OIS Co-Chair Bill Link of Versant Ventures sits down with OISTV to recap the first OIS@ASRS. In the conversation he explains why the retina is such a promising area, and how OIS can help bring innovative forces to bear on some dreadful diseases. He also shares a few insights on his new role as chairman of AcuFocus.
00:25 – Why OIS is such a nice fit in the Retina.
00:45 – “Teaming up with [ASRS] makes a lot of sense.”
01:24 – What Bill enjoys about specialty-focused meetings.
01:44 – Why therapeutics and diagnostics are bound together so tightly.
02:19 – Does Bill seem himself primarily as a Device Guy or an Eye Guy?
03:37 – Does Drug Delivery warrant more attention?
04:10 – What are Bill’s plans at AcuFocus?
05:06 – “We’re just doing a financing now.”
06:16 – Look into the future. What recent successes will we be celebrating in OIS 2018?
William J. Link, PhD
Bill was Founder, Chairman and CEO of Chiron Vision, sold in 1997. Bill founded and served as President of American Medical Optics (AMO), sold in 1986. Bill served on the Board of AMO’s successor company, Advanced Medical Optics (acquired by Abbott in 2009).
Tom Salemi: Hi, this is Tom Salemi from OIS TV. We’re here at OIS@ASRS with one of our OIS co-chairs, Bill Link. Bill, thanks for joining us.
Bill Link: Oh, you bet. My pleasure.
TS: So this was given birth to a new OIS. Congratulations, Daddy.
BL: Yeah, thank you, thank you. Yeah, one more OIS adventure. As often it is, it was Emmett’s idea and I think it’s a really good idea. We love the retina. Tough diseases affect so many people. And so in order to innovate, you have to rally a lot of resources and the ASRS is a progressive, professional organization, and so I think teaming up with them makes a lot of sense.
TS: It seemed like a natural fit, especially as I’ve talked to folks. There’s definitely an appetite for innovation, and I think they appreciated getting the attention that an OIS can bring. And it also introduced some new topics of conversation. I think we probably covered them in past events, but it was interesting to sort of get into the challenge of paying for these therapies and sort of where that fits into innovation. And the look at imaging as well. Those were two sort of maybe a bit different than what we’ve seen at other OIS’s.
BL: Absolutely. And what I like about doing these specialty meetings is we can go deeper. We don’t have to go so quickly from topic to topic. And so taking the retina broadly, and then really looking at the various aspects of honestly taking on the tough retinal diseases. And the interaction, interdependency between therapeutic innovation and diagnostic innovation is tight in this sector. So with this wave of OCT, angiography, and now more recently intraoperative OCT playing a key role in guiding the surgeons, the retinal specialists, and hopefully we’ll get better and better in preselecting and identifying patients that’ll be responsive to various therapies.
TS: And you’re – I’d say you’re an eye guy first, and then a device guy second. Is that the right order?
BL: Well, kind of. You know, yeah, I’m an eye guy. And I came from the device sector, rusty engineer. And so I see my world through kind of an engineering focus. But what I’ve loved about what’s happening and the kind of progress we’re making in other areas of healthcare and ophthalmology, but specifically in the retina is teaming up advanced device technologies and proven drugs. And so that’s called drug delivery. And so that’s where if you have a foot in both camps, an expertise in both areas, and if you’re open minded enough, you can start to combine those technologies.
TS: And that’s another theme that was hit upon today in drug delivery. And actually just talked to Fred Guerard at Novartis Ophthalmology, and how they have separated, you’re right, the drugs from the devices, but they’re still, as he said, the drug delivery efforts are still going forward because they’re so necessary. Is this – do you look at drug delivery more than you had in the past? And it seemed like this is an area that really warrants more attention going forward.
BL: Absolutely. And probably 10 years ago-ish, at Versant and I personally, we began to focus – no pun intended – on drug delivery as a way to improve performance, lengthen durability of therapies and so forth. And we’ve done a half a dozen meaningful investments in projects that really team up drug delivery with active agents.
TS: And just finally, you’ve got a new job title on your resume. You’re with AcuFocus now. What are your plans with the company? They’ve had a great year. They rolled out Kamra and they’re making some great progress. What’s next for –
BL: Well, yeah, with AcuFocus, Jim Mazzo was CEO for us there for several years, and really helped kick it up a notch relative to the team and the operational skills and expertise and so forth. Jim has transitioned on to a wonderful company and a wonderful role at Zeiss. The board and others asked me in that transition if I would get a bit more involved, so I said of course. I care deeply about AcuFocus, so I’ve become the Chairman of the Board. And that’ll be a little bit more of an active chair position than sometimes it is, and we’re just doing a financing now, so it always makes me nervous until the money’s in the bank. But thankfully, the team is talented and we have two amazing, solid projects. One is the Kamra Inlay, which was approved a bit over a year ago in the US, and we’re scaling the revenue thoughtfully and carefully, but successfully. And we have the intraocular lens that uses the same optical small diameter concept to deliver an increased depth of focus, and it’s working. And so we’re going to be carefully commercializing OUS, and then start the regulatory work to bring it to the US market. So we have 2 drivers of value at AcuFocus, based on the same elegant optical principle of having a passive, not an active optical approach, which increases depth of focus and delivers near, intermediate and distance vision to patients.
TS: Terrific. And just final question: looking ahead over the next few years – I’ve asked everyone this question. What would you like to see happen? What successes are we going to be talking about at OIS 2018? What milestones do you anticipate us celebrating over that time?
BL: Broadly, you’re talking?
TS: Broadly, yeah.
BL: You know, it’s hard for me to limit my thinking here because if I look across each of the sectors of ophthalmology, whether it’s the cornea and dry eye, just think about how much progress we’re making, and how many relevant innovative projects are being focused on improving and addressing dry eye. That’s an anterior segment disease and complexity. And I think that will continue to see immense progress there. You look at the anterior segment, intraocular. You continue – AcuFocus is an example. Other examples, we’re continuing to try to honestly improve outcomes related to surgery, specifically cataract surgery or refractive surgery. Glaucoma. What about MIGS? You know, traction. Patients are benefitting, docs are benefitting, and hence the companies are doing just fine there. You move to back of the eye. We just talked about the retina. So I’m pretty excited that there’s broad and balanced projects that will deliver really nice progress in each of those sectors.
TS: Great. We’ll be talking about those at upcoming OIS’s.
TS: Thanks for the time.