Australian Health professionals will this year gain access to a sophisticated genetic test that enables the risk of developing glaucoma to be defined in normal people, family members of cases, and potentially also to guide care of patients with early stage disease.
Seonix Bio, an Adelaide based start-up pioneering genetic testing for glaucoma, has been awarded a prestigious Accelerating Commercialisation Grant by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources through its Entrepreneurs’ Programme.
Dr Nick Haan, CEO of Seonix Bio, said that early intervention is critical to preventing glaucoma-induced blindness, with genetics being key to identifying people at risk.
“Vision loss from glaucoma often goes unnoticed in the early stages, and is irreversible once it occurs,” Dr Haan said. “Yet earlier detection and treatment have been proven in large trials to save sight.” We believe that genetics will become the standard of care for clinical management of glaucoma and other eye health conditions.
Characterising Individual Glaucoma Risk
The company’s genetic risk score technology characterises an individual’s risk of developing glaucoma. It will, in future, be offered as a service that works by collecting a saliva sample, analysing an individual’s DNA, and analysing thousands of variants in their genome.
“An individual may have a family history of glaucoma, but never develop the disease themselves, or conversely they may have no family history and yet be at risk of glaucoma blindness,” Dr Haan said.
“Family history is a powerful risk factor and individuals with a family history should always get checked according to clinical guidelines. But family history also has limitations in that it only tells you that you are at higher risk on average, as opposed to looking at your individual genome and making an assessment on the genetic variants that you actually inherited.”
Seonix Bio’s new approach means those at high risk can be examined sooner and more regularly by a health professional, and treated, if necessary, with eye drops, low-risk laser therapy or surgery.
“Those at lower risk might not need to be monitored as often, saving people time and stress and reducing costs in an already stretched healthcare system,” Dr Haan said.
“Public ophthalmology wait lists are currently running into years. We believe our technology has a role to play in triaging individuals according to risk so healthcare resources can be targeted more effectively.
“Providing accurate genetic risk information to health professionals will support better informed clinical decisions and we hope will lead to improved glaucoma outcomes.”
The innovation is based on the world’s largest study of glaucoma genetics and has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics. It relies on research carried out at Flinders University, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, SALHN within SA Health, and the University of Tasmania.
Lead author and ophthalmologist Professor Jamie Craig, from Flinders University, commented: “We have developed a sophisticated genetic test which enables the risk of developing glaucoma to be defined in normal people, family members of cases, and potentially also to guide care of patients with early stage disease. This grant will ensure that the transition from an important research finding to a widely available and sustainable clinical test occurs rapidly, allowing Australia to take a lead in this field. There is enormous potential to save sight.”
Seonix Bio aims to offer a clinical service to health professionals in 2023.
“We believe that genetics will become the standard of care for clinical management of glaucoma and other eye health conditions, and that we can become a global leader in genetic risk assessment for eye health.”
Published April 2023 in Mivision