Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Second Sight’

There is a lot of buzz this week about Lucentis versus Avastin for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), something that will be talked about in more detail at the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) annual meeting this weekend in Fort Lauderdale.

Also on the radar at ARVO is more news from Second Sight and their Argus II Retinal Prosthesis (something that I have previously written about on this blog).  For those interested there is a press conference at ARVO on Tuesday, May 3 from 5-6pm.

Second Sight presents updated results from the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis clinical trial, including sentence reading and color vision restoration for previously blind subjects. Two trial participants and independent investigators from the trial will be available for interviews.

Which brings me back to a Nature article published earlier this month that I have been meaning to write about showing, for the first time, the ability to generate a three-dimensional culture of neural retinal tissue from mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells.  A word of warning, you may find the paper a little tough to follow unless you are a scientist in this field.

Eiraku and colleagues from Japan were able to culture retinal tissue similar to that seen in the human eye.  Eye formation starts as an optical vesicle that then develops into a two-walled optic cup.  As the authors note “optic cup development occurs in a complex environment affected by neighbouring tissues.”

What the authors showed in their research was the ability to culture retinal tissue containing ganglion cells, photoreceptors and bipolar cells.  They conclude:

Collectively, these findings demonstrate that the fully stratified neutral retina tissue architecture in this ES-cell culture self-forms in a spatiotemporally regulated manner mimicking in-vivo development.

My take on this research is that it is an important milestone in regenerative medicine that could lead to the prospect of retinal transplants in the future.  I look forward to learning more at ARVO about what the future may hold for retinal transplants derived from human stem cells.

ResearchBlogging.orgEiraku, M., Takata, N., Ishibashi, H., Kawada, M., Sakakura, E., Okuda, S., Sekiguchi, K., Adachi, T., & Sasai, Y. (2011). Self-organizing optic-cup morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture Nature, 472 (7341), 51-56 DOI: 10.1038/nature09941

I would like to thank Victor Pikov, a neurophysiologist and biomedical engineer at Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) for drawing my attention to his NeurotechZone Blog that has a really fascinating post on the manufacturing of the next generation of artificial retina, the Argus™ 111, by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

If you have an interest in this area, then Victor is also co-chair of 3rd International Conference on Neuroprosthetic Devices (ICNPD-2011) to be held in Sydney from November 25-26, 2011. Further information can be found on NeuroTechZone.

Second Sight Medical Products recently obtained a CE mark and European Market Approval for the Argus™ II system that incorporates 60 electrodes into the retinal prosthesis.

However the next generation of artificial retina, the Argus™ III is already in development.  It has 200 electrodes – a quantum leap forwards.  It’s hard not believe that an array that is four times as densely packed with sensors, will not provide improved vision.

Second Sight will no doubt be planning clinical trials for Argus™ III and it sounds like it will provide a further leap forward in the technology to restore some sense of vision to patients who have lost their sight through age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

I have taken the liberty of embedding below, the excellent YouTube video that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have produced about their manufacturing of the Argus™ III artificial retina. It is well worth watching!


I wrote last week about Second Sight’s European Marketing Approval for the Argus II “artificial retina”.  What this news also stands for is the success of collaboration as a route to innovation.

The Artificial Retina Project (“Restoring Sight through Science”) through which Argus II was developed is a collaborative effort between six United States Department of Energy (DOE) research institutions, 4 universities and private industry.

Each offers unique scientific knowledge and specialist expertise, without which it is unlikely the project (that is continuing with the development of a more advanced Argus III artificial retina) would have been successful.

I’ve listed the collaborators below and as recorded on the DOE website, what they bring to the Artificial Retina Project.

DOE National Labs:

  • Argonne National Laboratory – Performs packaging and hermetic-seal research to protect the prosthetic device from the salty eye environment, using their R&D 100 award-winning ultrananocrystalline diamond technology.
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) – Uses microfabrication technology to develop thin, flexible neural electrode arrays that conform to the retina’s curved shape. LLNL also uses advanced packaging technology and system-level integration to interconnect the electronics package and the thin-film electrode array.
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory – Measures the effect of increasing the number of electrodes on the quality of the electrical signals used to stimulate the surviving neural cells in the retina.
  • Sandia National Laboratories – Develops microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices and high-voltage subsystems for advanced implant designs. These include microtools, electronics packaging, and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) to allow high-density interconnects and electrode arrays.
  • Brookhaven National Laboratory – Performs neuroscience imaging studies of the Model 1 retinal prosthesis.


  • Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California – Provides medical direction and performs preclinical and clinical testing of the electrode array implants. Leads the Artificial Retina Project.
  • University of California, Santa Cruz – Performs bidirectional telemetry for wireless communication and chip design for stimulating the electrode array.
  • North Carolina State University – Performs electromagnetic and thermal modeling of the device to help determine how much energy can be used to stimulate the remaining nondiseased cells.
  • California Institute of Technology – Performs real-time image processing of miniature camera output and provides optimization of visual perception.

In October 2004, Second Sight Medical Products and the DOE signed a Co-Operative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in which the above institutions agreed to share intellectual property and royalties from their research, with Second Sight chosen to be the commercial partner.  As part of the CRADA, Second Sight obtained a limited, exclusive license to the inventions developed during the DOE Retinal Prosthesis Project.

You can find more information about the history of this fascinating project on the Artificial Retina Project website, that also has links to several patient stories from around the world.

The Artificial Retina Project is a case study on the success of collaboration.  Whether such an ambitious project that was funded by the US Government would ever have taken place in the private sector is the question that comes to my mind?  Would a private company have been able to harness the intellectual power of 10 research institutions in this way?

If not, then do governments have a role to play in biomedical innovation by drawing partners together so that advances in basic research can be applied to new products, whether they be new drugs or novel devices?

And if you agree that governments do have a role to play what should be the extent of government funding?  In the case of artificial retina, the DOE has funded this since 1999, with its contribution rising from $500K to $7M per year. Those numbers may also be direct costs, and not reflect the cost of investments in buildings, research facilities etc.

I’d be interested in any thoughts you would like to share on this.

Detecting a door or a window may not be a big deal for all of us with normal vision, but for those who lose their sight, e.g. through retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a new “artificial retina” now provides hope of a better quality of life.

The Argus™ II Retinal Prosthesis System from California based company Second Sight, has just received CE marking.  This innovative device can now be sold and marketed within Europe, but it remains investigational in the United States. It is the first such device to be approved.

While this blog is mainly focused on the biotechnology industry, I’m very interested in innovation and bringing novel products to market. I also have a personal interest in the ophthalmology market.  Earlier in my career, I spent three years at Alcon working with leading European ophthalmologists on intra-ocular lens clinical trials, including the IDE registration trial for AcrySof®.

In the same way that a cochlear implant does not restore hearing, the “artificial retina” or so-called “bionic eye” from Second Sight is not intended to restore vision, instead it artificially provides electrical signals that it is hoped the brain can learn to interpret as shapes.

The “artificial retina” has three parts, a small video camera worn in a pair of glasses that captures visual images.  This transmits the electronic images to a video processing unit worn by the patient.  Data is then transmitted wirelessly to an implant that is located on top of the retina.

The array of electrodes resting on the retina stimulates those rods and cones that remain functional to generate electrical impulses that are then transmitted down the optic nerve to the brain.  Patients learn to interpret the patterns of light that are generated, and in the process gain some sense of visual perception that improves their daily life.

In an interview broadcast on French radio station, RTL one of the four French patients in the clinical trial, Thierry, talks about how this retinal stimulation device has improved his autonomy and quality of life.

When faced with blindness, any progress is noteworthy and it will be interesting to see the extent to which this technology can be further developed.  I expect that more clinical trial data will be forthcoming at the annual meeting of ARVO (Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology) in May.

Update August 23, 2012:  FDA Panel to review whether to recommend of approval of Argus II artificial retina in the United States

The FDA Ophthalmic Devices Panel will review on September 28, 2012 the Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) market approval application by Second Sight for its Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System with an indication for patients with severe to profound retinitis pigmentosa (RP) who have bare or no light perception in both eyes.

What is a Humanitarian Device Exemption? 

“An HDE is similar in both form and content to a premarket approval (PMA) application, but is exempt from the effectiveness requirements of a PMA. An HDE application is not required to contain the results of scientifically valid clinical investigations demonstrating that the device is effective for its intended purpose. The application, however, must contain sufficient information for FDA to determine that the device does not pose an unreasonable or significant risk of illness or injury, and that the probable benefit to health outweighs the risk of injury or illness from its use, taking into account the probable risks and benefits of currently available devices or alternative forms of treatment.”  U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Given the lower standard required for a HDE, and the fact that Second Sight obtained a CE mark in Europe, it would be hard to believe the FDA advisory panel will not recommend approval in a patient population that are effectively blind.

However, the FDA guidance also notes that an approval of an HDE, while allowing marketing of the device, does require it’s use to be at facilities where an institutional review board (IRB) has approved the use of the device. If approved for sale in the US, the market for Second Sight will be limited as a result to academic and hospital settings that have an IRB able to provide the necessary oversight and review.

“An approved HDE authorizes marketing of the HUD. However, an HUD may only be used in facilities that have established a local institutional review board (IRB) to supervise clinical testing of devices and after an IRB has approved the use of the device to treat or diagnose the specific disease. The labeling for an HUD must state that the device is an humanitarian use device and that, although the device is authorized by Federal Law, the effectiveness of the device for the specific indication has not been demonstrated.”

For those interested in more information, background material on the HDE application will be available on the FDA website no later than 2 days prior to the September 28 meeting of the Ophthalmic Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee.

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