retinal health

for individuals with diabetes

By fostering awareness, advancing early detection, and developing breakthrough treatments, Boehringer Ingelheim strives towards a paradigm shift in diabetic eye care. With each step, the company is working towards a world where their mission – to protect the retina, prevent vision loss, and preserve the way people live their lives – is a reality, offering hope and clarity to millions affected by diabetic retinopathy.

The gift of sight is more than a function – it is our window to the world. Now imagine that window becoming inexplicably cloudy, distorted, or entirely obscured and yet the underlying source for many people goes undiagnosed.

It’s a frustrating state of affairs because many causes of visual impairment are readily apparent, stemming from identifiable factors such as eye injuries or strokes. Likewise, well-known ocular conditions like glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration are reasonably well-understood culprits of damaged vision.

A less conspicuous, though no less prevalent cause, is diabetes. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, known as diabetic retinopathy, among the working-age population. It’s just that, early-stage detection of the disease remains elusive. Projections indicate a doubling of this epidemic by 2040, impacting some 220 million people then.

220 million
According to a projection, this number of people will be impacted by diabetic retinopathy by 2040.

While the early stages of diabetic retinopathy typically show no symptoms, patients may experience blurred or patchy vision, distorted vision, and progressive loss of visual clarity during the more advanced stages of the disease.

The link between glucose and eye disease

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high levels of blood sugar (glucose) damage the small blood vessels within the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Chronically elevated glucose levels can cause the blood vessels to leak fluid or bleed, leading to vision problems and potentially severe vision loss if left untreated.

The impact of diabetic retinopathy is profound, with 79% of affected individuals struggling with everyday activities like work, driving, and basic household tasks. Beyond these challenges, the disease is linked to an elevated risk of depression, highlighting the dual burden it poses on both visual abilities and mental well-being.

Ulrike Gräfe-Mody
Ulrike Graefe-Mody,
Ph. D., Head of Retinal Health at Boehringer Ingelheim

“In order to make a change, we need a paradigm shift.”

A holistic approach where collaboration is key

Over the past decade, Boehringer Ingelheim has overhauled its approach by taking a far more holistic view that not only seeks to advance research in diabetic eye diseases, but also challenges norms, leverages in-house expertise from other fields, and fosters partnerships with biotechs, academic institutions, and advocacy organizations.

One example of this new strategy is a long-term strategic partnership with ZEISS Medical Technology. Together, the two companies combine expertise in ophthalmological technology, data analytics, algorithms, and treatment development to identify early-stage markers of retinal disease. This innovative approach facilitates more personalized treatments and enhances overall detection capabilities.

“In order to make a change, we need a paradigm shift,” says Ulrike Graefe-Mody, Ph. D., Head of Retinal Health at Boehringer Ingelheim, about the partnership with ZEISS. “We need to detect the disease earlier, we need a better understanding of which patient requires which treatment and when, and we need more treatment choices.”

Raising awareness of diabetic eye disease

Raising awareness is another crucial pillar of Boehringer Ingelheim’s approach to diabetic eye care. Although knowledge about the link between diabetes and conditions like diabetic retinopathy has grown, it still is not universally understood. Increased awareness prompts individuals to prioritize regular eye check-ups, monitor blood sugar levels, and even adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s transformative journey in diabetic eye care has just begun. Through ongoing research and development, combined with heightened public awareness around the link between diabetes and blindness, the company is striving to advance the life-enhancing treatments, detection, and prevention of eye diseases currently impacting millions worldwide.

A key driver for diabetic retinopathy is retinal non-perfusion (RNP), a condition where blood flow through retinal vessels is insufficient to maintain normal functionality of the tissue. Boehringer Ingelheim is the first to bring a potential treatment for diabetic retinopathy addressing RNP to clinical trials.