Eylea-maker Bayer rolls out diabetic eye disease awareness and advocacy campaign

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Bayer is pushing a new education and awareness campaign for eye diseases common in patients with diabetes.

People with diabetes are waiting too long to discuss vision problems with their doctors, according to a new study funded by Bayer. That finding, along with other eye concerns around diabetes, has Bayer pushing a new advocacy campaign for people with diabetes and their healthcare providers.

Working with several global diabetes nonprofits, Bayer surveyed people with diabetes and healthcare professionals in a global study. The results pointed them to encourage involvement to create health policies that enable prevention and detection of both diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME) in an effort it calls “Shifting the Needle." DR and DME are leading causes of blindness in working-age adults, and with Type 2 diabetes on the rise, their prevalence will likely continue to increase.

“Our aim was to investigate in detail the complex global, regional and specific country issues surrounding diabetic eye disease in order to shine a spotlight on the state of play with regards to prevention, assessment and treatment. We also wanted, as a leader in ophthalmology, to gain deeper insights into the real-life experiences of people living with the condition, along with the perspectives of the clinicians they interact with,” Michelle Sylvanowicz, global advocacy manager for Bayer Ophthalmology, told FiercePharma in an email interview.

Bayer’s interest in diabetic eye care comes on account of Eylea, a med it co-markets with Regeneron that won approval in mid-2015 to treat DR in patients with DME. Eylea is also approved to treat wet age-related macular degeneration and macular edema following retinal vein occlusion. Roche company Genentech’s Lucentis is a competitor approved for similar indications, while Genentech’s cancer drug Avastin is also used off-label to treat diabetic eye disease.

Eylea will play an increasingly important role to pharma sales for Bayer as it marches down the merger path with Monsanto. While analysts are concerned Bayer may be spreading its research resources too thin, the company itself recently upped its expectations for its top five growth pharma products, of which Eylea is one. Bayer reported a 7% increase in pharma sales for the third quarter, but analysts questioned whether it will be able to maintain that momentum with the massive Monsanto merger on the horizon. The deal still needs to be approved in the U.S. and in Europe, with tentative plans to close by the end of 2017.

In the Bayer-sponsored diabetes eye research across 41 countries, more than one-fourth (27%) of patients with diabetes said they never discuss eye complications with their doctor, or only did so after symptoms worsened. Among ophthalmologists, 21% had no specific training to treat diabetic retinopathy or macular edema. Blindness from DR is generally preventable with early treatment.

“We were most surprised by the fact that doctors felt that many people with diabetes are presenting for eye examinations too late, once eye complications have already occurred. It is shocking to consider that there are people out there living with diabetic vision loss that could have been completely prevented," Sylvanowicz said. "... Through this study we have been able to identify some serious gaps in health systems for people with diabetes, such as the provision of eye examinations and the education of HCPs—addressing these must be our focus.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment from Bayer.