Nearly all retina specialists are greatly alarmed by the increasing number of cases of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of severe vision loss and blindness in people over the age of 50, and believe the disease will have a serious impact on the public, according to survey results released today. Despite these concerns, eye experts also conveyed new hope that current research could lead to valuable new treatments. The survey was conducted by Eyetech Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Pfizer Inc., in consultation with Lighthouse International, a leading resource on vision impairment and rehabilitation.
Respondents rank wet AMD, a condition that destroys central vision and the ability to see detail, among the top eye disease concerns, and believe it seriously impacts patient’s quality of life, including the ability to drive, live independently and perform in daily activities. Emotional distress and clinical depression were consequences of great concern, as was the disease’s potential to increase direct and indirect costs within the healthcare system and society.
Currently, 15 million people in the United States suffer from some form of AMD, with more than 1.6 million experiencing the active blood vessel growth and blood vessel leakage associated with wet AMD. There are 200,000 new cases of wet AMD each year and this number is expected to increase significantly as the baby boomer generation ages and overall life expectancy increases. Experts estimate that by 2030, 6.3 million people will have vision loss caused by wet AMD, and 500,000 people will lose their sight annually from the disease. Currently, there is an FDA approved treatment for only one of the three subtypes of wet AMD, leaving the majority of wet AMD patients without an approved treatment option.
“As baby boomers age and more people are living into their 80s and 90s, we will see more incidences of vision impairment caused by wet AMD,” said Barbara Silverstone, DSW, President and CEO, Lighthouse International. “Wet AMD has serious emotional consequences because it affects your ability to live independently and manage daily functions such as driving, shopping or reading. These are aspects of life that no one should have to give up at any age, especially if there are treatment and rehabilitation options that can help people enjoy a better quality of life as they age.”
The survey, which explored attitudes of retina specialists toward wet AMD and its clinical and social consequences, was conducted by HCD Research in February 2004. A total of 100 questionnaires were completed online.
Key findings of the survey include:
- An overwhelming majority – 83 percent – of retina specialists surveyed say they are greatly alarmed by the increasing number of cases of wet AMD.
- More than 95 percent agree that wet AMD represents a public health epidemic, and we must change the current paradigm of care by establishing new approaches to the prevention and treatment of the disease.
- Nearly all retina specialists surveyed cite wet AMD as having a strong emotional effect on patients and their families.
- More than 85 percent agree that wet AMD patients are eager for new treatment options.
- Nearly all respondents agree that current treatment options for the majority of wet AMD patients are limited and more than 85 percent were dissatisfied with current options.
- Seventy-one percent agree that better treatment outcomes could be achieved if patients were diagnosed earlier. Nearly half say they do not see referred patients as soon as they would like because patients do not understand the urgency.
- Almost 90 percent said vision exams for those older than 65 should include AMD screening.
“The research results underscore why we must continue to find new ways to improve patient outcomes and protect or sustain patient quality of life in later years,” said William F. Mieler, M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Chicago, and president of the Macula Society. “Everyone – including physicians, health authorities and the aging public - needs to better understand that wet AMD is putting our vision at risk. We need to collectively take steps to minimize vision loss and prolong the independent function of older adults that is being threatened by wet AMD.”
The study showed that retina specialists are encouraged by research developments and believe these developments will have a significant impact on patient management. New wet AMD treatment options may soon become available to slow and/or stabilize vision loss. These therapies show potential for treating all three subtypes of wet AMD, attacking the underlying cause and delaying progression to severe vision loss caused by the disease.
“We are really at the threshold of an encouraging new era in the pharmacological treatment of macula disease,” said Dr. Mieler. “We are making progress and this necessitates retina specialists keeping up with the science and its application, education of referring physicians, and an increased awareness among patients, caregivers and the general public about AMD and its risk factors and symptoms.”
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is classified into two general forms: non-neovascular, referred to as dry AMD, and neovascular or wet AMD. The wet form is more severe and progresses more rapidly than the dry type.
Wet AMD is an eye disease in which abnormal blood vessels proliferate and leak blood and fluid into the retina, which destroys central vision by damaging the macula, the small central portion of the retina. Although it accounts for only about 10-15 percent of all macular degeneration cases, wet AMD is responsible for 90 percent of blindness caused by the disease. There are three subtypes of wet AMD: predominantly classic, minimally classic, and occult. Current treatments are only FDA approved for the predominantly classic subtype of wet AMD. http://www.visionconnection.org/