as possible. As if to distance themselves from such unpleasantness, the act was carried out in a surgery several counties away. A journey of almost an hour by car. As the car disappeared over the hillside, the dogs short head disappearing from view, people’s minds moved elsewhere.
Then about 6 months later, a strange emaciated dog walked in the front gate. He was thought to be one of the neighbours at first. Upon closer inspection of the ear code, (dogs were identified by a unique number punched into the ear) he turned out to be the one and only mutt that was sent to meet his maker previously. Having somehow escaped the clutches of the vet and his needle, he had, over the space of several months,walked the countryside (and towns) til he somehow found his way home. A truly remarkable feat for what is considered to be not an especially bright animal.
He got a great welcome from the kids and was given a good feed before being put in front of the fire to warm up. Driven to the vet where the mistake wasn’t made twice. It later transpired the dog had cataracts in both eyes, which may have meant he never actually saw what he was supposed to be chasing. In spite of this story not ending in Disney fashion, nobody really took much note at the time. However, in a climate where Britons upped their spending by 25% from 2010 to 2015 on their pets, and pet insurance is becoming ever more important, this tale would cause an outcry today. We as a people not only love our pets, in many cases, we have begun to think they deserve all the health benefits of people.
Last year, there were 20,000 cataract operations carried out in dogs in the UK, not to mention other animals. Those operations cost their owners over 3K GBP per eye. During the course of a cataract operation, in both people and animals, the clouded lens is removed and replaced by a synthetic one. However, that’s only the beginning. Post care treatment of cataract patients involves a lot of eye drops to combat inflammation among other things. The rate of non-compliance is high in people. In dogs, it’s even more difficult but owners do their best to put drops in their patient eight times a day for several months. That can be a struggle for even the greatest animal lover.
There is also the added complication that one’s relationship with Fifi, the loveable Staffordshire bull terrier, can become somewhat strained during the course of such post operative treatments. Perhaps we start thinking we should have bought an animal with less powerful jaws.
The problem is being addressed by VisusNano, a RebelBio accelerated start up. VisusNano created a drug eluting lens, designed to release anti inflammatories and other necessary components in a controlled and sustained manner over a number of months. This lens removes the pain of trying to keep the patients meds topped up.
The team comprises of people with a range of expertise from polymer science to an ophthalmic surgery. We, like many, believe they have all the ingredients for success. Headed up by self confessed animal nut Joanna Gould, she originally got the idea for such a lens when she put her head together with consultant ophthalmologist Philip Alexander. VisusNano was formed to provide this drug-eluting cataract lens to the human market where cataract surgery is still the most frequently carried out operation in the world today. The risk of cataracts is also linked to high sugar consumption, and until we find a way to replace our sugar need and take preventive measures against diabetes, it looks set to rise.
Together they quickly realised because of their veterinary connections that they had a short path to a market that was significant, important to them personally, and growing. In spite of a lack of prototype or clear business plan at the time, they brought their ideas to Biostars where they won it’s 2016 competition and a 30K prize.
Going from strength to strength, they recently joined RebelBio. VisusNano have unsurprisingly attracted considerable interest from customers and investors alike. Having a clear solution to a growing problem, which doesn’t require extreme regulatory expenditure paves a path for them and their backers that seems obvious and less arduous. For now, it appears the vision of VisusNano is indeed very clear.
VisusNano are part of Cohort 5 of the RebelBio program, based in London’s Imperial College White City Incubator. The accelerator aids outstanding new investible bioscience opportunities from around the globe. Making the impossible inevitable.
Photo 1 by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels; Photo 2 by Amanda Linn from Pexels