Equinox Founder Berdahl Moves Sideways, But Not Away, to Keep Company Growing

While scuba diving in the Caribbean, John Berdahl, MD, came up with the idea that led him to found Equinox. Five years later, that company has a product based on his underwater brainstorm – the concept that intraocular pressure (IOP) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure both contribute to glaucoma.

With Equinox’s product, the Mercury Multi-Pressure Dial, making its way through regulatory approvals, Dr. Berdahl felt confident in exchanging his CEO role for that of chief medical officer.

“Cataract surgery, glaucoma surgery, and corneal transplants are what drive me to my core,” he told OIS Weekly. “I never felt I had to hold on too tightly to the CEO title. I do believe, though, at an early stage of a company, you need that founder’s spirit. You need that internal belief that your product can help people. Now as we’re approaching commercialization, we can shift from a company that’s heavily weighted on science to one that balances science with business to produce a viable way to help patients long term.”

Enter Stuart Raetzman
Stuart Raetzman, former CEO of Galderma and Nestle Skin Health, who has held leadership roles with Alcon, Allergan, and Chiron Vision, assumed the role of executive chairman on October 1. He will lead the organization in the development of the Mercury Multi-Pressure Dial for open-angle glaucoma.

For Raetzman, the new role allows him to return to an industry he feels passionate about. “Vision is such a precious sense,” he said. “People in this industry can really make a positive impact on society. And Equinox’s approach to treating glaucoma is unique and meaningful.”

As chief medical officer and a board member, Dr. Berdahl will focus on the science and the spirit of the company. Raetzman will provide his business acumen to guide the commercialization process.

In addition to marketing the product in the US, Equinox will also direct its attention to Asia, Raetzman said, where normal-tension glaucoma is more than twice as prevalent than in the US. “These patients are frustrated, their doctors are frustrated,” he continued. “This is a global opportunity to help people that need it most.”

Looking Ahead
Although Dr. Berdahl led Equinox to its current place, he’s quick to acknowledge his management team, who helped develop it into something more than a “science project.” Beginning last summer, Dr. Berdahl and his executive team considered both internal and external candidates who would not only align well with the company’s mission and values, but who also had the highest likelihood of achieving success.

Raetzman checked all the boxes, providing the blend of experience, leadership, and personality that fit Equinox’s culture. “Our mindset is this: for the company to work, it has to provide fair value to the patients, to the payers, to the investors, and to the company,” said Dr. Berdahl.

“Those are difficult pieces to put together,” he continued. “I was looking for someone who has experience providing fair value to every stakeholder and has a fabulous ability to communicate. And someone who is fun to be around. Because a start-up journey is like a road trip: when you’re in the car with people, you have to like them.”

As chief medical officer and a board member, Dr. Berdahl says his role will be “whatever Stuart Raetzman says it is!” Kidding aside, he said his new leadership role isn’t clearly defined yet, but he anticipates serving as the voice of patients and providers, as well as ensuring the safety and efficacy of Equinox products.

The leadership change won’t give Dr. Berdahl any more time for scuba diving, though. He’ll continue to divide his time between Equinox; MKO Melt, which provides sedation during cataract surgery without use of an IV; and Expert Opinion MD, which provides opinions to patients from doctors worldwide.
“All that is icing on the cake,” he said. “The cake is taking care of patients. But I also love translating that experience to technologies that can help the patients who put their trust in me.”