Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness in the Western world. However, treatment options for diabetic retinopathy are limited and display poor efficacy with marked patient-to-patient variation in therapeutic outcomes. Discovery of new molecular entities acting on mechanistically novel biological pathways remains as one of the key research priorities in diabetic retinopathy. Moreover, given the variable success of the existing treatment modalities, a targeted and personalized drug development strategy could be more fruitful for rational and successful transition of preclinical discoveries to the clinical realm. This review is focused on cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive native cannabinoid, as an emerging and novel therapeutic modality based on systematic studies in animal models of inflammatory retinal diseases including diabetic retinopathy – one of the retinal diseases associated with vascular neuroinflammation. We present the postulated and preclinically documented novel mechanisms that may underlie cannabidiol mode of action in diabetic retinopathy. We discuss the interindividual variation in pharmacokinetic pathways as well as in the SLC29A1 gene, a molecular target for cannabidiol. We emphasize that the novel mode of action of cannabidiol and the previous failures with nontargeted interventions in diabetic retinopathy collectively demand a more rational and personalized clinical development strategy for compounds that have shown promise at the preclinical stage. Moreover, it is noteworthy that ophthalmology, as a medical specialty, has fewer examples (e.g., compared to oncology) of personalized medicine and biomarker applications thus far. Understanding the biological action of cannabidiol in preclinical studies is therefore a rational first step to proactively map the pertinent biomarker strategies in clinical proof of concept studies in diabetic retinopathy, and to allow advances at the hitherto neglected intersection of personalized medicine and ophthalmology.
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