Scientists develop experimental medication that shows promise in treating diabetic macular edema

Key Takeaways

  • A new experimental drug for diabetic macular edema selectively eliminates damaged, senescent cells that propagate disease in the diabetic retina.
  • In a study of patients who did not respond well to traditional treatment, the new drug had positive effects on vision for at least six months after only one injection.

Diabetes can lead to eye problems, and a common one is diabetic macular edema (DME). DME occurs when tiny blood vessels that supply the retina start to leak, causing swelling and vision problems. Current treatments, effective for about half of diabetic patients, often require frequent eye injections and may come with side effects.

A study published in Nature Medicine suggests a new experimental drug, called UBX1325, or foselutoclax, could someday help make treatment of DME more successful and longer-lasting. The drug—part of a new class of therapeutics called “senolytics”—was developed by scientists at San-Francisco-based UNITY Biotechnology and the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Center, affiliated with Université de Montréal. Senolytics target senescent cells, damaged cells that stop multiplying but do not die off when they should, instead releasing chemicals that can trigger inflammation and harm neighboring cells. “We developed UBX1325 to selectively eliminate damaged, senescent cells that propagate disease in the diabetic retina,” said the study’s lead author, UdeM ophthalmology professor Przemyslaw (Mike) Sapieha, the chief scientist at UNITY. The new drug eliminates the troublesome cells, helping the eye to heal.

The drug was tested on diabetic patients who didn’t respond well to regular treatment. In the study, patients received just one shot of UBX1325, and the positive effects on their vision lasted at least six months. 

UNITY Biotechnology is currently advancing UBX1325 in the Phase 2b ASPIRE trial, a randomized, double-masked, active-controlled study. Data from this trial is expected in the fourth quarter of 2024. For more information about ASPIRE, visit or contact Sharon Klier, MD, MPH at 650-513-0096 or

Source: University of Montreal, Medical Xpress, February 6, 2024; see source article