The problem with eye drops — and why drug companies won't fix it

Drug companies produce eye drops at a size much larger than the human eye can hold, reports ProPublica.

When patients administer large eye drops, the overflow liquid runs down their faces or drains into their bodies through their eye ducts, which creates waste that drug companies profit from, according the report.

Baltimore-based ophthalmologist Alan Robin, MD, told ProPublica many of his patients struggle to make bottles of often expensive eye medications last before the next refill.

Dr. Robin served as a consultant for the eye care giant Alcon Laboratories when the company was developing a microdrop in the 1990s. Alcon researchers found patients could safely administer microdrops as an effective treatment that eliminated waste and reduced side effects, such as stinging eyes. However, the microdrop never hit the market. Alcon executives shut down the project because the decreased waste threatened the company's profits.

"It was a dead issue," Dr. Robin told ProPublica. "They would say, 'It's not profitable. We're going to sell less drugs' … They had no interest in people, their pocketbooks or what the cost of drugs meant."

More than two decades later, eye drops from nearly all drug companies are still too large for the human eye.

Novartis, which acquired Alcon in 2010, declined ProPublica's request to discuss the microdrop research.

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