OIS Founder & Co-Chair Emmett Cunningham Jr. Tells Us What to Watch for Next Week in Chicago

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Emmett T. Cunningham Jr., MD, PhD, MPH, partner at Clarus, runs through the revamped agenda of OIS@AAO. Go to OIS.net to view the agenda and to register.

Podcast Guest:


Emmett T. Cunningham Jr., MD, PhD, MPH

Dr. Cunningham, currently a Partner, joined Clarus in 2006 with more than 20 years of experience in the biomedical and biopharmaceutical sectors.

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Podcast Transcript
Tom Salemi: Welcome back to the OIS Podcast, everybody. This is Tom Salemi. Happy to have you here, and hope we will see you next week in Chicago. OIS@AAO is upon us. It’s happening on October 13th at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. So it’s been a very busy couple of months and an extremely busy couple of weeks as the OIS team gets things together. And it’s going to be a fantastic event. We hope you will already be there or are planning to be there, or have registered to be there. But if you haven’t, you can still go to OIS.net, of course, and register for the event. Registration on site or check in on site will happen at 7:00 in the morning, and then at 7:30 we’ll start up our now very popular breakfast breakout sessions. So I hope you will be able to attend one of those as well. To give you a rundown of the rest of the day, I spoke with Emmett Cunningham of Clarus Ventures, and of course founder and co-chair of OIS. Emmett is the quarterback for this event, and has taken the lead in formulating the agenda for our new ASRS event too, that happened in August in San Francisco. So it’s been an extremely busy couple of months for him as well. So I talked to Emmett about the process of putting these agendas together, and then we went through the entire day. So you can get Emmett’s point of view on why these components were put together to make what I think will be a fantastic day in Chicago. So I hope you enjoy this conversation with Emmett Cunningham, founder and co-chair of OIS.

TS: Well, Emmett Cunningham, welcome back to the Podcast.

Emmett Cunningham: Happy to be here. Looking forward to another successful OIS.

TS: You’ve had an incredibly busy summer with ASRS, and now AAO. Does it ever get easier putting these things together and sort of leading the assembly of these agendas? Or is each one its own set of challenges and successes?

EC: Each is a tremendous amount of work. A labor of love, if you will, but still, still a huge amount of work. We do have a formula which seems to resonate, seems to have been a success, and we go back to that. You’ll see as we walk through the agenda for the upcoming meeting. But we also try to keep it fresh, so yes, it’s a lot of work.

TS: Yeah, and we’ve got some fresh angles. We’ll get into that. We’ll just run through the agenda and hit upon – go through the day. So we’re starting off again this time – I think this might be the second year or the third conference with the breakfast breakout sessions. Those have been standing room only, really popular. What was the thinking behind putting those together and starting the day off with kind of these tight, intimate conversations?

EC: Well, it definitely was not that we need more time together because the day is full as it is already. But we always thought that we wanted to have more thought leaders involved. And initially, we wanted also to have more people from Wall Street, the analysts involved, along with BD people. So the initial vision, if you will, was to have a small-ish breakout session, maybe 50 to 100 people in each of 3 or 4 or 5 thematically related topics. And then in each of these groups, there would be a discussion led by a thought leader or two, a BD, business development person or two, and maybe an analyst or two. And it could from time to time be a company executive as well, but I think we wanted to, to the extent possible, avoid some company specific biases in these sort of open discussions. And so we introduced that at OIS last year, and they were all full. Every one of them was full to capacity of the room. People seemed to really like them, and so we’re bringing them back. The topics for this year are dry eye, which is very relevant with the approval lifitegrast; MIGS, a sector I think that’s about ready to explode if it hasn’t already. It’s going to be a massive market. Refractive correction, gene and stem cell therapies, and then a discussion with the FDA again.

TS: It’s always an important conversation, the breakfast with the FDA. And then we’re getting into the company presentations. I like how we always start OIS’s with the presentations. But we did something a little different, or you did something a little different this time around: grouping the companies by anterior and posterior. What was the thought behind that?

EC: I’d like to say it was inspired and we have a strong motivation, but at the end of the day, we like to separate them. We have historically done device versus drug. But it doesn’t always fit comfortably into a relatively even sort of time frame for each showcase. And so this year we went to anterior versus posterior because it fit well. Each was about the same amount of time. And we’ll see how that flows. I think it’ll be fine. And I look forward to feedback from people as they see it. But I think it’ll be fine. It’ll be different.

TS: I think the attendees will appreciate the chance to run out and take a phone call if they need, if it’s not their section of the eye. And we’ve got over a dozen of each company. So it’s a real robust offering.

EC: Or just stay and learn because that’s, as you know, you’ve been involved for this for a very long time now, Tom. One of our goals is to keep this to a one-day meeting and not separate to, say, device versus drug just for that reason, that we want people to be exposed to everything. And we think by keeping the presentations to 7 minutes that that makes it tolerable, even if you happen not to be interested in drugs for dry eye.

TS: That’s right. Don’t listen to Tom; he’s the substitute teacher. Listen to Emmett. Stand there and learn. John Norris from SVB will be giving his presentation, which is always great. And then we’re going to give a tribute, and interesting one this year, to Allergan, which has really been making a lot of news lately. Not a lot of explaining has to go into why they’re being honored, but what are you looking forward to about this presentation?

EC: Let me, if I might, let me just say a word about John before we step to Allergan.

TS: Absolutely.

EC: Because John has been a longtime supporter of the meeting, he and Silicon Valley Bank. And he does yeoman’s work at all of these conferences, essentially. He comes in and summarize what the private markets, the private companies and the financings and exits have been doing since then. And I think that’s a very important presentation because it sets the stage for so many of the companies that will have just presented, and tells them where their next financing or their exit opportunity might be. So John’s going to do that. And as you know, he’s been a long term friend of OIS. So this year for the tribute, we’ve decided to honor Allergan. And specifically we’re going to honor – we’re going to be speaking with Gavin Herbert, who is the son of the founder of Allergan. As you know, it was founded in 1948, now almost 70 years ago. And he has had a very, very long history with that company. And David Payet who ran it for many, many years. We were hoping to have Brent Saunders there as well to have the triumvirate, but he was unable to attend, unfortunately. But we will have Gavin and we will have David, and Bill Link I’m sure will lead a very energized discussion about the role of Allergan historically in the industry, which has been massive. So that’s going to be our tribute over lunch, and I’m looking forward to that.

TS: Yeah, same here. And Allergan has been only one of the real busy players in this space. We’ve seen movement in Shire, creation of their franchise, Sun Pharmaceuticals, the J&J Vision Care deal with- acquisition of AMO is interesting, and Bausch and Lomb and Zeiss, Zeiss bringing aboard Jim Mazzo. It’s a lot of different changes. And you built, I think, which is probably going to be maybe the high – I think one of the high points of the day, a panel called Building a Global Ophthalmic Franchise. And you’re actually moderating this one, and that should be interesting. What sort of lessons do you think we’ll be taking away from this discussion?

EC: Well, we will see what people say. It’s always a bit challenging with the most senior level people at companies to get them to articulate strategies that they like to keep private within the company, or that they, for whatever reason, are not at liberty to discuss openly. So we will see what they say. But what I hope we can touch on at a minimum is sort of a snapshot of what their company is, what their company is interested in, how they view innovation. Is it going to be primarily home grown, or are they really open to licensing and partnerships? And if so, how do they see that working? And maybe more to some of the future of the industry is what are the XUS companies looking to do in the US, and what are the US and European companies looking to do outside of those regions? Not just from a sales and revenue perspective, but more importantly from an innovation perspective. Will there be real innovation in China and India, for example? Will companies from those countries drive innovation here and in Europe? That’s what I really want to get to.

TS: That sounds great. And following that, we’ll get a broader look of the industry from David Park of AAO and what are you expecting from that discussion?

EC: You know, we’ve had now for several years these 2 bulleted presentations, one from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and one from the National Institute, which – they are very important to me. I want those 2 platforms, those 2 organizations always to have a voice at our meeting because I think they’re central to ophthalmic innovation. And I never know what they’re going to say. I often give suggestions or requests and it winds up that they present something entirely different. Equally interesting, but a different perspective. And that’s why I want them to present, because they have perspectives that are different and complimentary and very, very important for our industry. So I don’t know what they’re going to say, but they’ve given great presentations in the past, so I look forward to it.

TS: Same here. And in following up, we’ll have Joe Gilliam from JP Morgan, and sort of it’s a nice compliment to what John Norris will be doing in the morning. They’ll look at the public markets.

EC: You know, the rest of the afternoon kind of rolls into a series of public company presentations. So Joe will set the stage with where the public markets are, what are valuations looking like, when can companies go public, how do they get follow on financings, etc. And from that into a showcase panel for what are really micro and midcap companies within our sectors. There’s a growing number of those now. As part of that, we’re going to introduce something special that I don’t want to get into now, but you’ll see it if and when you come to the meeting. It’ll be a special treat that OIS is going to be introducing to us before that showcase, and that we think will serve the community again to help promote innovation.

TS: Hey, everybody, this is Tom. I want to take a quick break from this conversation with Emmett to introduce our Companies to Watch program. If you go to our website, OIS.net, click on Get Involved, and click on the Companies to Watch link, you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s a great opportunity for you as an entrepreneur and executive of a startup to get your word out to the OIS community in a digital sense, in a video sense. You’ll attend OIS on site, we’ll have a studio setup in the hotel, and you’ll record a presentation that then we’ll distribute via our many channels, our Eye on Innovation Newsletter, our social media channels, and many other ways. So it’s a great way, again, to get the word out about your program. So go to OIS.net, find Companies to Watch. Again, go to Get Involved, and if you click on Get Involved, you’ll find the Companies to Watch link. You can also just email my colleague, Maureen Linneman. She’s at maureen@healthegy.com. And Healthegy is spelled the world health followed by the letters EGY. Healthegy is the producer of OIS and many other conferences, and now is offering the Companies to Watch opportunity for startup executives. Now back to this conversation with Emmett Cunningham.

TS: And then Gil will be leading an interesting panel. It’s a new one, I think, too, the Innovative Financing Options in Ophthalmology. What was the intent of that panel, and how do you see that discussion going?

EC: You know, Tom, this is a panel that we’ve had under different names at different meetings in the past. We have talked about how to finance companies in ophthalmology, whether it was public financing or the public markets being opened to primary or secondary offerings, etc. But we thought that we would put a financing panel at this point in the afternoon, A, because it’s generally interesting, and B, because some of these public companies are going to need to find additional moneys. Not all, but some. It’s said that every company is, to some extent, always fund raising. But if you look through that panel on the agenda, you’ll see that it’s a very interesting mix of people and participants. We have the Foundation Fighting Blindness, for example, which is interested to promote drug development in this space. We have some private company financers; we have some large strategics represented. And I think you’ll see some very interesting approaches to raising money and advancing these companies projects. So it is public as well to some extent, but it will also touch on private companies. And then we got into our Masters of Industry, or what we’ve called Masters of the Universe at the end, with senior most leaders of the large cap companies. So it’s really become sort of a public company dominated afternoon session, which I think is entirely appropriate, and it highlights the interplay that we’ve always wanted to highlight between investors, whether they’re private or public, the private companies transitioning hopefully to these mid and micro-cap public companies, and then learning to either live with or be acquired by the large cap companies. And related to that, because that has taken up an increasing part of OIS proper, the main AAO version, we’ve had to have these other meetings: ASCRS and now ASRS because we just can’t get enough into the single day that is directly relevant to many of the important topics in, say, anterior segment or devices or retina.

TS: These are definitely exciting times. I’m really looking forward to this particular meeting. And it wraps up at 5:10, which is still plenty of time to enjoy some cocktails with folks at the conference, and then head off to a dinner after that. So it should be a great day.

EC: Yes, come, come and enjoy. We’re looking forward to it.

TS: All right, well, thanks for giving us the rundown of the agenda, Emmett, and look forward to seeing you next week in Chicago.

EC: Thank you, Tom.

TS: All right, well, that is a wrap. Thanks, Emmett, for the lowdown on OIS@AAO. Again, it’s coming up on October 13 and the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Definitely hope you will be there. I will be there recording interviews for OIS-TV and hope to take in a few of the sessions as well. It’s just a fantastic opportunity for me, as someone who covers this sector, and I’m sure for anyone who has committed their lives and careers to this sector, to touch base and to get a sense of where innovation in ophthalmology is headed. So I definitely hope you’ll be there. Go to OIS.net to register if you haven’t done so already. And we will see you in Chicago.