Researchers may have discovered what they call the “magic bullet” in the treatment of blindness-causing disorders—the successful use of topical eye drops for retinal disease, instead of unpleasant and expensive eye injections.

The findings, conducted in animal models by University College London researchers, indicate that it’s possible to create formulations of tiny nanoparticles loaded with Avastin (bevacizumab, Genentech/Roche) to deliver significant concentrations to the posterior segment.

This treatment would be particularly valuable for those who suffer from AMD, which affects an estimated 15 million Americans, according to the National Eye Institute.

More than 1 million intravitreal injections were given in the US in 2010, according to UCL. In the UK, 30,500 injections were estimated to have been given in 2008—a 150-fold increase in 10 years.

Effective delivery of drugs to the retina is considered one of the most challenging areas in ophthalmic drug development, due to anatomical and physiological barriers. “The development of eye drops that can be safely and effectively used in patients would be a magic bullet—a huge breakthrough,” says lead researcher Francesca Cordeiro, MD, PhD, of UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

Researchers are now seeking commercial partners to accelerate development. “All the components we used are safe and well-established in the field, meaning we could potentially move quickly to get the technology into trials in patients. But the timescales are dependent on funding,” says the study’s lead author Ben Davis, PhD.

The technology has been patented by UCL’s technology transfer company, UCL Business.

Davis BM, Normando EM, Guo L, et al. Topical delivery of Avastin to the posterior segment of the eye in vivo using annexin a5-associated liposomes. Small. 2014 Mar 5. [Epub ahead of print]