Live from the floor of OIS@ASRS: Co-chair Bill Link on what made the day work so well. The marriage of OIS with ASRS started strong. Hear ophthalmology veteran Bill Link on why the back of the eye is an enormous opportunity for companies, investors, and physicians.
William J. Link, PhD
Bill was Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chiron Vision, sold in 1997. Bill founded and served as President of American Medical Optics (AMO), sold in 1986. Bill served on the Board of AMO’s successor company, Advanced Medical Optics (acquired by Abbott in 2009).
Tom Salemi: Well, welcome to the world OIS@ASRS. Hello, everybody, this is Tom Salemi. Welcome to the OIS Podcast. I am live in a hotel room in San Francisco, the Marriott Marquis, where we just held the OIS@ASRS inaugural conference. It was a great day. Great excitement around innovation in the retina space. It was a natural fit; kind of felt like we should have done this in years prior because there’s just so much to talk about, so much activity and so much excitement around innovation in the retina space. We had close to 250 people there, which was larger than our expectations. So very happy to have everyone in attendance at the Marriott Marquis, where of course the annual meeting of ASRS was held. The day was full, of course. Well, the half-day event was full. It was sort of a trial balloon agenda, not our typical all day affair that we’ve had at other OIS’s. It was a nice start. We had over close to a dozen companies presenting, great panels on combination therapy and paying for breakthrough therapies. There just seemed to be a lot of discussion around the practical elements of innovation. We had presentations by Jon Norris of Silicon Valley Bank, Andrew Gitkin from Piper Jaffrey, and again, discussions around innovations of areas that we don’t typically talk about at other OIS’s, including imaging, and the imaging presentations and discussion led to some revelations and actually some product releases as well. So it was an excellent first start. I don’t think anyone could have asked it to go any better. And of course it all wrapped up with a Masters of the Industry panel moderated by Jim Mazzo. So thank you to our co-chairs, Emmett Cunningham, Gil Kliman, and Bill Link, and our co-chairs for this event, Drs. Terek Hassan and Mark Humayun, who – Dr. Hassan is the, now, I guess, ex-president of ASRS, and Dr. Humayun is the incoming president. And will be leading that group in the next two years. So I had a chance to talk to both gentlemen. We will have our video interviews available in a couple of weeks with them and with about a dozen other folks. And of course we’ll have the content from the event itself up on OIS.net. You’ll need to give us a little bit of time to get those presentations together, but we’ll have those out there, again, in a few weeks, as soon as we’re able to. And we will send out a note via the Eye on Innovation and our other email channels and social media channels to let you know when those presentations are up. But all in all, a great day, very exciting to be part of it, very happy to have a third leg to our OIS stool. And hope you enjoyed it if you were able to attend. If you weren’t, please do look out for those notices and visit OIS.net once we have them up. So thanks again to all the organizers for OIS@ASRS, including the person who’s our guest at the Podcast this week. We wanted to do something topical, something from the conference. We’re still processing things on stage, but I did have a chance to talk to co-chair Bill Link about the day. He gave a short little wrap up which I’ll share with you now, and it’s a great bridge between OIS@ASRS and OIS@AAO, which we’re looking forward to having in October. So please enjoy this conversation that I had with Bill Link at OIS@ASRS, the newest member of the OIS family.
TS: Hi, this is Tom Salemi from OIS TV. We’re here at OIS@ASRS with one of our OIS co-chairs, Bill Link. Bill, thanks for joining us.
Bill Link: Oh, you bet. My pleasure.
TS: So this has given birth to a new OIS. Congratulations, Daddy.
BL: Yeah, thank you, thank you. Yet one more OIS@ venture. As often it is, it was Emmett’s idea, and I think it was a really good idea. We love the retina. Tough diseases, affect so many people. And so in order to innovate, you have to rally a lot of resources, and the ASRS is a progressive, professional organization. And so I think teaming up with them makes a lot of sense.
TS: It seemed like a natural fit, especially as I’ve talked to folks. There’s definitely and appetite for innovation, and I think they appreciated getting the attention that an OIS can bring. And it also introduced some new topics of conversation I think we probably covered in a past event, but it was interesting to sort of get into the challenge of paying for these therapies and sort of where that fits into innovation, and the look at imaging as well. I think those were two sort of maybe a bit different than what we’ve seen at other OIS’s.
BL: Absolutely. And what I like about doing these specialty meetings is we can go deeper. We don’t have to go so quickly from topic to topic. And so taking the retina broadly, and then really looking at the various aspects of honestly taking on the tough retinal diseases and the interaction, interdependency between therapeutic innovation and diagnostic innovation is tight in this sector. So with this wave of OCT, angiography and now more recently, intraoperative OCT playing a key role in guiding the surgeons, the retinal specialists. And hopefully, we’ll get better and better at preselecting and identifying patients that’ll be response to various therapies.
TS: And I’d say you’re an eye guy first, and then a device guy second. Is that the right order?
BL: Well, kind of. Yeah, I’m an eye guy. I came from the device sector, rusty engineer. And so I see my world through kind of an engineering focus. But what I’ve loved about what’s happening and the kind of progress we’re making in other areas of healthcare and ophthalmology, but specifically in the retina is teaming up advanced device technologies and proven drugs. And so that’s called drug delivery. And so that’s where if you have a foot in both camps, an expertise in both areas, and if you’re open minded enough, you can to combine those technologies.
TS: And that’s another theme that was hit upon today, drug delivery. And actually just talked to Fred Guerard at Novartis Ophthalmology, and how they have separated, right, the drugs from the devices. But they’re still, as he said, the kids are still – the drug delivery efforts are still going forward because they’re so necessary. Is this – do you look at drug delivery more than you had in the past? It seemed like this is an area that really warrants more attention going forward.
BL: Absolutely. And probably 10 years ago, ish, at Versant, and I personally, we began to focus – no pun intended – on drug delivery as a way to improve performance, lengthen durability of therapies and so forth. And we’ve done a half a dozen meaningful investments in projects that really team up drug delivery with active agents.
TS: And just finally, you’ve got a new job title on your resume. You’re with AcuFocus now. What are your plans with the company? They’ve had a great year. They’ve rolled out KAMRA and they’re making some great progress. What’s next for –
BL: Well, yeah, with AcuFocus, Jim Mazzo was CEO for us there for several years, and really helped kick it up a notch relative to the team and the operational skills and expertise and so forth. Jim has transitioned on to a wonderful company and wonderful role at Zeiss. The board and others asked me in that transition if I would get a bit more involved, so I said of course. I care deeply about AcuFocus, so I’ve become the Chairman of the Board. And that’ll be a little bit more of an active chair position than sometimes it is. And we’re just doing a financing now, so it always makes me nervous until money’s in the bank. But thankfully, the team is talented, and we have two amazing, solid projects. One is the KAMRA Inlay, which was approved a bit over a year ago in the US, and we’re scaling the revenue thoughtfully and carefully, but successfully. And then we have the intraocular lens that uses the same optical small diameter concept to deliver an increased depth of focus, and it’s working. And so we’re going to be carefully commercializing OUS, and then start the regulatory work to bring it to the US market. So we have 2 drivers of value at AcuFocus based on the same elegant optical principle of having a passive, not an active, optical approach, which increases depth of focus and delivers near, intermediate, and distance vision to patients.
TS: Terrific. And just a final question. Looking ahead over the next 2 years – I’ve asked everyone this question – what would you like to see happen? What successes are we going to be talking about at OIS 2018? What milestones would you anticipate us celebrating over that time?
BL: Broadly, you’re talking?
TS: Broadly, yeah.
BL: You know, it’s hard for me to limit my thinking here.
BL: Because if I look across each of the sectors of ophthalmology, whether it’s the cornea and dry eye, just think about how much progress we’re making and how many relevant, innovative projects are being focused on improving and addressing dry eye. That’s an anterior segment disease and complexity. And I think that will continue to see immense progress there. You look at the anterior segment, intraocular. We continue to – AcuFocus is an example, other examples, we’re continue to honestly improve outcomes related to surgery, specifically cataract surgery or refractive surgery. Glaucoma. What about MIGs? You know, the traction – patients are benefitting, docs are benefitting, and hence the companies are doing just fine there. Back of the eye, we just talked about the retina. So I’m pretty excited that there’s broad and balance projects that will deliver really nice progress in each of those sectors.
TS: Great. We’ll be talking about those at upcoming OIS’s.
TS: Thanks for the time.
TS: Well, that’s a wrap. Thanks, Bill Link for sitting down and going over the great inaugural effort of OIS@ASRS. Thank you, Emmett Cunningham of Claris ventures for the idea. As Bill Link suggested, Emmett is a fountain of good ideas and this will be added to the list. Bill and Gil Kliman, thank you for your support as co-chairs and getting this together. And of course thanks to our OIS@ASRS clinical co-chairs, Dr. Mark Humayun and Terek Hassan for allowing this to happen, for allowing ASRS and OIS to join together in this very one day event. And we look forward to many more in the future. I think everyone is in agreement that this is just the start. Congratulations to our OIS team, OIS producer Danielle Sylvan did a great job putting this event on, while also planning for OIS@AAO. Very happy that she now has a little bit of time to relax after at successful OIS@ASRS. But will not be resting for long, because again, OIS@AAO is coming up in October. You should go to OIS.net to register. Again, that’s OIS.net, and you’ll find all the information you need about OIS@AAO. Looking forward, OIS@AAO is October 13th. We’re having it at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, which is a great venue, and it’s a large venue. And we’re going to need it. If you were at OIS@AAO last year, you’ll remember how large it was. So very happy to be going back to Chicago. It’s a favorite city of mine. And hope to see you there. Go to OIS.net to register, and we will look forward to seeing you in Chicago.