“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” is a maxim you’re probably familiar with. Spoken by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain, it refers to the brave few of the Royal Air Force (RAF) who took on Nazi Germany’s vast Luftwaffe and won. The same Churchillian spirit has become evident during the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of deaths have occurred, disruption abounds, and economic damage has been heavy. Yet, despite it all, the world persists and ophthalmology will continue stoically despite the considerable disturbance. Webinars will continue to be the new normal replacing their real world equivalents, like the Ophthalmology Innovation Source (OIS) European Showcase, held on Wednesday, September 23.
The timing of the webinar was indeed Churchillian, as the date coincided with the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This was alluded to by the CEO of the ophthalmological equipment manufacturer Rayner (Worthing, U.K.), Tim Clover, at the start of the webinar. Mr. Clover revealed how one of Rayner’s main inventions was made possible thanks to RAF pilots who had cockpit shards lodged in their eyes to no noticeable or detrimental effect.
This spurred on the company to help develop artificial lenses made from Spitfire cockpits, representing “one of the world’s first cataract surgeries.” According to Mr. Clover this innovation remains at the core of Rayner’s business, and enables the company to make difficult decisions.
“Innovation is at the heart of success in ophthalmology. We took the difficult decision to sell our optician lab business and used the money we made to invest in a manufacturing and R&D center,” Mr. Clover said.
Mr. Clover went on to say that he is optimistic about the future of the ophthalmology industry, but that there will be fewer, larger companies. He believes Rayner can play a role as a consolidator, as smaller companies will struggle in what he called a harsher regulatory environment.
Highlighting Molecules and Showcasing Lenses
The webinar subsequently moved on to a section where several representatives of ophthalmological companies presented their credentials and products. Oxurion CEO Dr. Patrik De Haes kicked off proceedings with a presentation on his company’s work to treat diabetic macular edema (DME). This includes the Plasma Kallikrein Inhibitor THR-149 and the Pan-RGD Integrin Antagonist THR-687 molecules. They are intended as a supplement or alternative to anti-VEGF treatment, which according to Dr. De Haes, in some cases, fail to meet the needs of a number of DME patients.
Dr. De Haes says that THR-149 could hold the potential to target independent VEGF pathways, and that THR-687 could replace anti-VEGF treatment entirely. Both will undergo further research, and Oxurion (Leuven, Belgium) is targeting a marketing opportunity worth $4.5 billion per annum. Phase two study results are expected in 2021.
Up next was Dr. Pablo Artal, the CEO and co-founder of Voptica (Murcia, Spain), a Spanish visual optics company. Describing itself as a pioneer in the field of personalized visual testing and correction, Dr. Artal was keen to point out his company’s strong portfolio and track record of public and private funding actions, which have raised €3.3 million.
Dr. Artal showcased his company’s ArtIOL, which are intraocular meniscus lenses designed to provide optimized field curvature. The doctor reports that over 400 have already been successfully implanted in Spain with good clinical results. Dr. Artal is seeking to raise €3 million in equity funding to continue product development, set up international commercialization and conduct clinical trials with FDA and CFDA approval.
Oculis (Lausanne, Switzerland) also presented its work on topical technologies, in particular with reference to retina treatment. The company’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcia De Souza said that many tropical treatments find it difficult to counter ocular barriers to treat the retina. She reported that the company’s solubilizing nanoparticle (SNP) is able to counteract this issue.
“SNP increases drug solubility by up to one hundred-fold and in some drugs it increases resonance time from a few minutes to several hours. This saturates the tear film with the drug,” Dr. De Souza said.
Europe: The Home of Ophthalmic Innovation
Toward the end of the OIS presentations, Michael Brownell of Keranova (Saint Etienne, France) explored one of our favorite subjects at the moment: robotics. His company uses robotics to perform laser cataract surgery, and the presentation included some excellent surgical footage. Keranova cooperated with Dr. Pavel Stodulka in the Czech Republic to carry out studies using robotic equipment.
Mr. Brownell reported 27 cataract surgeries were carried out by Dr. Stodulka. Of these, 21 had cataracts of grade 3 and above. Research remains ongoing and Mr. Brownell was keen to emphasize how this will optimize surgical workflow and efficiency.
The final part of the webinar was given over to discussion on the future of ophthalmic innovation in Europe. The participants represented a number of European ophthalmologic companies including Fabrizio Chines of SIFI SpA (Catania, Italy) and Jean-Federic Chilbert of Thea (Clermont-Ferrand, France). A number of key issues were discussed, including the difficulty that American and other intentional ophthalmic companies may face when seeking to enter the European market, and how developments in both the pharmaceutical and surgical fields will help to build up and develop ophthalmology more broadly.