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Locally developed glaucoma device leads to new Indonesian partnerships

The Lions Eye Institute (LEI) is strengthening its ties with Indonesian researchers following the successful launch of a new glaucoma drainage device produced for only one-tenth of the cost of competing products.

The Virna Glaucoma Drainage Device

Earlier this month the Perth-based institute announced it has signed Memorandums of Understanding with Universitas Indonesia (UI) and Udayana University in Bali to facilitate further joint research projects, as well as teaching and exchange opportunities.

It comes after the June launch of the Virna Glaucoma Drainage Device, which has been jointly developed by LEI managing director Professor Bill Morgan and his PhD student Dr Virna Oktariana from IU.

The device is expected to save the sight of thousands of Indonesians suffering from severe glaucoma thanks to its affordability and effectiveness at controlling intraocular pressure.

Morgan told Insight the Virna implant has been found to perform as well as current glaucoma drainage devices (GDDs) Molteno and Baerveldt, based on analysis of two-year follow up data.

More importantly the device is designed for relatively easy surgical insertion and is made from an inexpensive material, called poly-methyl methacrylate, to keep its associated costs low.

“We designed it so that it could be manufactured in Indonesia. It is currently being made there for $150 each, compared to the $1,500 that the standard GDDs cost, so one-tenth the price,” Morgan said.

“This has made it accessible for the Indonesian population and affordable for the government to supply. The company (Rohto) is also looking at exporting it to other countries.”

Morgan said the device works by attaching a silicone tube to a plastic plate, which acts like a garden soak-well to drain fluid from the gutter. The tube is inserted into the eye and the plate buried under the soft tissue that surrounds the eye. It stops approximately 90% of severe glaucoma patients from going blind.

With six million of Indonesia’s 270 million population having glaucoma – and one million of those being blind ­– Morgan said there was a large market to service.

“[Glaucoma] tends to affect much younger people [in Indonesia]. In a clinic I did last week we saw children and people in their 20s and 30s with blinding glaucoma. Also, standard trabeculectomy and MIGS style surgery tends to fail in these patients because of it’s more severe nature. So a glaucoma drainage device is needed.”

If the Virna device were to be exported to Australia, Morgan said it would it would lower the cost of surgery for local patients. However, the cost of Therapeutics Goods Administration certification poses as a potential barrier.

“Given the low cost of the device and low margins, it may not be worth Rohto’s while exporting it here. Also, the market here is smaller than in Indonesia and other places.”

Morgan added: “This joint project between Lions Eye Institute and the University of Indonesia has taught us both a lot about the mutual benefits of joint collaboration. We have signed an MOU together and are actively looking to develop other mutually beneficial projects.”