Building on its strong expertise in ophthalmology, Santen seeks to continue to deliver a broad range of treatment options through its therapeutics and services to meet the unmet needs of patients and physicians. Currently, the company has a robust portfolio of more than 70 products covering an extensive range of ophthalmic diseases, while offering its products in more than 60 countries and much of the globe.

Santen’s Ophthalmology Innovation Center (OIC) is responsible for formulating and implementing disease area strategies that form the basis for the development of new drugs that support the product portfolio. The OIC explores and mines product candidates from a broad swath of industries and business sectors, translates them and then and introduces the latest technologies and candidate compounds to the patient community. In this article, we introduce the vision and challenges of the OIC, which seeks to bring treatment opportunities to patients who are living with eye diseases. 

“Think Tank” engaged in research and development of eye disease solutions

The OIC has operations in the United States, Japan, and Asia, and conducts multifaceted research and analysis into the latest technologies from around the world. OIC carries out extensive research and proof of concept studies to translate these therapeutics to benefit the broad needs of patients suffering from a wide range of eye pathologies. Through these efforts, we are working to realize Santen's objective of “Happiness with Vision”.

One of the major roles of the OIC is to develop and implement the Disease Innovation Strategy. The OIC serves as Santen’s “think tank,” determining the direction and priorities of our eye disease initiatives over the next 10 years and far beyond using a long-range perspective. In addition to further investigating our current areas of interest, the team also focuses on the discovery of drug candidate compounds and the development of treatments in areas that are new to Santen, such as myopia.

For some diseases, establishing metrics that address clinical efficacy can be difficult, so the OIC is also engaged in basic research to develop treatments that can improve or alleviate symptoms. Many tools are being deployed to search for biomarkers that can indicate the presence or absence of the disease and its progression.

“In-house venture organization” nurturing “seeds of medicine” for the future


“The OIC’s overriding mission is to maximize the potential for innovation to solve eye problems and cure eye diseases so that each and every patient around the world can enjoy a happy life. We are also seeking to expand the products and technologies that will lead to sustainable growth for Santen and benefits to patients,” said Reza Haque, head of the Ophthalmology Innovation Center. “To this end, it is very important to communicate closely with business and other divisions to gain a broad and deep understanding of the needs of patients and the medical community, as well as to stay abreast of the latest research and technologies through collaboration with external research institutions and other organizations.”

The OIC is currently working strategically to research and analyze the most pressing needs of patients and the medical community to create innovations that target and improve the treatment and symptoms of a wide range of ophthalmologic pathologies.

Myopia, which is said to be the world’s most common ophthalmic disease, is a particular focus for the OIC, mainly through joint research in the Asian region—where myopia is particularly widespread—with the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI), a national research institute.

Reza Haque, MD, Ph.D.
Corporate Officer
Head, Ophthalmology Innovation Center

Myopia, a social issue that Santen should address

In February this year, Santen submitted an application for manufacturing and marketing approval in Japan for STN1012700 / DE-127 (atropine sulfate hydrate ophthalmic suspension, hereinafter STN1012700), an ophthalmic solution for the treatment of myopia that inhibits its progression. “The development of STN1012700 was prompted by our focus on myopia, a condition that is seeing a growing number of patients worldwide, especially in Asia,” explained Haque.

Myopia is a condition in which the shape of the eyeball becomes elongated along the anterior-posterior axis, causing light rays entering the eye to become defocused and making objects appear blurred. As myopia progresses, patients face an increased risk of developing severe complications that may lead to blindness with severe visual impairment (*1). According to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey, 2.6 billion people worldwide have been diagnosed with myopia, 312 million of whom are under the age of 19 (*2). Another study estimates that the percentage of patients with myopia will reach 39.9% of the world's population by 2030 and 49.8% by 2050 (*3).

Haque spoke about research on myopia and the role of OIC in drug discovery, saying: “Myopia is a progressive and irreversible disease, and finding countermeasures for this pathology is one of the most urgent needs among eye diseases. In particular, the number of children diagnosed with myopia has increased dramatically in recent years. Finding a cure for myopia is an important challenge for resolving the health problems of all children, and also for addressing an urgent need across society.

“At Santen, a company specialized in ophthalmology, we believe myopia is now a broader social issue that requires our focus. It is very gratifying to see that OIC research is now being moved forward to create tangible contributions for patients in the form of STN1012700. The needs of the population across all ages is our concern and I believe that this development clearly illustrates the OIC’s purpose as the disease strategy lead.”

“Take risks, move forward, fail smart”

The chances that early-stage research of the kind undertaken by the OIC will ultimately result in a new drug is around 1 in 30,000. Success does not happen overnight. Unless we continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to take on new challenges, we will not be able to maximally contribute to patients and the medical community. At the same time, we believe these efforts will fuel Santen's sustainable growth and expansion as a pharmaceutical company. This is why Haque constantly encourages his team members, the researchers, to “take risks, move forward, and fail smart—learning from your mistakes.”

Regarding the future of the OIC, he said: “For me, new discoveries and research motivate me to go to work every day. It takes time to develop researchers, but I would like to increase the number of people who are willing to tackle new challenges, who have both a scientific and a business perspective, and who will lead Santen in the future. I believe that for the sake of patients, it is very important to nurture the next generation of researchers who will be able to think things through and have the courage to make decisions.”

In addition to SERI, OIC is actively pursuing joint research and information exchange with research institutions around the world, including University College London (UCL) and Harvard University, as well as with companies such as PeptiDream Inc., in pursuit of innovation to address the unmet needs of patients worldwide.

Haque has high expectations for the benefits of external collaboration as they relate to human resource development: “I believe that combining our expertise and skills will not only allow us to expand the possibilities for research and development that can lead to the advancement of ophthalmic therapies, but also that the OIC members exposed to outside knowledge, technology, and skills will further develop themselves as researchers.”

Toward contributions to ophthalmic care worldwide

“I have overseen ophthalmic research at several global healthcare companies and have treated countless patients as an ophthalmologist in an actual clinical setting. The smiles on the faces of those patients who were able to maintain or regain their vision through treatment are memorable and motivating. As a clinician, working with each patient individually has been rewarding, but being able to work for a pharmaceutical company in an environment where I can see the entire global ophthalmology industry and promote research and development that contributes to even more patients is incredibly challenging.

“There are always patients who eagerly hope for a treatment that can preserve or restore their sight. The ophthalmic pharmaceutical industry has changed dramatically over the past few years, and Santen is the only global ophthalmic company that internally manages everything from research to product development, manufacturing, and sales. We are confident that our activities, guided by the desire to contribute to patients around the globe who suffer from eye problems, will make significant contributions to worldwide ophthalmic care in the future.”

  1. Morgan IG, Ohno-Matsui K, Saw SM. Myopia. Lancet 2012;379(9827):1739-48
  2. WHO “World report on vision”
  3. Holden BA, Fricke TR, Wilson DA, Jong M, Naidoo KS, Sankaridurg P, et al. Global prevalence of myopia and high myopia and temporal trends from 2000 through 2050. Ophthalmology 2016;123(5):1036-42
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