UTHSC Researcher Awarded $4.94 Million to Develop Novel Glaucoma Treatment

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A researcher in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine has been awarded a $4.94 million R24 grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance the development of a potential new drug therapy for glaucoma.

Dr. Monica Jablonski

Monica Jablonski, PhD, professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and associate dean of the Postdoctoral Office, will further develop an ophthalmic microemulsion that combats the shortcomings of standard eye drops used to lower intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients.

Current standard treatment drops are limited by their short-lived time on the cornea, rapid drainage, and shallow penetration, which requires patients to dose multiple times a day. All this leads to lower efficacy and poor patient compliance. Dr. Jablonski and her team have created an extended release, once-daily topical treatment that delivers pregabalin – an FDA approved compound for fibromyalgia – to target tissues within the eye. A bioadhesive ingredient keeps the microemulsion in contact with the cornea for longer duration, allowing for the gradual release of pregabalin, which in turn maintains a sustained, lower intraocular pressure.

“We have an advantage because the active pharmaceutical ingredient we are using, pregabalin, is already FDA approved,” Dr. Jablonski said. “Systemic safety studies have been done, so we can refer to those. The majority of our studies will evaluate efficacy in IOP lowering.”

Dr. Jablonski’s proposal, titled “Novel Extended Release Glaucoma Therapy for Once Daily Dosing,” is being funded for five years. She intends this R24 to provide proof of concept and address key feasibility questions by establishing efficacy, biocompatibility and biodistribution, all of which would facilitate preparing the formula for clinical trials.

Dr. Jablonski has applied for a patent for her formulation. She founded OculoTherapy, LLC, in 2013, a startup company that has an exclusive license with the University of Tennessee Research Foundation. OculoTherapy Inc. was supported under the Innovation Lab program of the Office of Research and Memphis Bioworks, and provided research laboratory space for one year free of charge to establish the company’s research and development program in 2018. Seed funding Dr. Jablonski received in 2017 in the form of a CORNET Award (an award created by UTHSC Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman, PhD) allowed her to collect preliminary data, which she says was key to winning subsequent NIH funding.