Cracking the US Dry Eye Market, With Brent Jones, CCO, I-MED Pharma


Click here to watch the video version of this podcast.

When you’re an entrepreneur building out a company, it’s not enough to hire people with expertise you don’t have. As Brent Jones, chief commercial officer of I-MED Pharma, says in this OIS Podcast, you have to ask questions and listen to what your experts have to say.

I-MED Pharma, a Montreal-based company that offers a complete portfolio of dry eye disease products, is the latest stop for Jones in a career that includes sales leadership roles at Kala Pharmaceuticals, Eyevance Pharmaceuticals, Sun Pharma, Alcon Laboratories, Santen Pharmaceutical, ISTA Pharmaceuticals and Bausch + Lomb, which acquired ISTA in 2012.

He’s applying everything he’s learned over the past 30 years to help I-MED enter the US market in early 2022. The company’s blended portfolio includes the entire dry eye continuum—diagnostics, drops (including benzalkonium chloride–free drops), ointments, plugs, nutrition, and an intense regulated pulsed-light device used to treat dry eye disease due to meibomian gland dysfunction.

I-MED’s holistic product line allows for what Jones calls a consultative approach. He’s developing a sales force with deep product expertise, as well as implementation specialists, to provide information for physicians, training for their staff, and maintenance to I-MED devices when needed.

Join the conversation with podcast host Ehsan Sadri, MD, of Visionary Eye Institute to learn:
• How Jones pivoted throughout his career between start-ups and large corporations.
• How I-MED Pharma plans to tackle the fragmented, competitive US dry eye market with a physician-centered approach.
• Full details on the I-MED product line.
• Jones’ advice for emerging eye care entrepreneurs.

Click “play” to listen now.


Ehsan Sadri: Hi everybody, this is Dr. Ehsan Sadri, a Board-Certified ophthalmologist here in Newport Beach, California. And just you know, bring you another beautiful segment of OIS Ophthalmology. My next guest is a good friend. I’ve known him a long, long time. Many many different roles. I don’t want to steal your thunder Brent, welcome to the show. How are you?

Brent Jones: I’m doing well, Doctor Sadri. How are you today?

Ehsan Sadri: I’m good man. We just came back from AAO, it was it was good to see everybody live again, after you know, two years of really virtual auto by you. But it was really nice. For me, it was very nice to see everybody. And kind of even though I didn’t see you that long, it was really good to reconnect. And I’m just excited to have you because you know of all the stuff you’re doing now currently. And I wanted people to really get to know you and your background and what you’re doing. So without further ado, I know that a lot of ophthalmologists like myself know you. They like relationships with a lot of KOLs. But for those of you don’t know you tell us a little about your background, Brent.

Brent Jones: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for the opportunity, AAO was great. And it’s great to be back seeing colleagues and friends in person again. And that’s just there’s no better way to exchange ideas and get to know people in that way. But I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve been in this space for close to 30 years. I started way back in 1992 with a company called Grieshaber, a gentleman named Mark Forshay. And another gentleman who’s now associated with ASCRS. Steve spears. Those two gentlemen were a big influence on me coming into this space. Grieshaber was a Swiss and they still are, Ophthalmic Surgical Instrument company and they are really focused on the Retina. And of course was with them until we were acquired by Alcon, and you got to work for Alcon for I got a little bit of a pharm experience. So I’ve moved over and transition from the surgical background to Pharma. And left Alcon to get my first management job with Santen when they made th first entrance in the United States and brought the new generation of fluoroquinolones to the market with Quick spin, which was topical Lavalin. And then, of course, Santen was acquired by Johnson and Johnson in 2004. And during that time, I was approached by a gentleman named Tom Mitro. And he reached out to me and said he was going to build a company and he wanted me to be a part of that. And so that was my first experience that really being in a startup and building a company was that ISTA and with Tom Advents and a few others, we built ISTA and grew it into a real competitor in this space. And that company was acquired in 2012 by Bausch and Lomb and I transitioned over to Bausch. enjoyed my time there greatly served many roles there not only in sales leadership, but also marketing on the medical side as well, which really helped give me a more rounded experience in leadership in this space. And then I left Bausch and Lomb valiant to join Jerry St. Peter and be the head of sales at Sun Ophthalmics and I got to build that Salesforce from the ground up. So we started from scratch there, built another Salesforce in this space, and then left there to start up our own little company. Eyevance with Jerry and a few others in this space. And that was a fantastic experience. And we were fortunate enough to a company that we built, we were able to also sell it most recently, in September of last year to Santen. So that brings me to where I’m at today. And I’m the Chief Commercial Officer for a company called I-MED Pharma. Many may not know I met because they have not been in the United States. But they’ve certainly been a global presence for quite a while they’ve been operating for over 30 years in the ophthalmic space in over 30 countries. They specialize and really products for dry eye and ocular surface disease. And I’m excited to be a part of that company and the vision that we have. And our mission is to bring complete relief to dry ocular surface disease patients around the world. And so be coming into the United States with not only the maintenance management portion of dry eye in ocular surface disease, but also diagnostic and treatment to a couple of devices as well. So we’ll have a complete portfolio. Probably the first company that offers a complete portfolio for dry eye. There are a lot of companies that offer a lot of solutions, but it’s somewhat fragmented. And certainly I hope to lead a company that will provide a complete portfolio and solution. That’s a little bit about me.

Ehsan Sadri: I mean, so for those of you listening, I mean, you know, Brent’s really got a really robust background from you know, largest strategic companies and family care, but also startups and an acquisitions, two of them, and then just sort of resetting the sales teams and really did a lot of dynamic sort of changes. And you know, one thing I like about you, you’ve always been able to sort of pivot and I think that’s a really big key. For most entrepreneurs, you know, they don’t teach that certainly in med school, they don’t teach that they don’t teach how to medic in business school either, you know, you learned case studies, but you really have to discover the market and what happens when your company gets acquired, or what happens when you get that call for a startup? You know, it’s just so much there. And I’d love to unpack, and you know, how we bring on again next year, as you’re sort of rolling out your new venture. And I, you and I got the chance to see each other and it’s exciting what you’re doing. Now, I do agree with dry eye is very fragmented for us seeing patients, you know, the daily basis, that’s my day job, it’s incredible how much just sort of different, you know, fragmented products diagnostics, there are in the patients are sort of all over the place and sort of doctors, so I love what you’re doing. Tell us what’s exciting about that with I-MED? And how are you sort of tackling that fragmented market?

Brent Jones: Yeah, I mean, what’s exciting is it’s a privately held company. It’s a family-owned company. And what’s exciting is just getting back in what I love, there’s leaders at different levels of company is their evolution in their lifecycle. And I’m the kind of person that I’m not risk averse. So I really enjoy the startup environment. I love the entrepreneurial spirit; I love getting out there and creating something where there was nothing. And I also like bringing value in something different. And that’s really what I think, you know, we have to offer here dotnet is truly value, not only in our portfolio, which is complete, but also, I think from a value proposition for physicians, both ophthalmologists and optometrists that want to get into this space, that have tried it in a fragmented way and haven’t been very successful at it. I think not only are we going to bring solutions, but you know, we’re going to bring in a consultative approach to help people be successful with their dry practices and make it a really a premium channel for ophthalmologist and optometrist.

Ehsan Sadri: Yeah, and it says, what’s interesting when I was reviewing your website, and I don’t know you share this with you also, if you’re in a veterinary world, too, so tell us about that. That’s got to be intriguing. Are you doing that? Are you responsible for that as well? Or are we kind of sort of overseeing it?

Brent Jones: As my wife says, I like to have to stay in my lane. So I know little to nothing about veterinary. So I would be way outside of my lane in order to jump over there. They’ve been in the United States on the veterinary side for quite a while, though, and have quite a successful business over there, I will not be managing that part of the business, certainly will contribute where needed, but I want to stick where my expertise is, which is only ophthalmic side.

Ehsan Sadri: Yeah. And what I like about your approach now is that you really are a truly the customer, helping the customer, which is the eye care provider, and you’re really sort of helping them sort of build their dry practice, which is really nice to hear. Because a lot of times as you know, you know, we’ve got different tier options, but we don’t have the diagnosis. We have diagnostics, we don’t have any tear options, and then there’s therapeutics, that based therapeutics that we all know about, and which is great, but then end-to-end is missing. And I think that’s a really big niche, obviously, 40 plus million US market that known probably a lot more dry eye patients is great. I mean, what are some of the challenges of now rolling out a new company starting out, you know, within the US as a Canadian company? Can you tell us how that is? What’s the temperature of the room?

Brent Jones: I think, obviously, with the state of everything right now, I think supply chain is a big concern for everyone, you know, so you know, COVID is hit everyone globally. Certainly inflation is on the rise here in the United States. So there’s a lot of things that can impact us. And of course, you know, that just typical regulatory barriers, bringing new products and new devices in the United States. But, you know, our biggest concern, I think, with most companies in this space right now is supply chain. But other than that, I think, you know, we were taking a, you know, a customer-patient centric approach with physicians, you know, we want to focus in and provide a full service, you know, for us, I think the biggest challenge is not on the customer facing side, it’s more on the back side, the supply.

Ehsan Sadri: So, and, you know, it’s what’s interesting, also, that you, you were sharing with me was the fact that you’re sort of supporting other companies that I didn’t know, which is pretty intriguing. You know, I love your baK free application. I’m a big fan of not having VHA on Oculus surface. Can you tell us about that? How’s that? Are you sort of free to talk about that a little bit?

Brent Jones: Obviously, we’ve been in the business the business for quite a while I can’t speak too much. We’ve had been a contract manufacturer for other companies. Currently, our formulations are, you know, Premiere. I mean, the products that we use are when you look at the individual components, they’re the heaviest molecular weights I mean when you look at our things like our lid scrubs, you know, it’s heavy and hyaluronic acid, it’s the highest molecular weight. So not only does it disinfect, but it also hydrates, and you know it doesn’t dissipate from the from the lids. So it’s hydrating the same with our drops. You know, we look at we trade all three layers of the tear film, we mimic that, you know, we have our sharing the way our drops actually work comes down to number one, obviously, our formulation but the components, we have a philosophy at I-MED that we will not bring a product to market unless it is the best or comparable to the best product in the market. We don’t just want to bring things to market just to complete our portfolio. A lot of science goes into it. And that goes back to our founder, Ilan Hofmann, he is a biochemist, PhD, he was part of the team that brought he longed to market back in the day. And so he’s taken his love of science and been able to develop additional products for the ocular surface with his background. And so all of our products are based in research and development years and years of development in science, it goes into it. So being a bit of a science geek, I really enjoy talking about our products, but also how our products are made. And also the components that go into them. Because everything in there is quality, when we’re talking about I-MED products.

Ehsan Sadri: So let’s talk about that now. So you’ve got this sort of portfolio of products is your launch in the US. You know, it’s the dynamic of a family-based business versus the other experiences you’ve had, which is major large companies publicly traded companies. What’s the next few steps for you? How do you scale your team? Do you have a certain budget you work with? What does that look like? How many people? Are you sort of what is your launch strategy?

Brent Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s unique because we have device and pharmaceuticals. So it’s a blended portfolio, we’re not one or the other. As we stated earlier, we have a diagnostic that does nine different diagnostic tests for the ocular surface, we also have treatment option with an IR PL laser. And then of course, we have our whole portfolio maintenance management products, which consists of tears, it consists of ointment, it consists of wipes, lid wipes, hydrochloric spray, it also has the mask, it’s a hot and cold mask. And then of course, we have nutraceuticals, as well as Punctum plugs that we’ll be bringing into the United States. So we have a whole array of products that we’ll be bringing into the market. So the type of Salesforce we’re looking for, is really the entrepreneurial type that puts the physician first that have experience in this space, that will provide more of a consultative type of approach that have that background with equipment, and device and understanding how outcomes and maintenance is really important and how all of that is connected. So being able to not only talk to the doctors at their level, but also be able to train the staff. And that’s really important, because some of the other companies I’ve been a part of, and other companies in this space, we all know, you know, great at placing equipment, but sometimes that equipment then ends up in a closet. And that’s the worst-case scenario for us. That is an approach that we’re trying to avoid every way possible. And we feel like we certainly have a strategy to do that. And I think it comes into identifying who the right type of person that is to work with us. But also you know the number and of course, you know, we will expand based on demand, we will sell phoned our sales force as we grow. And so basically, we’ll look at what the market will bear, and each region of the country and we will have a full Salesforce out there with the direct sales reps, selling our products as well as implementation specialists that will be there to help provide support to the staff and make sure that our products are getting utilized and that the staff is well trained and how to make it run smoothly as a total resource.

Ehsan Sadri: And so you know, when you’re doing that, it’s interesting because you’ve got so many different products you’ve got obviously the diagnostics got the tears, you got the appointments, you got the plugs, you got the nutrition, you got the therapeutic mass and IPL treatments, so there’s a lot there to unpack. Are you going to then are you thinking like this sort of a setup as Salesforce? Like you did? For instance, when you were at Bausch or Alcon or do you feel this is gonna be very different. How will this play out?

Brent Jones: Well, I hope to take the best of everything I’ve learned at each stop and apply it you know, I think every company in the space and I think you know, the more companies the better in this space, but you know, I’ve learned a lot in my career from each place that I’ve gone, I think every company has something they’re really good at. And what I try to do is take a little bit of that and bring it in to this company and try to do things a little bit differently. For me, it’s always been grassroots. So, you know, I want to be in with the physicians, I want my people to be within with their physicians, I want them to be experts in ocular surface, and dry eye maintenance, management, treatment diagnosis. So you know, for us, you know, it’s just like the first, you know, the other day with my partner in crime, so to speak, that we’re building this company out with Michelle Snowball. She’s the Vice President Business Development. And she comes from a tear science background, actually, she’s placed, I think, more lip flows and lip reviews than anyone else in the United States. And she’s also a certified tech. So you know, just as an n of one is an example of the type of people, we will hire someone that has her background that not only knows the equipment, but knows, you know, how to treat patients and how to work at patients. And so that’s really, really critical, not only to sell our equipment, but to bring value to every office. And I think, for me, that’s the biggest thing is bring great stuff. That’s really nothing without the other piece, which is the value, which is the education, the maintenance, the working with the practices to make sure that you’re truly bringing value to them. And a lot of companies have done that different levels, but we want to try to be the best at it.

Ehsan Sadri: It’s, yeah, there’s so much pearls there, you know, if I’m like a listener, and I’m like an executive of a small family owned, or even a small startup, and I’m launching in the US or even other countries, obviously, US is probably the biggest largest market, what you’re listening to, is really someone who’s super trained, and has vast experience in getting people organize and launching products. And I think you know that the interesting thing, when you’re saying, Brent is that sometimes, you know, the entrepreneur needs to get out of the zone, his or her own way, and bring in a management team. And I’ve seen that myself very often where the entrepreneur becomes very sort of focused on doing everything, they can themselves, and really is then unsuccessful. And I think the success here is that kudos to Daniel and his dad to like, bring you on, because you know, you’re going to be able to provide experience that they don’t have. And I think that’s a big, big indicator of how successful they’re going be.

Brent Jones: Obviously, you have the business sense and everything, but you have to surround yourself with people that are great, that are even better than you, you need to have the right medical advisors like yourself, and you have to have people that are experts in their field that you want to be a part of it and bring them and you know, listen to them. I mean, I think that’s the biggest flaw in a lot of companies is that people at the top are not the best listeners. And for me, it’s surrounding people, which I think are as smart or smarter than me and then listening to them asking them really good questions, how they like to be treated? What are the gaps? What do you need? How should we do this and listening to them. And I think that gets lost in a lot of startups because people get so focused on their plan, and they get so focused on execution, that they don’t listen, and they’re not able to pivot back to your point earlier. That’s so critical. But you can’t pivot if you’re not listening to the people that really matter. And then being having the courage to pivot.

Ehsan Sadri: Yeah, and you know, and you’re so good about maintaining your relationships, and also, just, you know, I think listening, and I think every time you get, we get together, I feel like I need a you know, tequila shot because it’s this great information that you’re asked, it makes you feel great, because I’m contributing, but it’s great, because you’re smart. You’re asking the right questions, and you want to learn you’re really curious that other thing that I think is pretty critical. So you bring all that to the table. So there’s a lot there’s a lot there too, for people learn. Tell us as we’re wrapping up, you know, obviously, we’re coming up Thanksgiving. Are you launching first second quarter, what does that look like number one, and then tell us a little bit about for listeners, you know, that are on a part of a startup? And you know, or joining a company? What are some top pearls other than things we’ve talked about that you want to kind of give them to ensure their success?

Brent Jones: Yeah, absolutely. So obviously right now, we are kind of in the middle of the soft launch. We’re getting our marketing plan, regulatory, all those things, making sure everything is compliant, and we’re going full bore will really start building out first quarter of 2022. That’s our goal. And that’s what we’ll focus on as we grow. And then 2022 is going to be a ramp up a gradual ramp up as we build out our sales force, and our footprint here in the United States. So 2022 is going to be a really exciting year. You know, we’re also building out our advisors, and in our circle of trust, as we build, and certainly, I think, you know, the one thing that I think for anyone, no matter what level you’re at, in this business. I mean, for me, I think a key to success is, is admitting you don’t know everything. You know, and talking to people and you know, this, you know, startups in particular, you know, there are a lot of smart people out there that have the answers, I always tell people, the answers are in the room, you just got to ask the right questions. And that’s critical, and joining a company and who you’re part of, it’s always about who you run with. And we talk about that, and all the companies that I’ve been a part of and built is, it’s the people that make the company, there’s a culture there, you know, and it’s not just the people internally, but externally, it’s the physicians, it’s the staff, it’s those relationships, it’s being honest, you know, and delivering on what you say, those things are still, you know, time tested and true and still are today. I mean, you know, putting people first and doing things in a humble way, you know, I think leads to success, more often than not, and so, that, to me, that’s kind of the the vision for building this thing out. And, you know, we’re looking forward to being a very disruptive force here in the United States, both on the device and pharmaceutical side, I think we were going to have a lot of really good people. And we certainly have a lot of good products.

Ehsan Sadri: Terrific, terrific. So with that said, you know, you know, I wish you all the success and you know, thank you for joining me. I do want to bring you maybe Daniel, you know, next year sometime to see how you’re doing and follow up to success and make sure I’m your accountable coach.

Brent Jones: Absolutely. I want to wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving and thank you again for the opportunity to come on and chat with you. It’s always an honor and a pleasure and I always feel better after talking to you because it’s always lifts my spirits and wishing you nothing but the best my friend and thank you again for the opportunity.

Ehsan Sadri: Thanks, Brent.