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Japan's Santen sets sights on world with 15-minute glaucoma treatment

Maker of ophthalmology drugs eyeing Europe, US and home market

OSAKA -- Santen Pharmaceutical is gearing up for international sales of a new glaucoma treatment from an American company it recently acquired.

The Japanese drugmaker will begin sales within the year in Europe, where marketing approval was recently granted. And by 2020, it plans to broaden sales to the U.S., where clinical trials are underway. Japan is also on the radar.

The MicroShunt implant is a tiny tube inserted into the eye to drain fluid and reduce the intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma, which can otherwise lead to serious vision problems and blindness. Santen bought its U.S. developer, InnFocus, in 2016.

The MicroShunt involves minimally invasive surgery that takes just 15 minutes. The device measures 8.5mm long and is made of the same plastic used in coronary stents.

Santen is looking to capture a bigger share of the growing global market for glaucoma drugs. Medication, in the form of eyedrops, is the standard treatment. Surgery is performed only when the condition worsens, but typical procedures take one to two hours and are harder on the patient.

More than 70 million people worldwide have glaucoma. And with the disease tending to hit seniors, the market is expected to grow as populations gray.

Santen is primarily a maker of ophthalmology medicines, with glaucoma drugs accounting for a quarter of group sales.

The company ranks fifth worldwide among sellers of ophthalmology medicines and is aiming for third place by 2020, according to President Akira Kurokawa. By selling both drug and device treatments for glaucoma, Santen aims to strengthen this pillar of its earnings, Kurokawa explained.

Santen purchased the ophthalmology medicine business of U.S. drug giant Merck for some $600 million in 2014 and acquired production and sales rights to Merck products in Europe, Japan and the Asia-Pacific region, excluding the U.S.

The Japanese company intends to use these channels to cultivate the market for the MicroShunt.

(Nikkei)

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