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Bausch + Lomb’s chief medical officer Calvin Roberts, MD, still thinks like a doc when he’s helping to steer the company’s strategy. Hear how he sees B+L making life simpler for ophthalmologists in the near future.
Calvin W. Roberts, MD
Calvin W. Roberts, MD, is Executive Vice President and the Chief Medical Officer at Bausch + Lomb. A specialist in cataract and refractive surgery, Dr. Roberts is credited with developing surgical therapies, over-the-counter products for vision care, prescription ocular therapeutics, and innovative treatment regimens.
Tom Salemi: Hi, everyone, this is Tom Salemi, and you are listening to the OIS Podcast. Thanks for joining us today. We’re going to visit with Bausch and Lomb today. At OIS@ASCRS I has the chance to not only watch our Masters of the Universe panel, but also sit down with the masters individually and ask them some specific questions about their companies. And one of the folks I had a great talk with is Cal Roberts. He is the Chief Medical Officer of Bausch and Lomb. He joined in 2011. And prior to that, he was a practicing ophthalmologist. So he brought a great deal or brings a great deal of insights to Bausch and Lomb as to how ophthalmologists want to be treated by companies, and what sort of products they need. In fact, on the Masters of the Universe panel, I thought Cal brought up a really great point about selling to ophthalmologists. Let’s have a listen.
Cal Roberts: I remember when I was in practice, it always used to bother me that I would get multiple sales reps that would come to see me from the same company. Why would I get one sales rep who wanted to sell me glaucoma and another one who wanted to sell me dry eyes, and another one wanted to sell me antibiotics? And they’re from the same company. Doesn’t the company realize that I want to be polite to these people, but if one person would come see me three times as often instead of 3 people coming to see me, that would be better for me and for my practice. And those are the type of ideas that we try to disseminate throughout Bausch and Lomb, and try to think about not only what’s best for us, but what’s best for the doctor.
TS: So that was part of the broader Masters of the Universe discussion. You can find that on OIS.net along with our other content that we’re updating daily. And also on OIS.net will be this podcast. But you won’t need to access that there, because you have it here. And I had the chance to talk with Cal at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans, and again asked him some specific questions about B&L. Hope you enjoy this conversation with Cal Roberts.
TS: Hi, this is Tom Salemi from OISTV. Very happy to be here with Dr. Calvin Roberts.
CR: Thank you very much.
TS: Chief Medical Officer of Bausch and Lomb. So we talked about this before the interview. How long have you – how long has it been since you practiced medicine?
CR: Well, I practiced medicine for 25 years. And now it’s 7, 8 years since I last practiced.
TS: So are you still a physician?
CR: I am still a physician. And I think it’s really what colors my approach to Bausch and Lomb and our business there. Because what I’m always thinking about: what can we do for patients and what can we do for doctors. And so when I think about what’s different today than it was, say, from when I was in practice, even just 7, 8 years ago, it’s really about how many more tools are in the tool bag for doctors. And so yes, we have all these advances in cataract and in retina, but think about all the things that we’re doing for ocular surface and dry eyes that we couldn’t do even 7 years ago. So that’s kind of how I see ophthalmology as what can we do to give doctors just more and more tools so that they can take better and better care of patients.
TS: And that’s great that you say the doctors, because in so many other specialties, the control seems to be take away from the doctors. Ophthalmology not yet, at least. It still is the doctor’s business.
CR: IT really is, it really is. And it’s two things: it’s a doctor’s business, and the doctors can make decisions on behalf of their patients. So in a lot of areas, either managed care or insurance or something dictates that you have to do this or you have to do that. Or you have to use this drug or this procedure. And in ophthalmology, doctors can make all kinds of decisions with their patient. What IOL? Multifocal? Toric? What drugs? What are we going to do? How are we going to approach it? Sustained delivery? Put in drops? Have an injection? And all these the doctor gets involved in. And that’s kind of what makes it fun.
TS: What led to your decision to not practice medicine anymore?
CR: Well, so it started up that I helped to cofound Alimera Sciences, which was in 2003. And that kind of gave me an opportunity to kind of get in and understand the pharmaceutical industry. And then Brent Saunders called me, of Bausch and Lomb, and said that he wanted to do something that no company had ever done before, which was to actually take a doctor in practice and put the doctor at the executive team of the company. And so what we try to do at Bausch and Lomb is really try to think about everything we do in the perspective of the doctor. So whatever we do at Bausch and Lomb tries to kind of go through my filter as to what would I like to see if I was in practice. And so what I do at Bausch and Lomb is I look for opportunities that I can bring doctors into the discussion, and say Gee, tell us what we could do as a company that would benefit you. And then oh, my gosh, there are so many things that we could do that could benefit the doctor. See, when I was in practice years ago, I kind of thought that, well, doctors do this, and industry does this. And now I’ve realized over these years that you know what, if industry lets the doctor in, it really helps us. And if doctors let the industry in, it really helps them. And so it’s really, really formed a partnership.
TS: And in the ophthalmology industry has gone through the last year or two some changes in leadership, some companies being acquired, not being acquired. Does that reach sort of the doctor level? Do the ophthalmologists sort of sense – I don’t want to sense its uncertainty, but just the unevenness of the landscape right now? Does it reach the office? Or is it really a separate area?
CR: No, I think it does. Because right now at Bausch and Lomb, we’re in this great position of being stable. We have the same leadership team doing the same things now for several years. You know, Tracy Valorie and Ray Larwood running our pharma division, and Andy Chang and Chuck Hess and Brad Hurt in the surgical division, and Mark McKenna, Guy Gugliomino in contact lenses, Joe Gordon in consumer. So that same team has been running Bausch and Lomb now for several years. And so what that does is it really allows us to focus on the business, and focus on the doctors. And I think doctors see the difference when you have the company that is focused, rather than the company that’s trying to figure out what they’re doing back at headquarters, and maybe taking their eye a little bit off the ball in terms of what’s happening in the field. So we kind of are enjoying this period now. This is a period where things are going really, really well for Bausch and Lomb.
TS: But there has obviously been some things going on at the parent company level of yours. You’re operating independently of that? You’re able to function B&L separately? You’re the same leadership team moving forward?
CR: Yeah. I think that people don’t realize how independently Bausch and Lomb operates. And so we’re really fortunate. We have a new CEO in Joe Papa, who really believes in science, believes in the role of doctors and patients. And so he’s really kind of infused that feeling into us to really focus ourselves on really what is our goal. Our goal is really to help patients. And so with his leadership and our existing team, this is a really good time for us.
TS: Hi, everybody, Tom here. Just want to remind you to go to OIS.net not only to check out our great content from OIS@ASCRS, but also to sign up for the Eye on Innovation Newsletter. Put your email address in there, and once a week we’ll send you our original reporting, these great Podcasts, and really did a terrific video coverage of the OIS@ASCRS events, and of course upcoming events like OIS@ARS. So go to OIS.net and sign up for your Eye on Innovation Newsletter. Now back to this conversation with Cal Roberts of Bausch and Lomb.
TS: Excellent. And where do we see Bausch and Lomb going in the future? You mentioned you’ve got your hands in pharma and medtech. Is there one area that may get more attention than the other going forward? What are some of the priorities?
CR: Yeah. In my years at Bausch and Lomb now, this is I think the first time that I can tell you that each one of our divisions is accelerating. So in pharma, we’re really looking forward to the launch of latanoprostene bunod later this year. So as you know, that latanoprostene bunod is the first drug that has ever shown clinical superiority to Latanoprost in our phase 2 trial, and showed superiority to Timolol in the registration phase 3 trial. So this is kind of a really unique drug. So this is kind of a really unique drug. I mean Xalatan, latanoprost, has been the gold standard for 20 years. There’s never before been a drug that actually showed superior IOP lowering to latanoprost. So this is real exciting for us. So we’re looking forward to that. So that’s kind of the big news that’s coming out of the pharma area. Over in surgical, now our IOLs are doing really well. We acquired Synergetics at the end of last year, and that’s just really infused a lot of excitement in our surgical group. A lot of people say, Well, I’m a cataract surgeon. What does it matter that you brought a vitrectomy in? Well, as a cataract surgeon, whenever I needed to do something in the vitreous, I was always using the retina guys’ tools. So everything was developed for retina guys. So now what we’re going to do is come up with a full line of surgical instrumentation for the cataract guy who needs to work in the vitreous. And so I’m really kind of excited about what we’re doing there, kind of on the surgical side. Over in contact lenses, wow. Contact lenses is the part of Bausch and Lomb that’s kind of really growing right now. We’ve had double digit growth for each of the last 3 years. Two whole new platforms for contact lenses are Bausch and Lomb Ultra, which is our planned replacement lens, and our BioTrue one day, which is our daily disposable lenses. Came out first spheres, now in multifocals. And if you want to try something magnificent, you have to try our multifocal IOL. It’s spectacular. I’ve been wearing them now for a couple years. I see like I saw like a kid. I can see everything close, see everything far. So I am not just a Hair Club for Men president there, I love these contact lenses. So contact lenses is doing well. We’re going to come out with new contact lens care products. So the whole company is kind of accelerating all at one time.
TS: I’m starting to get the presbyopia thing happening, so I’m intrigued. I’ll have to follow up after this conversation.
TS: How are you innovating at B&L? Is this something you’re going to continue to look at? How will your internal innovation look going forward, do you anticipate? And do you expect to look at and perhaps acquire more interesting technologies like you did?
CR: Yeah. So we do a lot of in house basic research, especially in the polymer chemistry area. We’re always coming up with new materials for contact lenses. And that all happens just at the level of test tubes and things, happening right within Bausch and Lomb. We do partnerships with academia. We have partnerships with other companies. I hope you saw the announcement just today about that we’re working with IBM. And so IBM is developing an app for us for the iPad and the iPhone that will be for doctors in their surgical suite to help with IOL calculations and powers. And we’ll use new, modern, smart technologies to really make this a very, very powerful instrument for doctors to really better able to handle what’s happening in surgery. And so this is a very exciting opportunity for us to work with IBM, and I think they’re excited about working with us, too.
TS: So would those be used on the devices of the patient or of the physician?
CR: So the devices of the patient.
CR: And so we’ll be able to put iPads in the ORs that will be helping with accumulating the data and helping to interpret the data.
TS: Interesting. Fascinating. And data is everything these days.
CR: And data is everything.
TS: And as far as looking out for external innovation, do you anticipate any more or less acquiring of new technologies?
CR: Yeah, well, we are always looking for the next opportunity. And so opportunities are not necessarily just those that come in in house. But as you know, Synergetics was a great example of what they did, and really made a situation where they took their know-how and brought it to Bausch and Lomb, and added that little special sauce that made them such a great company. That’s really helped us. And we’re going to continue to look for other opportunities. We are open for business, that’s for sure.
TS: Excellent. Well, we appreciate you taking a few minutes with us today.
CR: Oh, no, this is great fun and thank you for having me.
TS: Well, Cal Roberts, thanks so much for joining us on the OIS Podcast. And of course thanks for participating in the Masters panel at OIS@ASCRS. It was great to have you up there and great to have you in our OISTV studio. Thanks also to our listeners for joining us. And just a reminder, go to OIS.net for all of the content from OIS@ASCRS. We’ll be posting it daily, and look for details on OIS@ASRS. It will be happening on August 8th, right before the ASRS meeting. Sign up, and we’ll see you in San Francisco.