Emerging Treatments for AMD

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on February 21, 2023
5 min read

When you have age-related macular degeneration (AMD), your treatment options will depend on what kind it is. Doctors don’t have a way to treat more advanced dry AMD yet. But vitamins and minerals sometimes help slow it down. 

If your AMD is the wet form, medicines injected in your eyes every so often can help. They block abnormal blood vessel growth in the 

back of your eyes. These medicines, called anti-VEGF drugs or ANG2 inhibitors, can already help keep your wet AMD from getting worse and protect your vision. 

But there’s more work to do. Researchers are trying to find new and improved ways to treat both dry and wet AMD. They’re also trying to make existing treatments better. Lots of clinical trials are ongoing. 

So what can you expect to see in the coming years? And what could these emerging therapies mean for your vision?

Dry AMD is the more common type. About 8 in 10 people with AMD have this type. It can get worse, and there’s no way to treat it except for antioxidant vitamins, which reduce the risk of progression to advanced dry AMD. The hope is that this will change in the future with many studies and clinical trials ongoing.

New medicines

One way to treat advanced dry AMD is to find drugs that target important players in the disease. Researchers think one target is a part of the immune system. It’s called the complement cascade. Medicines that work in this way are now in testing. Some of them could treat an advanced form of dry AMD called geographic atrophy. 

These medicines target different proteins in this part of the immune system. They’d be given in an injection to your eye, which is a lot like anti-VEGF and ANG2 medicines now used to treat wet AMD. There’s lots of activity in this area, and things could change at any time. Ask your doctor if there are any new medicines or clinical trials for new medicines to treat your dry AMD, especially if it’s advanced or getting worse.

Replacing your vision cells

Another promising way to treat late-stage dry AMD is with treatments that replace vision cells that have been lost. It’s possible that stem cells could fill in for cells in your retina that have died. There are different ways to do this. One way is to put a layer of stem cells on a thin scaffold to make a patch. It might also work to inject cells in a solution into your eye.

What makes this so promising is it could restore your retina and vision. Most other treatments for AMD aim to stop it from getting worse and keep you from losing vision. But they can’t fix damage to your retina that’s already happened.

Where do the stem cells come from? The stem cells they’re trying to use would come from your blood. Doctors could place them onto a patch and implant that into your eye. Or they might use other methods. 

Treatments like this are hard to study. Doctors need to make sure it works and is safe. Clinical trials are ongoing. The hope is a treatment like this could one day offer a cure for people with dry AMD that threatens vision. But even if it works, it will likely take a long time before a treatment like this could become widely available.

You can already treat your wet AMD with anti-VEGF and ANG2 medicines. Some have been around since 2005. But experts are still working on new ways to treat this type of AMD. They’re also working on ways to make existing medicines work even better.

Gene therapy 

Current medicines work by blocking a protein or pathway that makes abnormal blood vessels grow. You have to get them at regular intervals. The hope is that gene therapy could allow a treatment you’d only need once. The idea is that it could give your eyes the instructions to make its own anti-VEGF medicine.

Gene therapy might involve surgery. Or it could be given in an eye injection just like other medicines. Multiple gene therapies are being studied. It’s not clear yet how well or safely it will work. Keep in mind that gene therapy, if it’s proven safe and effective, could cost a lot.

New ways to deliver drugs

Another way to cut down on injections is to find new ways to give existing medicines. Instead of an injection, your doctor could put a tiny port in your eye. This port would release the medicine slowly and might only need to be refilled once or twice a year.

Hitting more targets

It might also help to add medicines that hit other targets. One approved medicine already hits two targets instead of one. There’s already some evidence that combination medicines could work better or last longer. Ask your doctor which of the available drugs they recommend or if you could think about a clinical trial.

Longer-lasting medicines

Another way to make treatments better is with drugs that last longer. If you start a wet AMD treatment today, you might get it as often as every month.

Some newer medicines already last longer. You might be able to go as long as 3 months between shots. Newer types still in testing might last even longer. Experts say there’s potential for an injectable you could need only a couple of times a year.

It takes a long time for a new treatment to get to the clinic. But new treatments can come out at any time. It’s a good idea to ask your doctor often about whether there are any new treatment options.

If you’re interested in trying something new before it’s out, the only way is to sign up for a clinical trial. Ask your doctor if you might be a good fit for one. Clinical trials test whether new treatments are safe. They also test whether they work. The goal of a clinical trial depends on what phase it is. 

There’s no guarantee that an experimental treatment will work. But it is a way to expand your options and get access to emerging therapies earlier. They might be a consideration especially if existing treatments aren’t working or there is no approved treatment. 

Each trial also has many criteria that say who can sign up. So you might not be eligible for a trial you’re interested in. Clinical trials may take a lot of time. You might have to travel to a place where a trial is offered. So you’ll need to think carefully and ask lots of questions. To look for clinical trials in your area, search for “age-related macular degeneration” at www.clinicaltrials.gov.