Cataract, the clouding of the eye lens is responsible for 48% of world blindness. According to World Health Organization nearly 18 million people are bilaterally blind from cataract in the world. Data dating back to the beginning of this millennium showed that 30-60% of blindness in Africa and 60-80% in South East Asia is attributable to cataracts.
The only treatment currently available is surgical extraction of the lens and replacement with an interocular lens that is accompanied by a high public health burden with an annual Medicare costs exceeding over $3 billion. In addition, access to proper medical care required for successful surgical outcomes are limited for patients in poverty stricken countries where 90% of cataract blindness occurs. It is estimated that a delay in cataract onset by as little as 10 years could reduce the need for cataract surgery by as much as one half and result in substantial savings in healthcare dollars.
Alpha-crystallin (AC) is one of the three major eye lens crystallins and is a representative member of the small heat shock protein (sHsp) family. AC serves as molecular chaperone, protecting damaged or aged lens proteins and enzymes from aggregation that would otherwise lead to light scattering and cataract formation. It is well established that chaperone-like activity (CLA) of AC is critical for lens transparency and it is hypothesized that maintaining optimal or increasing chaperone activity might aid in the prevention or slowing of cataract. Plex is developing molecules that can interact with AC and increase its CLA to reverse, slow and/or prevent the formation of cataracts.