Stuart Abelson, president, chairman, and CEO of Ora, a contract research organization (CRO), is also the son of an ophthalmologist, and says watching his dad’s hard work and passion still fuels him today.
In this episode, Abelson explains to host Rob Rothman, MD, the role of a CRO in conducting clinical trials for innovative companies. “A lot of times these companies have the idea, they’ve got the product, they’ve got the know-how, but they tend to outsource the heavy lifting to get that done,” Abelson says. A CRO, he adds, handles the mechanics of getting a clinical study done, including:
• patient recruitment;
• site training;
• oversight for compliance issues;
• drug logistics;
• data management and handling; and
• data interpretation.
He says that although the company has years of experience focusing only on ophthalmology, it does more than a traditional CRO and can help clients from large companies to physician entrepreneurs develop studies to help advance products through development.
Another important point Abelson discusses is funding for a study, and he explains how Ora’s experience and network can help identify sources of capital and potentially shorten timelines.
Click “play” to hear Abelson’s insightful discussion on how Ora helps companies with their clinical studies!
Rob Rothman: Hello. OIS audience. Nice to see you all again. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Rob Rothman. I am a glaucoma specialist by training , still practice clinically for a significant amount of time. I am also the Co-founder and Co-managing member of Infocus Capital Partners, which is an ophthalmic focused venture capital fund. We are just nearing the end of our investment cycle we have 13 assets inside of our fund. And they are all in the hop selmak space. I have done several of these podcasts over the last few months and I am very pleased this afternoon to be speaking with someone who I consider to be a good friend and partner. Stuart Abelson who is the president Chairman and CEO of ORA and I will let him explain to you what it is that he does. And let him give a brief introduction of himself as well. But suffice it to say that, as an investor in ophthalmology, especially in the early space, where we are, it is impossible to talk to companies and not come across or during your discussions, it is physically impossible. They are, at least in my opinion, the premier contractors research organization in ophthalmology, and have provided services of a broad range, which we’ll get into in a few minutes to almost all the companies that we’ve interacted with on the investment side. So with that as an introduction, Stuart welcome, and glad to have you here.
Stuart Abelson: Well, thanks, Rob. And it is great to be here. OIS is a fantastic platform, and is really done an amazing job in our industry, pulling together so many different groups that are necessary to lead to successful innovation, from regulatory agencies, to investors, to entrepreneurs, as well as the practicing physicians, it’s really done a great job of pulling together the whole ophthalmology ecosystem. And they do it with style and in flair.
Rob Rothman: So yeah, it’s funny. It’s funny that you say that, when I was just a regular, you know, ophthalmologist and not involved in investing, I, you know, would get the emails or, you know, from OIS, and see some of the publications never really appreciated the depth and breath of the service that they provide to ophthalmology. And now, as an investor and somebody who’s gotten more involved with the organization, you do realize how critical it is to, you know, conducting our business. So kudos to them.
Stuart Abelson: Yeah, it actually was very fun to see, OIS developed, because many of our clients would be presenting at OIS and sharing data that we in fact, helped to generate. So we would have our oral folks in the audience. And we’d actually play a game we’d say, Okay, well can we get how many shout outs are we gonna get and, you know, acknowledging Ora’s role and helping to produce some of that data, because we’re very proud of the work that we’re doing to help move these technologies forward. And, you know, when, when you get a CEO or a representative, the company up there proudly talking about how their product performed in showing those nice narrow standard deviations and a good clean study done, and knowing that they’re advancing their program in front of an audience of investors that are going to see their progress in their development plans. It’s just very, very satisfying. And in fact, that’s really how we draw a lot of energy, I think from the innovative community is to see how we are progressing these programs forward, you know, towards approval, so that they can benefit patients. So it’s,
Rob Rothman: It’s nice, it’s fun, it’s really it’s fun when you’re when you’re when you’re in it like we are now. So. So anyway, let me let me start out by giving you the opportunity, because, you know, we have there are listeners to these podcasts from all over the place. There’s investors, there’s entrepreneurs, there’s just interested parties. And not everybody knows what a CRO is, or what a CRO does. So just as a brief introduction, because we’ll get into the meat of it, as we go along. Can you explain to the audience, you know what a CRO is, what Ora is what you do. And then we’ll take it we’ll go backwards a little bit to the to the genesis, the origin and all the other things, but just for that, for everybody listening, just tell us about the company.
Stuart Abelson: Sure. So first of all, the word CRL is something that’s become a bit of a vernacular statement in the contract research organization. That’s what it stands for. You know, typically, you’ll have a company that decides, you know, what study they want to do, and then they’re looking for somebody to actually conduct that study, being able to provide the necessary implementation of that the patient recruitment the training of the sites, the oversight of the good clinical practices. The required, sometimes it relates to drug logistics, getting the drug out there to the sites properly labeled, and then making sure that the data is conducted, or the studies conducted per the protocol, as well as in compliance with with federal regulations. So then there’s also aspects of the data management, how is the data handled in the our the statistics being properly implemented, and then, you know, leading through various, you know, checks and balances, to make sure that things are in compliance and ultimately leading to, you know, a database lock and then data interpretation. So there’s the mechanics of actually getting these studies done. And that’s what the word CRO means that a lot of times the companies have the idea they’ve got the product they’ve got know how, but they tend to outsource the heavy lifting to get that done. The CRO as a word applies to only a part of Ora though, and this is something that we’ve struggled with over the years to try to explain that Ora is a whole lot more than just the CRO, certainly we do CRO services, but Ora has extended itself, far beyond what a traditional CRO does, because of the focus that we have on ophthalmology and the fact that we’ve been at this for 40 years. So the level of expertise that we have in Ora, which includes PhDs and MDs, ophthalmologists, surgeons that are fully on staff, you know, have been working across ophthalmology development programs for a long, long time, not just individually, but also, you know, together as a team within Ora. And that leads to a lot of experience, and the experience leads to knowledge. And that knowledge can directly improve the programs that we run by helping to, you know, select end points to help to design the statistical plans to help to design a regulatory strategy, you know, as well as design, inclusion – exclusion criteria to make the trial, your doable. And so what I see clients often come to us, they don’t necessarily have a fully baked plan, and really value the expertise that we bring to the table, to help them to set that study up for success, not just to do what they tell us, like handing a sheet of music to a musician and saying play this, you know, we really get involved in helping to fully produce the piece, right, you know, figuring out, can we change the score a little bit, can we change the words of the song and, and offer a better end product. And so, we also have this preclinical CRO that we’ve built over the past, you know, days really about 12 years. And that includes the formulation, chemistry, manufacturing, and controls, and regulatory submissions piece. And that’s something that is very important because if you don’t have a product that’s stable, you’re sterile and comfortable, then you don’t have a product to test in the case of a drug. And if you don’t have a product that has validated software or engineering plan behind it, then you can run into trouble there as well. So we’ve really focused on the early stage, that allows us to help these entrepreneurs and inventors. And you know, we’re working with everybody from physician entrepreneurs to your mid-size biotech companies, you know, venture backed, maybe they have one product, maybe they have a couple, you know, all the way up to, you know, global, your firms that have products on the market and your international operations, all focused on ophthalmology as well as other therapeutic areas. So we’re really working with large companies all the way down to a physician entrepreneur and being able to meet those different size customers, where they are and help them to refine their program and move that along. That’s really the magic, I’d say that we bring to the table is that combination of expertise that’s been gained over lots of experience in the area of ophthalmology, that’s all that we focus on. And being able to take that and then turn it into operational execution, you make sure that, that plan is something that is able to be implemented, so that the product can advance through its development.
Rob Rothman: So we’re going to get back to all this again, because it’s, you know, again, I have a sort of a very deep understanding of your business, and we’re going to go back and talk about it. But let me just take a step back for a little bit and 40 years ago, That’s not at all what you did, 40 years ago or started out somehow and has grown. So what’s the origin? Where did it come from? How did it start? You know, tell us about the familial nature of how this grew and how you got into it and your background in I think people should hear that because I, it’s one of the things that sort of draws me to the company is, you know, the genesis of it, I think people should hear it. So go back to the beginning.
Stuart Abelson: But like, like all great businesses, it all starts with an idea, usually of one person or a small group of people. In this case, it was my father, your Dr. Mark Abelson. He’s an ophthalmologist trained at McGill. And they did a fellowship at Harvard at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Mass Eye & Ear Infirmary, where he continues to be a professor and surgeon Emeritus, he came down and you’re in his experiences at Harvard, started to take an interest in ocular allergy actually had a lab partnership with Dr. McKay, Allan Smith actually say ocular allergist at the time, who is at Schepens in Boston, and realized that there was a very big gap between the research that happened in the lab and the translation of that to the clinic. And in the case of ocular allergy, as they started to map out the mechanisms of ocular allergy, the various inflammatory mediators and different clinical responses that we’re seeing, there was a question of how can we get more reproducibility in the trials that we’re doing when those make their way into the clinic, and there was a number of frustrated clients that they’d have to run to a cast of 1000s studies, environmental studies that were really hit or miss. And it was frustrating, because it seemed like the drug should work, but then it wouldn’t. So he really went to work on that in a very pragmatic process oriented way and said, Well, how can we find a better way to study these products, and there was a model that actually was grown out of that idea, this concept of improving the quality and reliability of clinical research. And that early model was the CAC, the conjunctiva allergen challenge, which was or his first clinical model, and this product or this model ended up becoming the gold standard for how ocular allergy drugs are developed into this day, we have 22 ocular allergy products on the market that have come through that model, its concept of a challenge model. So we are bringing ocular allergens into the eye to induce the allergic disease, and then being able to in a controlled way, look at how these patients, you’ll respond to drug and placebo. And we’re able to dramatically reduce the size of these studies as well as and improve the reproducibility. In fact, across 22 studies, excuse me, 22 drug approval programs, we never failed to reproduce Phase 2results in a Phase 3 study. And you can’t point to a lot of other areas of pharmaceutical development where you can have that kind of reproducibility. So again, this kind of an idea of improving the quality and reliability of clinical research was the seed that gave birth to Ora, another key person at Harvard, um, recommended to dad that he go out and set up a practice up in the north of Boston and we, at that time, my brother and I were young kids, this is in the late 70s, we you were in the town of Andover. And so he moved to Andover and set up a practice called Andover Eye Associates and built that practice out in a way that would allow him to have flexibility to be involved in research and so it became almost a miniature Mass Eye & Ear and that he takes one day of the week and had a different specialist every day. So one day was ocular plastics and other day was pediatrics and other day glaucoma and other day retina. And then you know, surgical follow up and of course, Dad was practicing and, and we learned as kids early on the importance of the referral relationships, I remember going around with my mom and delivering at the time cases of wine to the, you know, General lists in town to thank them for the ophthalmology referrals. I remember working with my Dad at the YMCA, doing glaucoma screenings and, you know, giving them card so that we you know, use that as a feeder for the practice and also to do good work in the community. And then, you know, I took an interest in what Dad did, like a Dad was always there to talk about science to us and help us with understanding biology when it came time to get into high school and sort out those things and always would be there to share and we also had other incredible things, you know, people would come to work with him on a consulting basis and they’d stay at our home so we had lots of people from industry who literally, I grew up with meeting on Sundays, you know, names from the past, you know, a prominent regulatory gentleman named Mark Garrett, who heads up Regulatory esta now I remember him, you know, having your Sunday breakfast with Dad, then we’d have medical writers, there are medical illustrators that would come over to work with Dad and draw pictures on the kitchen table to map out the disease and make sure that looked right clinically. So that when that was published in the book, it made sense. So, you know, we had monitor, Diane Uphoff is a monitor from Allergan, who has been around in the industry for a long time. She’s another name. You know, I remember from growing up, and you know, she came out from Belvo Island and help us to, you know, taught me how to make guacamole and deviled eggs, and I got a chance to learn what she did. So this is all like in high school. And then the opportunity came to use some work in the practice. And I had this discussion. This is a time when ophthalmologists or a most Doc’s were taken off Wednesdays, and they also weren’t working on weekends. And I said, well, that’s what our customers the patients were actually available because they weren’t working. And so maybe we should have some evening hours and some Saturday. I’m not gonna go in but he partnered me up with Dr. Jack Greiner, who’s still a friend of ours. And I worked with Jack Greiner, when I was about 14 or 15 years old, running the front desk, working as a technician, you’re spitting the phoropter using the lens meter, doing some visual fields, you’re scheduling appointments, even processing insurance. And I got a chance to really work the front end of a practice just the two of us and have this like skeleton crew on a Saturday. And so I got to, and then of course, I used to go with my Dad and hang out at the nurse’s station when he got a midnight call or overhear him on the phone. You know, you’re talking to the tissue bank to, you know, hear about some motorcycle accident that happened and a young person’s corneas were available. And, you know that those were going to be scheduled for surgery for a cornea transplant. And so, you know, I started describing the life of a son of an ophthalmologist, right? I mean, that’s it, you know, I, I saw Dad work and I saw him, you know, operate, I saw him work, you work hard. I saw him bring work in home, and I saw the passion that he had for what he did. And I think that that’s something that, you know, I carry forward with me now and also into Ora about, you know, what does it mean to be really passionate about something, you know, that you’re doing? You have this mission and purpose and, and being something part of something bigger than yourself. And so I think that that’s really, you know what fuels. You know, there’s a lot of industry consulting that happened early on at Ora, we use the Andover eyes site to recruit patients. This is, you know, again, very early on in the 80s. The CRO thing didn’t really exist at that time. But the big vertical integrated companies, Johnson and Johnson, Coopervision, Allergan, Alcon, you know the big names at the time Bausch and Lomb. Um, you know, all, we had shirts and goodies that always came home from business trips, from bags from all of those companies, you know, that, you know, became household names for us. And so, Ora progressed from that, you know, you’re really, you know, the next big step was in college, I went to a small liberal arts college in Maine called Bates College. You graduated back in 2000. or, excuse me, 1997.
Rob Rothman: You wish.
Stuart Abelson: I wish. And at that, at that time, I had made a connection in international business, a company called Amphenol, which was in the electronic conductor space, so passive electronic components. And I met this amazing gentleman, Dr. Martin Lafleur, who was running this company, he was a physicist who had built a global organization who’s just acquired by KKR for 700 million, the year that I graduated, of course, KKR being a investor, you know, the guys essentially invented the leveraged buyout and, you know, they were looking at a new model to do an industry roll up of a company that had been depleted through multiple leveraged buyouts and they were looking to reinvest capital and build out that global business and I said, this is an incredible opportunity to travel and see the world and understand how a big global company works and how to really manage investment in that and drive value creation. So I went to Connecticut, I was there for a about a year I only think I spent four nights in the apartment that I rented because I traveled all over the world and spent a lot of time out in Chicago at a fiber optic products business unit that I ended up having an opportunity to run when I was in my mid 20s. It was a operating unit of a factory that had operations in China and Mexico, and it was a very unique opportunity to lead a division of a public company at a very young age. With the outstanding mentorship that my boss Martin was providing, as well as a army of general managers, about 50 of them around the world, all of who I had a chance to learn from. So it was a real trial by fire crash course in global business. The learning curve was real steep and had a chance to really just jump in and put a lot of it into practice. Never haven’t taken a formal accounting or business class. I was a biology and psychology undergrad at Bates. In a parallel life, though, at graduation, I remember the graduation test, my Dad hired a couple of my friends. And they went to go work at Ora. And one of those Matt Chapin, who you know very well, you know, not long after Matt came Aron Shapiro. And then my buddy George Ousler from sixth grade, he was a Trinity College graduate and that we had him to the Ora team, not long after that. So this all happened in like the late 90s. And then there was other folks, Paul Gomes, who still runs our allergy group, he came into Ora as a clinical study participant and ended up becoming part of our allergy group, and then went on to be its Vice President, you know, can’t talk about or his early history without talking about Donna Welch and the role that she’s played is still with our organization. And you’re being able to help to train people, she was a Dad’s operating room nurse, one of the lead nurses and ended up bringing her amazing organization and problem solving skills to Ora to help to keep the research business running. And so the Ora, the Stuart’s friends, you know, went to Ora, and I went into this international business world. And we obviously stayed in touch over that period of time, they’re still my friends. But Ora had grown to the point where it’s about 15 – 16 people, maybe around 20, something like that, around the time that I decided it was time to leave Amphenol and come back to go work with Dad and my friends. And that happened in 2007 actually. I just completed an MBA out at Kellogg, out at Northwestern because I was in Chicago. And it was a great experience, to take all the learnings I had in an informal way of Amphenol and bring them to a sort of practical or academic understanding. But then I came back to you back to Ora to work with my buddies and my Dad. And this is where Ora really, we really said, hey, what can we do with this company? Like we’ve been here, you know, they were there for about 10 years, I was coming back and we said, like, let’s think about how big this this could be. And, and you know, it’s just been an amazing period of time is 14 years ago, that I came back is Ora’s as president at the time. And it’s been it’s an amazing journey. We’ve had so many adventures all over the world working with so many great people, with doctors, with investors, with entrepreneurs, and executives and our clients, project managers, and you just have made so many great friends have seen so many different parts of the world. And it’s been it’s been a really great journey.
Rob Rothman: So you so you and your dad hanging out in the office on Saturday to have you basically start or from those experiences. And today, April 29 2021. There are how many employees?
Stuart Abelson: Well, so right now we’re at 400 employees. And I want to be clear, I came back to Ora in 2007. Dad was really the driving force behind Ora and built that firm, and now we’re a global organization. So the, you know, we have about 30 employees based out of our London office, covering the world, European market, and then also about 20 in Asia right now based in China, as well as some activity in Australia. The bulk of our employees are in the United States, largely centered around the Boston area. That’s where the company grew up. We have a really robust training program. I think that that’s one of the biggest things that makes Ora different is that we really home grow our people, we have a special way of doing things. We’re focused just on ophthalmology, that’s all we do through and through, you can’t just like your firm is focused on just ophthalmology. When you are focused on one thing and you’re determined to be the best then that emerges and everything that we do from, you know, 100% of my brain space all the way down. You know, throughout all levels of the organization is all focused on how we can do a better job in supporting our clients in getting studies done, you know faster with higher quality with a higher likelihood of success so,
Rob Rothman: And so not again, not to give you any sort of, you know, look at this as informational but during the course of that time, you know, your process has resulted in how many drug approvals?
Stuart Abelson: Were, um, I think it’s 52 is what the current count is at. And it’s, it includes products for dry eye, for allergy, for glaucoma, it includes contact lenses, there’s exciting work going on in the diagnostic imaging area, the medical device business at Ora is roaring, whether it’s a surgical implants, or whether it’s new surgical systems, or whether it’s a new piece of diagnostic equipment, whether it’s specular microscope, or a, an OCT, or, you know, new micro perimetry, all of those needs software validation and testing. So we’re really doing a great job supporting those customers with, you know, everything from, you know, the IDs to European approvals. So that’s, um, but, you know, retina products, the, we’ve been involved in some of the most exciting, you know, and most impactful retina programs. So it’s really front of the eye, back of the eyes, we see everything in between the, across those 52 drug approvals, but those approvals are the success of our customers, we are here in service to them, right, we are a service organization, we are here to bring our global resources, our network, our knowledge, and our service mentality and can-do attitude to get these programs set up for success and done. And so when I look at these 52 approvals, those aren’t Ora approvals, those are successes of partnerships, where we’ve showed up to help these clients and make sure that we’re just giving all of our experience and knowledge know how capabilities to their programs, with just a level of passion, and pride of execution that, I think is very rare.
Rob Rothman: So I would agree. And I think that I think that one of the things that we should probably spend a few minutes talking about and you know, obviously, you know, Infocus interacts closely with it with Ora in lots of different ways. And, you know, the relationship is great there. But I think that there’s an aspect to your business that a lot of people probably don’t understand. Because I think that most people who deal with CROs that are not sort of vertically integrated in the way you are probably take their scientifically proven product drug, whatever it is to a CRO who then basically conducts their clinical trial. Right, I think that’s the version of CRO that people generally think of but you gently and again, and this I my limited knowledge is that there may be there are others out there like you but didn’t ophthalmology, at least now I’m familiar with, with what you do, is that you provide lots of other services to these organizations that are not typically found within a single company. And I think it’s worthwhile spending a few minutes on that, because I’m not just talking about preclinical and clinical work, and clinical trial design and planning. But it’s also the regulatory process. And I think more importantly, and I think what a lot of people who are listening to this podcast, we’ll find interesting is that you also are very integral in the financing aspect of what these companies do. And I think you should explain to people sort of how you do that, and what services you provide it with, with that in mind.
Stuart Abelson: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think there’s a phrase I love to pull from the movie, The Right Stuff, I’m a pilot, and I love that movie. But there’s a time when they’re trying to raise money to go to the moon, and they try to get the astronauts out there to raise some money, and you’re made the clear point, say no bucks, no, Buck Rogers. So none of this stuff happens, you know, you’re not going to the moon, you know, without the money. And that’s a very important thing in drug development, that if you can’t put together a cohesive plan, understand the steps, the risk factors, the timeline, the you know, size of the market, that you’re addressing the regulatory path, design the study so that you understand, you know, how long it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost. And being able to lay that out in a way together with the credibility of execution, then you’re not going to do a great job raising your money from investors to get behind that program. And so, first part of this is understanding having gone through it so many times, what are the steps, you know, and then be able to put that in a way using your the knowledge of other programs, our own experience, and also the current state of things, for example, like enrollment timelines right now in the COVID environment, you know, you have to plan for that and raise enough money so you understand how that dynamic could affect the enrollment in the study. There are also unique ways to your shortened timelines and improved likelihood of success, our Ora net, which is a global network of investigative sites, it spans China and Europe and all over the US and all the ophthalmology sub-specialties. You know, this is such a powerful and truly unique thing that I think goes under estimating. So when a lot of times you start a study, you have to go and find the sites and figure out what once you get to us, we have already signed up these sites, we already know the investigators we know who are high, who does high quality work and how many they enroll, they also have an ongoing relationship with Ora over many years. So they’re really showing up for the for those particular programs that we bring to them. And in many cases, these are exclusive sites to us, which means that the clients that work with aura get access to almost a private network of investigative sites that allow them to have their studies prioritized for enrollment. So all of that stuff moves towards reducing timelines, and costs. So when you bake all of this stuff in, now it comes time to go out and raise some money, we have a wonderful network of sources of capital, everything from your high net worth individuals, family offices of venture capital groups of various different sizes, you know, sometimes private equity, as well as a special sources of funds, get government agencies, granting organizations, as well as even larger pharmaceutical companies that might be interested in a creative code development project financing programs, but understanding how different types of capital come in over the different phases of development, and how you can, you know, pull in those different sources of capital in almost like creating a recipe so that you can really properly fund a program, you’re through its various phases of development, you know, understanding how to support the inventors. And it’s so often the scientists who have never raised money before you have an idea, an ophthalmologist, you come to us sooner or later, you maybe never had experience in drug development. So we’re teaching that but then it comes time to raise money. Well, they never raised money, how do you put together you know, a syndicate? How do you you’re working with the lawyers to put this together? It’s almost like an incubator type function. But that’s, it’s necessary, right. So that’s something that we do. And as you mentioned, we’ve brought a number of opportunities to Infocus Capital, and the ability for us to have trusted partnerships within the finance community also accelerates the diligence period. And I think that’s another real big differentiator, the breadth of the team at Ora, whether it’s regulatory, or CMC, the chemistry and manufacturing the product, whether it’s the clinical timelines, or the FDA approval process. All have this experience of what your safety, potential adverse events, all of that experience, comes to help put together a diligence package that is very comprehensive, and it’s one of these things we I think the comment was, we would have had to hire seven consultants in order to do that, put together the diligence package that Ora put together. And that’s because we have all that interior internal expertise, I mean, the people are fully employed, you know, add Ora, you know, in here, you’re in service to the, again, the investors and the entrepreneurs. But yes, it’s a great point that the, you know, you’re being able to actually get the trials and the programs funded is a really important part of moving those programs forward.
Rob Rothman: Yeah. So if you think, you know, I, and again, I, the experience that we’ve had, you know, with entrepreneurs and companies that have worked with you, has always been, you know, Ora does everything right, that you guys basically will take, and don’t get me wrong, there are CEOs of different skill levels, and every, every stage of development of a novel company, and some of them have a skill set, like you said, they can identify the product and figure out how to do the science and, and get enough data to make sure that they want to move forward, but they have no idea how to raise money, they have no idea what the FDA requires it really, and what we’ve heard, at least internally, it’s the feedback is that they can go to you and you basically help them navigate this entire process. And that the ability to do all of that and say this is you know, this is we’ll help you with this, we’ll help you plan the trial. There’s a regulatory stuff, you’ve set up meetings, you’re at the FDA every week, you know, I would imagine and, you know, dealing with all that sort of a comfort, you know, for people who have no idea there’s this frightened look, when we meet with some of these early companies like I don’t know where to go, or what to do, because there are so many things that are required, and having access to a single location in which to do that, I think is unique. And I think it’s that mentality that has led us to work with you in a lot of opportunities because that’s what we do from the investment side, right. We put everything together in one group so that we can understand all of this from the investment side, you’ve done everything on the clinical side. And it’s I think, differentiated in the space.
Stuart Abelson: Well, thanks for that. I think that our orientation is very simple, right? We are here in service to the innovators. And what we do is something my Dad calls research on research. And that is a simple way of saying that we innovate research, we develop new research methods, models and processes, so that we can show up in the most efficient way. So when you’re coming to select an endpoint, which endpoint is it, maybe you could develop maybe there’s a model, maybe there’s a new piece of there’s a new scale that needs to be developed, maybe there’s a new statistical technique, right? Those are things that will develop so that you don’t have to guess about how do you study a product, right, the idea of the product itself is a very important part of the equation, but then how you study it, how you design those studies, how you execute those studies, that is very, very important as well, and in many cases can be the difference between you’re getting the product approved or not, I think the t concept of service is something that’s become very important to us, right? We are just, we put that the entrepreneur and the inventors, whether it’s a single physician, or whether it’s an R&D team at a company, and we put them at the center, we say, how do we make their life easier? You know, what, what information do they need? How can we de-risk the program? How can we, you know, set that program for success or shorten its timeline? So that’s really the service mentality that we bring, and our values, right, we’ve I’ve actually been really digging in deep now. On your what Ora’s his values is, we’re looking here, right, we were in the middle of a COVID world where, you know, people are isolated. I mean, we’ve grown a lot about half of the company at Ora, we have never met each other because the company has grown a lot in this past year, we’ve had so many people come to us when trials stopped and said, How can you keep this going? I mean, we’ve been like the go to rescue shop for trials of people who couldn’t get it done elsewhere. And it’s been an amazing year, you talk about these businesses that do really well in COVID. And those that don’t, right, or has experienced unprecedented growth during this time, because people are seeking the relationships that we have with the sites, and our can-do attitude and creativity, to be able to get things done in this crazy environment. But as a leader of this, it’s challenging because these people are zooming from home with their kids, they got, you know, kids at home school and spouses that are zooming in the other room. And so we’ve been going to work really hard on trying to calm things down, listen, get focused, work on yourself, right? Don’t send emails at all crazy hours at night, get your sleep, we’ve been working on your diet and exercise programs and mindfulness programs. Because at the end of the day, if we’re, our job is to feel the team that know that has the knowledge. But they also have to show up as compassionate forward thinking problem solving individuals, humans, and they also have to work well with their teammates. So if you look at the magic of a team, like a sports team, it’s not about the superstar athlete, that’s the know-it-all or it or does all the big plays. It’s about how those teams work together. So there’s a magic to Ora that’s emergent from our focus on the individual. They sort of human centric of it. And I feel like we take care of our people and our people are going to take care of your customers and their programs.
Rob Rothman: I know you have some new people who have joined during COVID. And some really sort of key hires for you that I think are really great. Who are those people? And what will their roles be?
Stuart Abelson: Yeah, so we created a new position called Chief Development Officer. There is a press release that went out a couple days ago. So I can talk about Dr. David Bingaman. David is a veterinary ophthalmologist with a PhD in angiogenesis. He was at Alcon, before he went to go work with Paul Cheney and Marty Wax at PanOptica, where he ran global retina programs for their product for a number of years, was interesting, we didn’t do a lot of work over that period of time with PanOptica because David was doing such a great job. And then he went on to another European firm Oculus and David joined us about four weeks ago and is overseeing all of our therapeutic areas. So we have we’re organized by therapeutic sub specialty, so dry eye, allergy, anti-infective retina glaucoma devices, and then our preclinical activity which actually reports up into a gentleman by the name of Hal Patterson you know, Hal ‘s incredible resource and has saved many, many programs from the CMC perspective, but regulatory and CMC and preclinical, the Early Stage reports up into how who’s going up into David Bingaman. So we’re really excited to have David come, he brings just a wealth of knowledge. He also brings just the character and leadership that you want in a senior executive at the company. And so he’s going to be helping to take a lot of the resources at Ora and continuing to project those onto a global stage working with our European operations at you know, as well as China. One brief comment, you know, we have a very unique structure, which I learned at Amphenol, when I was in the electronics industry, about vertical integration within these regions. So when you look at Europe, for us, for example, you know, we have a fully vertically integrated organization there, your the leadership, business development, quality, project management, site development, clinical operations, safety, regulatory, all of that is contained within Europe reporting up into Europe, not part of these, your matrix global organizations were often there’s poor accountability, we’re doing the same thing in China. And what that means is that you’ve got the best of local, but then a collaborative senior leadership team that knits that together, for delivering Global Studies. And that’s something that, you know, is becoming more and more of a, an opportunity for us, we were fortunate that some of the largest, you know, most innovative companies in the space are coming to us for our ideas, product ideas, as well as clinical execution. So this is a tried and true operating model and another industry. But I think it’s something that I think lends itself very naturally to doing a great job in this detail oriented business. But it all comes down to selecting the right people. And at the end of the day, it’s really about the talent. You know, we have this some vision statement now at Ora, which says creating vision beyond what we see. Right? This is creating vision beyond what we see that means that we have got to look beyond what we’re doing right now. And even what’s on the immediate horizon to something that’s much bigger. And, you know, that, you know, potentially even goes beyond just the work that we’re doing in ophthalmology, because we use our business as a force for good. I just hired an employee who is in Zambia. She had no job was selling trinkets on the street to speeder five kids. And I met her on a trip when I was over there on a safari. And I now have her train with a laptop and supporting the back office for our UK operation. We transform that woman’s life. Right so when we say vision beyond what we see we do things that are good for business. We do things that are good for ophthalmology, for customers for ourselves, but like when you make these kind of choices, you can do a lot of good in the world. And that’s something that was really really important to us as a family business.
Rob Rothman: Thanks again. Stuart Abelson President, Chairman and CEO of Ora and thank you to the OIS community looking forward to future podcast with you.
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