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CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
e-mail: becky-soglin@uiowa.edu

Release: Sept. 1, 1999

UI joins global research effort to study age-related macular degeneration

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa Health Care researchers have joined a $6 million collaborative research effort to identify the biological causes and potential treatments for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other retinal degenerations. The UI researchers will collaborate with CIBA Vision, which is the Atlanta-based eye care unit of Novartis AG, and the eye clinic at the Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France.

AMD is a degenerative condition of the macula, the part of the back of the eye that normally provides clear, central vision. AMD affects more than 13 million adults in the United States and is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. There is currently no known cause or cure for the disease.

"The goals of this strong collaboration between academia and industry are to identify key pathways and genes involved in how AMD develops and to devise strategies for diagnosing, delaying and/or preventing the progression of this devastating disease," said Gregory S. Hageman, Ph.D., UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences.

The collaborative research effort also gives CIBA Vision the opportunity to license UI patents owned by the UI Research Foundation, including intellectual property developed prior to or during the collaboration. Such licensing could result in additional revenue for the UI.

"Macular degeneration is an incredibly complex condition that devastates the quality of life for millions of people at a time when they most deserve to enjoy their lives," said Hageman, lead investigator and program director of the collaborative effort. "By combining the best efforts and expertise of individuals at the UI, CIBA Vision, Novartis and the Université Louis Pasteur, we can progress more rapidly toward understanding the mechanisms that cause the disease."

Over the past two decades, UI researchers have helped develop laser treatments for age-related macular degeneration and identified several genes and more than 100 mutations related to different types of the disease. UI research of AMD is now carried out at the university's Center for Macular Degeneration, established in 1997 as the first multidisciplinary center of its kind nationwide. "Our research team is incredibly dedicated to understanding AMD," Hageman said. Edwin M. Stone, M.D., Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, is scientific director of the center, and Thomas A. Weingeist, M.D., Ph.D., professor and head of the department, is executive director.

"The University of Iowa's Center for Macular Degeneration is one of the world's leading AMD research organizations, with a unique combination of resources, knowledge and talent," said Glen Bradley, CIBA Vision CEO. "We look forward to this unprecedented partnership, combining innovative global academic research and industry support toward identifying causes, cures and treatments for AMD."

He added, "The collaboration complements our current research and development efforts and significantly strengthens our commitment to improve, protect and preserve the vision of people around the world."

The collaborative project combines the intellectual and clinical resources within the universities with the expertise of Novartis and CIBA Vision in drug identification and development. CIBA Vision is a global leader in the research, development and manufacturing of optical and ophthalmic products and services, including contact lenses, lens care products and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals. For more information about CIBA Vision, visit its web site at www.cibavision.com.

For more information about the UI Center for Macular Degeneration, call (319) 356-2852 or visit on-line at www.ophth.uiowa.edu/CMD/Default.html.

[Editor's note: Professor Gregory S. Hageman will be available to talk with reporters after 3 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 1.]