Great Swedish innovations: Eye treatment became a feather in Pharmacia’s cap

From complicated and sometimes risky surgery to a routine procedure. Pharmacia’s injectable Healon revolutionised the field of eye surgery - and is considered by us one of the most important contemporary Swedish innovations in the field of medicine.

Healon is a hyaluronic acid, a body-specific substance discovered in the eye’s vitreous body in the 1930s, but which is also present in, e.g. connective tissue, synovial fluid, skin, cornea and umbilical cord.

Hungarian Endre A. Balazs later managed to extract the substance from rooster combs(!), and he developed the product Healon in the belief that it could be used to treat worn joints.

However, he did not manage to market the treatment.

In the 1970s, Pharmacia acquired the licence but had difficulty getting it approved as a pharmaceutical for worn joints. Instead, they rethought the product and, in 1980, launched Healon as a medical device in the form of a jelly-like liquid which prevented the eye from collapsing during eye surgery.

It was a medical breakthrough that instantly transformed, e.g. cataract operations into simple and almost complication-free interventions.

Pharmacia later pursued their advances in the field of eye treatment with Xalatan, an anti-glaucoma drug, the development of which was headed by the Finnish pharmacologist Johan Stjernschantz. The clinical trials began in the early 1990s, and in 1996, the treatment was approved in Europe and the USA. Xalatan has also greatly benefited patients and has become a major commercial success.

This year Life Science Sweden turns 20 years old and celebrates by presenting a top list of, in our view, the 20 most important contemporary Swedish innovations in the field of medicine. On that ranking Healon is on third place. Read the complete list, and our criteria, in the magazine (nr 4/2022) or here.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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