See that? Regeneron simulates retinal disease with virtual and augmented reality app

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Seeing is believing. And Regeneron Pharmaceuticals wants people to “see” what it’s like to have retinal disease.

Together with Intouch Solutions, the company has created a virtual and augmented reality app called “In My Eyes” that allows viewers to experience the blurriness, wavy lines or black patches caused by different types of retinal disease.

The app, available in the iTunes and Google app stores, can be used with or without VR goggles and works in two modes. In story mode, viewers look around a doctor’s office in full 360 degrees and see three patients waiting. Choosing any patient will open up that person’s story along with a video from their life, like a birthday party or picnic, shown through their specific retinal eye disease view. The three diseases featured are neovascular age-related macular degeneration, or wet AMD; diabetic macular edema, or DME; and macular edema following retinal vein occlusion, or MEfRVO. The second view is live mode, which engages the phone’s camera to allow viewers to see whatever is in their field of vision through the three different retinal conditions.

The app includes branding for Regeneron treatment Eylea and was originally meant as a tool for sales reps for use with eye specialists and physicians. However, as work began, the idea grew to broaden the app for use by caregivers, family, friends and anyone who does not have a retinal disease.

“It’s very easy to talk about retinal disease from a clinical perspective in terms of letters on a chart or numbers gained, but the challenge is what it’s like to have that day-to-day experience of retinal disease,” Natalie Mancuso, senior product manager of marketing in ophthalmology at Regeneron, said in an interview. “… Really immersing someone into this experience creates empathy. We wanted to make sure that we were getting folks engaged in order to drive action and education.”

Brent Scholz, vice president and executive creative director at Intouch, also noted the importance of empathy and called the app a “bridge to understanding.”

“When patients first encounter vision problems and go to the doctor, they are gripped with worries and thoughts about things like not being able to drive and losing their independence,” Scholz said. “It’s a pretty emotional thing for them, and doctors are great dealing with the facts, but as patients have told us, they tend to talk more clinically, and don’t always seem to fully understand what the patients are feeling about what’s at stake.”

Regeneron is in the midst of a slowdown for Eylea, a superstar med that’s been driving the company’s top line since its U.S. launch in late 2011. The company recently offered up expectations for single-digit percentage growth 2017, falling short of investment community predictions that forecast the med’s expansion rate at between 11.3% and 12.9%.