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Host Paul Karpecki, OD, FAAO, speaks with new TearClear CEO Robert Dempsey to uncover what has been necessary for him to succeed in the space.
Listen in as Robert Dempsey discusses the importance of assembling a trustworthy crew before zeroing in on goals and objectives. Learn how his professional experiences have helped him build out a unique medical advisory board for TearClear comprising 50% optometry and 50% ophthalmology and what the future of TearClear looks like.
Click play now and learn from one of the best!
Paul Karpecki: Welcome to the OIS Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Paul Karpecki I practice in Lexington, Kentucky. And I’m thrilled today to get to interview a great friend, but really someone who can add so much value to the understanding of eye care. And that is Bob Dempsey. Welcome, Bob.
Bob Dempsey: Pleasure, Paul, we’re looking forward to this conversation. Thank you.
Paul Karpecki: Thank you. Thanks for making the time, I know you’re you sought after many people that are live TV and interviewed and OIS in the past and incredible job, you’ve, you know, really have risen. And it seems like overnight, but it’s not I’ve known you a long time and on the way through your background and all that you’ve achieved, but it is fascinating to see the impact you’ve had on eye care, and I want to help the listeners understand, you know, what steps are necessary to achieve, what you’ve achieved one here a little bit about your new role, CEO of TearClear and what that entails and what that’s going to lead to, but let’s start with understanding you as a person, you know, growing up as a Bostonian how life was for you at the beginning? And what led you into the field of eye care?
Bob Dempsey: Wow, that’s a that’s a load of questions. And again, while it’s truly a pleasure to be here, I’m a big fan of OIS and Craig and the team, what they’re doing and bringing the ecosystem together is really fantastic. So it’s a pleasure to be on the OIS Podcast. So, a little bit my background, started my career in way back at Northeastern University, having done a cooperative education, in which you’re in school for six months, and working. And I really broke into the pharmaceutical industry very early in my career, upon graduating from Northeastern, and I really got my break in the eye care space with Allergan had a wonderful run at Allergan and had multiple roles and responsibilities. And I look back to those, those days with a tremendous amount of happiness, proceeded to take an opportunity with my good, my good buddy, Jerry St. Peter at, and really had a great opportunity to inspire which we really, you know, launched that company into the ophthalmic space and really give me an opportunity to work in the startup space. You know, from that we went to Bausch & Lomb and had a wonderful run at B&L. And introduced me to some great people, Fleming Ornskov for one of them and Perry Sternberg, and then got an invitation to join Shire and really had a great run at Shire went on kind of a risk. I mean, they didn’t have an ophthalmology franchise, didn’t have any interest in eye care at first. And we were able to really have a great acquisition. And that was the acquisition of SARcode. And with that, we got the molecule, the photographs, and I was able to really build the franchise, both in the US at first and then globally and apply the playbook across my entire career to building out Shire Ophthalmics. And, you know, launch that very exciting franchise, lauched Xiidra into both ophthalmology and optometry, and really had a great run there. Ultimately, we had the opportunity to divest that when you look back initial acquisition, excuse me $160 million, and divesting for over $5 billion all in was really, you know, a tremendous accomplishment by the team. And I really was fortunate to lead that process. And then fortunately, having the opportunity to become the CEO of TearClear, and taken again, a lot of learnings over my career and apply it here has been very exciting. So that’s kind of the high-level overview of what I’ve been able to do, Paul, through the course of my career.
Paul Karpecki: That’s fantastic Bob. And it’s true, you know, that was really one of the largest biopharma M&A deals, and Top 10 of all biopharma in 2019, certainly one of the top deals ever, in eye care. So, congratulations, you have to learn a lot from each of these things that you’re involved in and how you add value. And you know, in creating that get, you have more of a preference now, after having done everything in large companies, small companies, you like the startups that the space that you think you’re meant for, do you feel like it could be? Did you enjoy more of the larger? What’s kind of I mean, obviously, right now, you’re in startup mode, what do you enjoy the most?
Bob Dempsey: You know, I think the startup mode really has worked out very well. For me. I was very fortunate to have the big pharma experience to have the quote and unquote, unlimited resources, and the ability to, you know, get in early and build, which I love doing. But when you get into the startup space, it’s a whole another level of building. I mean, you have to be responsible for a lot of things a lot more than you take for granted in a big pharmaceutical company. But a startup space. Working with the board is obviously critical setting the goals of the organization, the mission and everything we want to do as we prepare the company for next milestones, and that’s really the key in the startup space is to hit your inflection points, hit your milestones, and really then communicate to the investing community. Because that’s what it’s all about in the in the startup space, moving the programs forward, achieving those inflection points, ensuring the investors are engaged, and letting them know how you’re going to proceed going forward. But the good news doesn’t stop there, I’ve also had the opportunity to join some board positions. And that’s where my expertise from a commercial perspective has been very valuable to these organizations. Oftentimes, there is a founding scientist who really is extremely knowledgeable on the on the R&D side, or, more importantly, on the clinical development side, by bringing in that commercial expertise on how to prepare a talk track, how to communicate to the investing community, how to put together a pitch deck is critical, because you need to have a systematic approach to raise money. So as the course of I have enhanced my career and enhance my skill set, I really believe in the startup environment is really the opportunity to really have my biggest approach.
Paul Karpecki: Yeah, that’s true. I think of you know, your work you’ve done from early stage of venture capital, fundraising activities, companies like Orasis, I think you’ve played a key role in that side, Florida. I mean, it goes through a quite a list. And people I don’t think recognize it’s another one of your talents and abilities, I should say, as well in terms of understanding that space, how to develop it, how to do it, how to raise those to the company has a chance to get to the next level. But it’s interesting. Now, it’s an individual who can, you know, have enough knowledge in so many areas, but I think as a startup, you kind of have to because if you’re good at only one, that’s the end of the role, you’ve got to go to the next and to the next. And so what are some of those gems that you found it and startups that have really made a difference? You mentioned the right scientific people. So obviously, it’s having people around you, but to someone who aspires to do that, who has maybe worked in big pharma now says, You know, I would love to do kind of what Bob does, what would you say have been some of the keys to the success that you’ve had thus far, if they were to try to develop it?
Bob Dempsey: Yeah, Paul, it’s a great question. And I think it really is twofold. Number one, it’s the team. And number two, it’s the breadth of knowledge. So, I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great people like Jerry St. Peter and Amir Shojaie, Christie Markowitz, these individuals are subject-matter experts in their areas, and having the opportunity to work with them. You know, when it comes to research and development, when it comes to clinical development, there’s no one better in the ophthalmic space. And Dr. Amir Shojaie. Then from a standpoint of messaging, working with someone like Christie Markowitz to help provide the scientific messaging in a way that can be articulated in an effective manner. And you know, someone like Jerry, Jerry has been a great mentor to me, we have very similar personalities, but how he positions his organizations. And I’ve learned from great, great people and apply those principles. But there’s pretty much all areas of the business I’ve been fortunate to learn. I mean, we won that from a startup perspective, sometimes we take for granted is CMC. So, I look at the individual that’s on my team at TearClear, Srini Venkatesh, and his love of knowledge and expertise, and how he meticulously plans and executes our development plan. It’s been great, well, you take someone like Kevin Hershfeld on my team, how he is so laser focused on operations, or someone that has a financial background, like Richard Harrison, these are individuals that are subject matter experts, and I work with them. It’s developing the team. And then you develop the goals and objectives and build that going forward. But it all starts to having a broad base of information that allows me to apply that where I am in the startup space.
Paul Karpecki: That’s great. What allows you to have the energy level you have I mean, you do you do go in with it’s as if you have a good discipline and how you eat and you stay active and you’re still playing hockey?
Bob Dempsey: Occasionally lace them up, occasionally lace them up, like it might be skating, skating this weekend Paul just started out there.
Paul Karpecki: Great to hear is it just the mindset that you have of, Hey, I want to learn as much and network you know what, what things allow you to go at the pace you go continuously for all the years I’ve known you.
Bob Dempsey: It’s probably the competitive nature. I always want to not just meet expectations but exceed expectations. So very competitive, whether I’m you know, lacing them up on the weekend and playing shinny hockey with the boys or playing old men softball. I apply those same principles to the work environment. And again, it’s the team. And I’ve been very, very fortunate over the course of my career to work with some wonderful folks. And then you think of the professional community you’re working with. And the fact that we have a long history of working multiple projects together, whether it’s an Ed Holland, who is, you know, obviously one of the top surgeons that we all know, a Dick Lindstrom, Ben Gaddy, an Art Epstein, and these diverse personalities and working with all of these individuals, to develop those partnerships, but more importantly, the relationships. And it’s probably something I cherish more than anything on the course of my career. It’s the relationships and the friendships I have with all of these individuals, and how fortunate it is every day that I wake up and have an opportunity to communicate with some of these guys and gals. It just, I mean, it’s, it’s, you really, you actually pay me to do this. You lead an advisory board or lead a company. It’s something I feel very, very fortunate and blessed to have.
Paul Karpecki: I think that plays a role, great answer. Speaking of which, you know, the, though now, I think it’s become commonplace, especially in the US and optometry isn’t the same, globally, but certainly in the US, you know, they’re responsible for about 88% of eye exams, primary eye care exams, that is, you know, different magnitude. But to be fair, I think you are really the first person that recognize the importance, especially in the area of dry eye disease, for example of having kind of equal opportunity, making sure that you had the right people, you’d have the same at least three key MD advisors in three key od or however the number was you had meetings where the two were together, which actually had this incredible synergy that propelled you know, Shire and Lafitte of grass. You know, now it’s starting to seem like that. But how did you, was it difficult? I mean, you had the vision was or difficulty in being able to put that in place five or six years ago, was there a lot of pushback? How did you know that that was something that would make such a difference at the time?
Bob Dempsey: Well, I wish it was five or six years ago, but it goes way back in my professional career in which I was very fortunate to have carried the bag and called on ophthalmologists and called an optometrist and looked at how the evolution of eye care was going. So we applied that principle at Inspire with my colleague, Joe Boyd. And we did some wonderful things there. We applied it to B&L with Ron Meiring. And then fortunately, as the guy that made all the calls that Shire, I said, we’re going to launch into the ophthalmic space. It’s going to be 50-50, MD and OD. And we’re really going to invest and engage the optometric community. And I remember sitting down with you, Paul, with Art with Ben with Jack and talked about. Alright, here’s our approach. What do you think, and the reaction we got was very positive. So then we didn’t stop there. We would work with Vision Expo East, Vision Expo West, with Siko, with Preview with all of the ecosystem and optometry to let them know who Shire was, what our plan was, and the importance of engaging the optometric community, investing in the optometric community from an educational perspective, and how we were going to approach it. And I remember saying, once you call, you may remember, if optometry is not writing over 60% of all the medications of all the prescriptions for Xiidra, then we did something wrong. We knocked the ball out of the park and I look at how we were going to differentiate ourselves as we entered the market. And we clearly did because we knocked the ball out of the park from an optometric perspective, our blocking and tackling was in ophthalmology, but to really differentiate ourselves and engage the optometric community with a key to the success. And as I like to say why the launch went vertical, very, very early on.
Paul Karpecki: And it’s great. I think it did one point I think you mentioned that, perhaps at the height is the highest point it was 68% prescriptions or something near that.
Bob Dempsey: Yeah. I mean, you’re right on and remember, Paul, there’s 40,000 optometrists? Yes. And, you know, we had talked very early on in our career about the benefit of therapeutics, and that optometrists that follow the therapeutic model, were going to be key to success. So, you look at what we’re doing at TearClear, we’re clearly going to be embracing the optometric community. But now that I have the opportunity, some of these board positions to show investors our approach, for example, with a Orasis, the work that a lot is doing. The fact that we have a Medical Advisory Board in which it’s 50-50. It’s optometry and ophthalmology. It’s the new guard. It’s the Young Guard. So we’re bringing in this approach across multiple companies that will ensure that they’re all successful, because in the United States, both ophthalmology and optometry have the power to prescribe and you have to go after these markets. Equally invest and if you do you can be highly successful.
Paul Karpecki: That’s really well said and I like the fact you brought up the old a new guard you got the old guard that are have incredible experience incredible invaluable to accompany, you mentioned, you know, great names like Dick and Ed, Eric Mine and on the optometry side, then fortunate to be in that, but there is this young wave of superstars coming up too, that we need it and it’ll keep us, you know, the entire professions viable and, and they seem to understand, you know, the role of a surgeon-ophthalmologist and optometrist and work very well together also, you know, so I think, you know, that allows for it to, I think be synergistic to create a whole other level of value and for them to make a difference for these ophthalmic companies. Because eye care is so unique in the sense of, we’re all trying to achieve the best for our patients. And if that means working together, that’s what we’ll do if it means, you know, enhancing, if it means working with industry, which not every medical profession does, we have an incredible environment and people like you, of course, have played such a key role in that with your networking and your understanding and the inclusion you allowed. It’s exciting.
Bob Dempsey: Yeah, yeah.
Paul Karpecki: Tell me about your plans for TearClear and your view, your vision, what you hope to achieve, not not just in all the space of ophthalmic, but really as a from a business standpoint, you know, what you see happening there, what you’re excited about, you’ve got an of course, great team, you’ve got a great product. So, go ahead and perhaps describe the product for those who are new to hearing about it. I’m extremely excited about the potential of having drops without VA caving you know, so focused on the ocular surface for so long. But let me have you describe it, and then your goals and vision for the company.
Bob Dempsey: Yeah, so our goal is to disrupt the way topical medications are delivered to the ocular surface. And we want to do that by capturing preservatives before they approach the eye. We know and it’s well documented in the literature, that prolonged use of BAK, or preservatives in general will cause detrimental effects on the ocular surface. Our solution is to offer the smart preserve system, and where we keep preservatives where they should be in the bottle, but not on the patient’s Oculus surface. So, as we build this organization, our immediate focus is to bring Latanoprost to market that has the smart preserve system, where the preservatives in the bottle but not in the patient’s ocular surface. So, from a near term perspective, we just completed a pre-IND meeting. And now as a team laser focus on opening up the IND at the midpoint of this year. And then shortly thereafter, executing our registration trial with our first patient, first visit and move that patient and move that program along. But the good news doesn’t stop there. We want to advance multiple programs, Paul. And on top of that, we’re going to have a pre-IND meeting for the combination, Timolol Brimonidine. We believe as our first entree into the space again, MD – OD we know optometrists prescribe a lot of glaucoma medications, we want to embrace both of these communities. And as we advance our programs for Latanoprost fall right behind that with a combination, and then being ready from an IND perspective for will set this company up for success. So, my vision is to move Latanoprost as quickly and aggressively as we can go to the FDA process and initiate the registration trials for the combination and most of these other programs for we believe in the course of the next four to five years, we could have a launch every year of a new molecule to the ophthalmic community. That’s very exciting. But we don’t want to stop there. We also want to think about beyond glaucoma. where can our smart preserve system be used can be used in anti-infective and anti-inflammatories such as potentially dry eye medication, or the numerous over the counter programs that we see for the treatment of dry eye disease. So, our goal is to activate an R&D team now to execute our glaucoma programs, but at the same time, go beyond glaucoma. So, we have tremendous goals and objectives that we want to meet to add value to our investors, but also position the company for success.
Paul Karpecki: I love it really well said and summarized perfectly. So, in last few moments, any final comments that you may want to make that we didn’t cover or other insights you’d like to share?
Bob Dempsey: I mean, you were very complimentary to the success I’ve had in my career and I really want to know if anyone wants to follow my footsteps. A little crazy, but learn as much as you can, understand medical affairs, understand research and development, understand the regulatory process from the standpoint of what it takes to go through phase one, phase two, phase three, registration trial. And if you can understand that and apply solid business principles from a commercial perspective, you can be successful. And I’ve been very fortunate, again, over the course of my career to understand all of these areas. And that’s what I think can can lead to success. So, lastly, continue to build relationships with some of the best and brightest on the optometry side on the ophthalmology side. And if you do that, you can be successful. Thanks, Paul, I greatly appreciate the opportunity.
Paul Karpecki: Wonderful interviews, I would have expected that really am even beyond that came through in so much insight, thanks for sharing so much that will help so many people in our industry, those aspiring to do what you’re doing maybe to be a CEO of a startup, those that are in large pharma or small and what they could look at there was value from pretty much everyone there. And certainly, you know, I’m grateful we have someone with your understanding in the field of eye care that can contribute can make a difference that can help so many of our patients and you do it again today with all the companies you’re part of. It says pleasure to have you on the OIS Podcast.
Bob Dempsey: You know, Paul, you bring up something in closing, I always like to say eye care has been very good to me. It’s really super important to give back. So, having an opportunity from a philanthropic perspective, to work with SightLife, and to work with something I’m extremely passionate about The Holland Foundation for Sight Restoration. You know, I would urge all of us as an ophthalmic community to give back to so many things to do out there to give back. You know, I want to close with that little tidbit. Anyone interested in doing that I would highly urge you to take advantage of this opportunity.
Paul Karpecki: Bob, thank you. Wonderful interview.
Bob Dempsey: Thanks Paul.
Paul Karpecki: Thank you too.
Bob Dempsey: Talk to you soon. Thanks.
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