FDA Approves First Nasal Spray for Dry Eye

Laird Harrison

October 22, 2021

The first nasal spray to treat dry eye disease has won approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Sprayed twice daily into the nostrils, 0.03-mg varenicline solution (Tyrvaya) improves signs and symptoms of dry eye disease. It provides an alternative to the immunomodulators currently available as prescription treatments, according to Marian Macsai, MD, chief medical officer for the drug's maker, Oyster Point Pharma.

"We're super excited to bring a new treatment for dry eye disease to patients and eye care practitioners," she told Medscape Medical News.

The company plans to make the drug available to wholesalers in November in cartons containing two multidose nasal spray bottles. Each bottle supplies treatment for 15 days. Samples will be made available to eye care practitioners.

The company is working with payers on reimbursement codes and will supply the drug for $10 or less to patients who are not insured, said Macsai.

Varenicline can be prescribed for anyone with dry eye disease who has not gotten relief from artificial tears or who needs to use artificial tears "more than three or four times a day," she said.

"In our pivotal trials, we enrolled patients with mild, moderate, and severe disease," said Macsai. "And in each subgroup, we reached statistical significance. So with this new route of administration and a new mechanism of action, I'm hopeful that this will provide relief to many of the dry eye patients out there that are currently suffering."

The causes of dry eye disease are multifactorial, and it can prove difficult to treat. Varenicline appears to work by stimulating the trigeminal nerve, causing natural tears to form.

Marketed as the oral drug Chantix by Pfizer, varenicline is prescribed to reduce cigarette cravings. Administered as a nasal spray for dry eye, much less of it enters the bloodstream, according to Michael Raizman , MD, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, who was an investigator in the phase 3 ONSET-2 trial of the drug.

The spray acts in as little as 14 days, rather than the 3–6 months required for prescription immunomodulators, and it doesn't irritate the eyes, he said.

In the ONSET-2 trial, basal tear production and symptoms were assessed. Schirmer test scores increased by ≥10 mm for 47% of the patients treated with varenicline, vs 28% of patients treated with placebo.

The mean change from baseline in Eye Dryness Score at week 4 was -10.3 mm for varenicline-treated patients, compared to -7.4 mm for vehicle-treated patients. The difference was not statistically significant. However, that test was disrupted by COVID-19 precautions, Macsai said. The phase 2b ONSET-1 trial showed a statistically significant advantage in Eye Dryness Score for patients treated with varenicline in comparison with those treated with placebo.

Almost everyone who took varenicline sneezed, but only about 12% experienced any ocular adverse events, which was similar to the placebo group. No one reported burning or stinging in the eyes.

A few patients coughed or felt throat or nose irritation. In the group that received 1.2 mg/mL, eight people discontinued the drug because of adverse reactions, compared to five in the group that received 0.6 mg/mL and four in the placebo group.

"This approval is exciting for the ophthalmic community, as it gives us a new therapeutic agent that can be used alone or in combination with existing therapies to treat individuals who fall under the umbrella term 'dry eye,' " said Anat Galor, MD, MSPH, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and associate professor at University of Miami, in Florida.

Some idea of what to expect from Tyrvaya comes from TrueTear, a device made by Allergan that caused tearing by electrically stimulating the anterior ethmoidal nerve through the nasal passage. It provided benefit to some patients who had not gotten relief through medication, but was expensive and was eventually discontinued, Galor said.

A new device, the iTear100, from Olympic Ophthalmics, stimulates the anterior ethnoidal nerve through the side of the nose. It received FDA clearance last year.

ONSET-2 was funded by Oyster Point Pharma. Macsai is an employee of Oyster Point. Raizman is a consultant to Oyster Point Pharma. Galor reported no relevant financial relationships.

Laird Harrison writes about science, health, and culture. His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and online publications. He is at work on a novel about alternate realities in physics. Harrison teaches writing at the Writers Grotto. Visit him at lairdharrison.com or follow him on Twitter: @LairdH.

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