Society urgently calls for more funding into macular research

Scientist in the lab

The Macular Society has launched a landmark report exposing the lack of funding for biomedical research into age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of sight loss in the UK.

The report, which has been funded by the Clothworkers’ Foundation and has been endorsed by more than 70 of the UK’s leading sight researchers, ophthalmologists and institutions, describes the situation as ‘urgent’.

AMD is a disease with devastating and far-reaching consequences for both patients and their families, and the number of people with the condition in the UK is forecast to rise to 1.3 million by 2050 from 600,000 today. Despite this, it still has a low priority when it comes to publicly funded research. 

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, is urging researchers into blinding disease, charities for people with blinding diseases and people who are blind or visually impaired to speak out about the low levels of funding for research into sight loss and AMD.

Cathy said: “Macular degeneration represents a huge cost, care and societal burden, yet it does not receive a level of research funding proportionate to its impact.”

“Alongside the devastating personal consequences of sight loss, AMD costs the UK £1.6bn annually. It’s an urgent public health issue.”

AMD is the third most common cause of sight loss globally and the most common in the developed world. However, the report reveals that only one fifth of one percent of public research funding was directed at AMD in 2014. Government and Wellcome Foundation sources funded £4.5m and the UK sight loss charity sector, which has an income of £750m a year, funded only £1.5m of AMD research.

Professor Carrie MacEwen, president, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists said: “AMD is the commonest cause of blindness in the developed world and the numbers of patients affected will continue to grow.  It must be considered a research priority in order to identify ways to prevent the development of AMD and to treat those affected as early and as effectively as possible. Loss of vision is associated with falls, depression and loss of independence – especially in the older age groups.”

Mercy Jeyasingham, chief executive of VISION 2020 UK, said: “We fully support the Macular Society’s report. The increase in incidence of AMD is an important public health issue. It is vital that we increase funding for medical research into eye health to help us improve our understanding of eye diseases, which have a devastating impact on the lives of people affected.”  

The report recommends bringing researchers together in a unified approach to AMD research, and securing a new funding model to support this research.

Among the existing 70 plus endorsements for the report is Moorfields Eye Hospital, Oxford Eye Hospital, Southampton General Hospital as well as Winfried Amoaku, Clinical Associate Professor and Reader in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences from University Hospital, Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham and Professor Usha Chakravarthy, Queen’s University Belfast.

The Clothworkers’ Foundation was prompted to support the Macular Society’s report in 2013 after funding a report that found medical research in eye health attracts significantly less funding than other areas and that the sector must work together to raise eye health as an immediate priority.

Philip Howard, Grants Manager at the Foundation said: "The Clothworkers’ Foundation has been funding charities working in visual impairment for a number of years and was interested in understanding more not just about visual impairment but about the key issues faced by people affected and the organisations helping them.

"In 2013, we funded the New Philanthropy Capital In Sight: A Review of the Visual Impairment Sector report. Amongst the findings of that report were that medical research in eye health attracts significantly less funding than other areas and that the sector must work together to raise eye health as an immediate priority.

"The findings of the NPC report resulted in our funding the Macular Society to undertake their current report which makes an important and robust case for the research community, funders and eye charities to work together improving funding for eye research in general, and AMD in particular."

Cathy added: “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with such prestigious professionals and institutions to position AMD higher on the research, policy and public agendas. We’re currently working to gain further support and momentum with additional key influencers, inviting them to join us in our mission to raise awareness, secure funding and, ultimately, find a cure for this devastating disease.”