NZ scientist behind first FDA-approved myopia therapy for kids

An optometry researcher from the University of Auckland is behind the first-ever Food and Drug Administration-(FDA) approved treatment to slow the progression of short-sight in children.

Dr John Phillips, a senior lecturer in the University’s School of Optometry and Vision Science, invented the MiSight contact lens, which slows the progression of myopia in children. The pioneering contact lens therapy has just been approved by the FDA for use in children aged 8-12 years at the start of treatment.

“I’m thrilled that the benefits of MiSight will now potentially reach thousands more children,” says Dr Phillips.

Myopia generally develops in childhood, gets progressively worse until about the age of 18, and then remains relatively stable for life. The prevalence of myopia in New Zealand is estimated to be about 20 percent, but in some Asian countries, nearly 80 percent of children leaving school are myopic.

Myopia happens when the eye grows too long front-to-back, causing light to be focused in front of, rather than on, the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. The abnormal eye growth stretches the retina and its blood supply, vastly increasing the risks of sight-threatening conditions later in life such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and maculopathy.

The prevalence of myopia is projected to increase from approximately two billion people worldwide in 2010 to almost five billion people in 2050.

Eye growth is optically guided and the MiSight contact lens works by tricking the eye into thinking the eye’s longer than it is, so that it slows down its growth rate. The lens has a central zone that provides clear vision (like a regular contact lens) and then an outer ring that focuses light in front of the retina – this is what triggers the slowing in the eye’s growth.

The short-term benefits of better vision for children are obvious, but there are also striking long-term benefits.

Dr Phillips, who leads the University’s Auckland Myopia Laboratory, explains: “The more severe your myopia in young adulthood, the greater your risk of developing sight-threatening issues later on. By curbing myopia in childhood, MiSight lenses hugely reduce these risks, and it also reduces the burden on the health system.”

Globally, this burden is considerable. The prevalence of myopia is projected to increase from approximately two billion people worldwide in 2010 to almost five billion people in 2050.

Dr Phillips came up with the idea for the MiSight lens almost 15 years ago. He and his then-PhD student, Dr Nicola Anstice, carried out a study of 40 children aged 11-14 years that showed promising results, which were published in 2011 in the high-ranking journal Opthalmology.

Dr Phillips patented the basic idea through the University’s innovation commercialisation arm, UniServices. It piqued the interest of Californian company CooperVision, a division of medical device-maker Cooper Companies, and UniServices licensed the lens to them. CooperVision has continued to fund related research and development at the University of Auckland.

Coopervision then sponsored a randomised, controlled multicentre clinical trial of 135 children ages 8 to 12 years who wore either MiSight or conventional soft contact lenses. Published in 2019, the study showed that for the trial’s full three-year period, the progression in myopia of those wearing MiSight lenses was about 60 percent less than those wearing conventional soft contact lenses, and children who used MiSight had about 50 percent less elongation of their eyes. The trial also confirmed the safety of the MiSight lens.

The soft daily disposable lenses are already available in New Zealand and will be on sale in the US from March next year. Due to the FDA’s stringent approval process, products approved by the agency generally go on to gain approval from equivalent bodies around the world.

Read the FDA media release.