Robert Dempsey the New CEO of TearClear

Robert Dempsey the New CEO of TearClear

Episode 227


In this week’s OIS Podcast, Dr. Ehsan Sadri speaks with Bob Dempsey who just assumed the CEO role for TearClear. Let’s hear how Bob’s experience taking Xiidra (Zy-dra) to market for Shire led him to the driver’s seat for one of the most promising new drug-delivery companies.

Interviewer:
Ehsan Sadri, MD
Managing Partner
Visionary MD Eye Laser institute

Interviewee:
Robert (Bob) Dempsey
CEO
TearClear

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OIS Podcast Transcript:

OIS Podcast VOG:
In this week’s OIS podcast Dr. Ehsan Sadri speaks with Bob Dempsey, who just assumed the CEO role for tear clear. Let’s hear how Bob’s experience taking Xiidra to market for Shire led him to the driver’s seat for one of the most promising new drug delivery companies.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
This is Dr Ehsan Sadri. I’m really excited for this week’s guest, which just assumed the CEO role of TearClear, Mr. Bob Dempsey. Bob, we’re super excited to have you on OIS Podcast today.

Bob Dempsey:
Well, greetings from Boston and thanks again for this opportunity, to our friends at OIS, to provide an update. Very excited about what we will be talking about next.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
Tell us a little bit for folks – there’s like one or two ophthalmologists out of the 20,000 – that don’t know you. Give us a little background information and really, how did you become aware of TearClear in general? How did that kind of play about?

Bob Dempsey:
Yes, so I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had the majority my career in the ophthalmic industry, starting off with Allergan and the progressing through to Inspire, a great stint at Bausch + Lomb and then, obviously you know, really had an opportunity to make a big splash at Shire and ultimately, we divested the franchise to Novartis in 2019 for close to $5 billion. So that was really a tremendous accomplishment for the team and I. I was fortunate that I was that OIS, at Academy and sitting in the audience like we all are very attentive to the presentations and then Dr. Vance Thompson was up there. He was presenting, on TearClear and I’m sitting in the audience and I’m like, wait a minute, wait a minute. You know, I was putting myself in the seat of a strategic and as a franchise head and what this information meant. I was really, really excited and could imagine the practical application of this technology. So, fast forward a couple of months and to have received the call from the team about a potential board position and the CEO opportunity. When I started to do my due diligence and learned a lot more about the company, obviously had a great tease from Dr Thompson, but then really had the opportunity to lean in and got very excited about the opportunity. And, you know, from a strategic perspective, we would look at that information very logical. So, the first thing we would do is IP, second thing we would do would be the technology, third would be the development pathway and the fourth would be the large unmet need. So, I took that approach when I did my own diligence and each one of those verticals, I would check the box and I’m like, okay, now is the time to really lean in and learn more about the company and explore this fully. So that’s what I did. And obviously, you know, fast forward to today in which we’re announcing my appointment as CEO is very exciting and really looking forward to taking the company to the to the next level.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
That’s wonderful. You know, I’m personally very excited because I know the TearClear gang very well for the last few years. They are just ready to go. I think that, as you know, you were saying earlier glaucoma such an unmet need and there’s so much co-morbidity with this issue with BAK usage of all these chronic illnesses. Glaucoma is just a wonderful entree. Tell me, what do you think about that Glaucoma portfolio because I know you were in Dry Eye and I’d love to get your perspective of Shire, how you launched that and how you are going to use that platform to help our glaucoma patients with the glaucoma program.

Bob Dempsey:
Well, first of all, to be part of an emerging ophthalmology development company is extremely, extremely exciting. But I look at this as we have the opportunity to disrupt the way current medications are delivered to the ocular surface. So, you know, when you think about the practical application, this is not just about one drug. Now we have multiple programs and development of which are lead opportunities will be in glaucoma. But the good news doesn’t stop there. This is about doing something that’s never been done before, capturing preservatives before they reach the ocular surface, and I can envision numerous applications across the entire ophthalmology industry. So, the thing that got me really excited when I was doing my diligence is the versatility of our approach beyond glaucoma. And when I think of beyond glaucoma, I think of anti-inflammatory conditions such as dry eye disease. We know that there’s potential opportunities there as well because we know and there’s a lot of literature about the detrimental effects of BAK and the ocular surface. It leads to signs and symptoms of dry eye disease. So, to be able to capture the preservatives before they reach the ocular surface and again the versatile application, it’s a no brainer. So again, we’re very excited to move our programs along. We have a robust pipeline of both glaucoma, anti-inflammatory and other applications, and was a very nice attribute of this is it’s not just the US. I mean, having started my career in the US and then you know when I became the global head of ophthalmology at Shire, I really was able to lean in on other territories across the globe. I can see where obviously our first footing will be in the US but the practical application of this technology on a global scale is something we really need to build out.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
That’s a really good overview. For those of you who are familiar with dry eye, as you know, it’s about 30% of our patients who have glaucoma are on chronic treatment, suffer from dry eyes and it’s an extremely prevalent problem that not only affects compliance for these patients that use glaucoma medications but to visual acuity. So I’m excited about that, and it’s really a huge unmet need. I mean, we’re talking BAK and across the platforms and so what I personally would love to see is those patients getting good care and this delivers that. So, tell me a little bit more about that. I know you talked about your team at the beginning, but I want to really learn about this now. You’ve been given this portfolio company and you have a team. What is the next few steps? Like, if I’m like a new CEO or a CEO that’s kind of budding and really interested in taking over what are some, you know, tell us that what would Phil Jackson, Bob Dempsey do in this scenario? What’s your game plan? What are the next few steps?

Bob Dempsey:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So immediately I’m looking at three pillars, three verticals. The first is going to be the technical expertise. So, we need to continue our development from a technical perspective, continue to validate the technology and continue the process of scaling up our production. So, check that box. Next, we get into the clinical development programs, and I want to emphasize that’s plural. We’re going to have multiple programs in development, first in glaucoma. But, what’s exciting about that is as I’m joining as I’m leaning in, we’re preparing our clinical development programs. We’re reaching out to CROs. We’re going to be in clinical development in the US in registration trials in 2021. And when you look at the horizon when you’re in clinical development programs now, you need to bridge into the commercial up opportunity as well. So, in summary, maintain our technical expertise, then build out our clinical development program. Then in parallel to designing our clinical studies, our clinical registration studies which will ultimately lead to FDA approval, you now build out the commercial infrastructure. Obviously, it’s the same play book that we did at Shire, going back to 2013, 2014 of how we planned every phase of our launch into the ophthalmic space. And that’s what really is getting me excited as I’ve started to lean in and learn more about the back office at TearClear. We have all the foundation ready to roll. Now we need to elevate. We need to amplify. And we need to now really approach the ophthalmic industry. And I think that’s something I take a lot of pride in, especially what I’ve done in the past. And, you know, you look at the ecosystem, you look at ophthalmology, you look at optometry, you look at the VCs, you look at the strategics, you look at the academic affiliations, you look at all the media related, and all of that will come together. I’m happy to be driving that innovation for TearClear as we approach, you know, the next stage of growth for the organization.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
You know, for those of you who are listening to this, he’s throwing out a lot of gold nuggets here because, you know, what that playbook will give you – and I’ve been sort of seeing a lot of start-up companies – it’s amazing how getting the recipe down in sequential order would lead to success versus failure. I mean, just that way you just described people should write notes on because there’s a lot of teams and, you know, they’re wonderful, they have great technology but maybe they brought the commercial team in a little too early. They had a hi burn rate, you know, and things didn’t work out. You know, if the trials don’t give you the end point, then you know, you need to sort of save your dough, as they say, save your money for future trials. And so tell us a little about that. I know you guys went through a series B round recently. What does that concretely enable you to do as CEO of TearClear.

Bob Dempsey:
It allows us to really, when you look at the use of funds, which is a critical component of the series B raised, it really again allows us to continue our technology development. It allows us to plan and execute a clinical drug development programs and start the build out of a commercialization plan. All of these are, to me the hallmarks of our entrance into the ophthalmologist space. And I want to build upon the launch playbook that have done in the past. One thing I’ve definitely learned through my experiences, the choices that you make and the investments that you make are critical because, like all businesses, we have a finite amount of resources and we have to be very selective and very intelligent about how we allocate these resources to maximize the value for both the investors as well as individuals that potentially will invest in the organization in the future.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
That’s great. That’s really, really good. So, I think the Series B allows you to, you know, gives you the building blocks and also the team with Bill Link. We were supposed to have him, and schedule didn’t work out. You know, I think the biggest thing is, what are you excited about with having Bill and the Visionary Team behind it. As a CEO, what are your thoughts there as opposed to not having them?

Bob Dempsey:
First of all, it validates. I mean, having the opportunity to work with Visionary Ventures, Flying L Partners and Bluestem Capital really provides us the foundation. And when you think of you know, these two leaders in from a VC perspective, investing in and supporting TearClear is really monumental. I’ve been able to work on numerous other board positions and know the diligence that these three organizations and hopefully others conduct when they look at an organization and to have that conducted and have it conducted in a way that was a very, very positive experience for all parties involved. Again, it shows the validation of the technology and, more importantly, the potential return as we look at generating revenue in 2022. We have to execute the current plan. We have to build a commercial plan. But ultimately, the goal is to be in the market, generating revenue in 2022. And with the support of our Chairman Bill Link, and these three strategic VCs I think we’re well positioned for growth in the near future.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
Yeah, and I think that’s really a good segue way, because I think when folks are learning on how to lean on really wise investors on board, they become really good sounding boards, don’t they? I mean, they become like, you know, they have a wealth of background experience. What are your thoughts there? Let’s say I’m a startup and I don’t have that. What do I do? Do I network? What are your thoughts there? What’s your advice?

Bob Dempsey:
I think it’s a combination of putting together a strong story, and the strong story has to come back to the foundation. You have to have a strong technology. You have to have a strong clinical development program, and you have to have a large unmet need in which you have an opportunity to approach a market that’s large with novel technology and the ability to scale up that novel technology. If you can provide a compelling story and have realistic use of funds to the right investors, the investors will become very intrigued. Then it becomes a question of valuation and in what the potential upside is and again, if you have solid technology that’s protected by IP, you have the ability to scale and you have the ability to gain market share with innovative technology to address an unmet need, beautiful things can happen.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
That’s a really good overview. I was just basically, you know, to reiterate that is, if you’re a startup and you just need a compelling story, you need to have solid IP and you know, one of the things that I think is really important is because it’s intimidating, right? So, one of things I always like that I’m passionate about is How do you then give advice to young Bob Dempseys starting out? They don’t have resources; they have a really good technology and they’re working on IP. How do you develop a Bob Dempsey into someone who’s got seniority and give us a little bit of insight on that development? What did that look like for you? And what advice would you give yourself maybe 10 years ago?

Bob Dempsey:
Well I think two words come to mind. It’s a team-approach and relationships matter. You have to build a team, a cohesive team. You have to have subject matter experts that know their areas. They know their areas exceptionally well and can communicate those areas to potential investors. So, it all starts with the team and then as a as a new entrance, relationships matter. I kicked off my career in sales and knew very early on that developing relationships with whether it’s the top doctor at one of the finest academic institutions in the world or a doctor that is that is starting out his practice, you treat everyone the same. You embrace them. You show them the TLC and beautiful things will happen. Everyone part of this ecosystem matters and it’s so important. I see companies and individuals that are leaders in this field. They may overemphasize one part of it, and that may be really important at the time but again, it’s the entire ecosystem, which makes this ophthalmology and ophthalmic industry so different and so unique. So my strong, strong advice; Everyone matters, relationships matter, treat everyone as they’re the most important person that you’re dealing with and if you do that and build a strong team, very, very good things will happen to you in the course of your career.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
That’s sound advice so I hope you guys are taking notes on that. I was reviewing my notes and I just was gonna ask you. So, you know, we’re talking about glaucoma, we’re talking about other disease states like dry eyes that you you’re gonna be looking at. How does this, in your opinion, sort of extend beyond? How does this influence the patency and see if I’m a big company, a strategic and half the companies are going off patent? How does that influence? How does that help them?

Bob Dempsey:
I think it does significantly. So based on my career, you know, when you have a product and development, when you have a product that ultimately gets approved, you’re always looking at from a standpoint of lifecycle management. And for example, with the technology that TearClear has, it’s an opportunity to continue to manage the life cycle of numerous opportunities that are out there. It’s an opportunity to make a better mousetrap, to extend the IP and really allow for a major improvement for future revenue to occur. So, for any strategic out there looking across their portfolio products, if they’re looking for new innovative and a potential best in class approach, all of these individuals know lifecycle management is critical. TearClear will offer you that opportunity to look at your current portfolio and provide enhancements by removing BAK before it impacts the ocular surface. It’s a strong story. Again, when I when I looked back into at the OIS meeting and Dr Thompson is presenting, I put myself in a position of a franchise head of a major strategic. And if I had heard that while I was running Shire, it would have been the first calls I made following that OIS meeting because that’s exactly what you’re looking to do as a strategic, is to continue the revenue stream. One of the best ways to do it is maximizing your lifecycle management opportunities.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
I think that the holy grail of being able to assist in companies that are really just I mean, you know, it’s a new world with this Corona. We don’t really get a chance to talk about it, but, you know, I’m on zoom calls pretty much 3/4 times a day right now with strategics and also physicians on what the world is gonna be like coming, you know, after this. I think that a lot of people are really to be honest with you think there’s a subset of people, believe it or not, I think we’re gonna go back to normal. I think most people agree we’re not and how that influences the R&D budgets. And, you know, we’re talking to most of strategics. They have all their payrolls still. They haven’t furloughed anybody. How is that gonna influence their R&D investments and how this would essentially help prolong the patent life and IP. I think that’s really exciting and more to develop and I think, what’s exciting is you bringing those real issues with you to them be able to help the company. I think that’s really exciting. So, what are your thoughts on what’s going on? Corona? I mean, what are you hearing out there in Boston?

Bob Dempsey:
Yes. So, obviously Boston was impacted very early on and like all parts of the country have been dealing with this this situation. You know how it’s impacted our team, our employees, our supply chain is something we monitor on a daily basis. So, we’ve been fortunate that all of our employees are doing well. We’ve been fortunate that all of our suppliers have been able to be designated as essential employees. So, we have not seen a disruption in our in our supply chain, which is absolutely critical. You know, when I look at the horizon, one of things that’s going to be really important is the potential for the impact of our clinical development programs. So, our goal is to be in the clinic and 2021 we’re closely monitoring the potential impact from the standpoint of our program and as we start planning and then ultimately executing a clinical trial, what would be the potential barriers from a recruitment perspective? We do know a lot of trials have been put on hold. So once, we see the light at the end of the tunnel, once the CIA rose and the practices will then start coming back up to speed, how will that impact the clinical developed programs of programs that are ahead of us in the queue? So, there’s going to be a lot of work to do. I’m hoping that as practices get back online, they can use clinical development. Clinical research is an opportunity to supplement their income. And, you know, I think that, you know, for those practices that a well-diversified this will be a very good opportunity to generate additional revenue sources not just on unseen patients, not just in performing surgery, but as additional revenue source by conducting clinical trials. So, I think there’s a lot yet to be determined. But knowing how the ophthalmic community is responding and using this as an opportunity pause but more importantly to plan for the future, I think is something we all have to take advantage of.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
You nailed it. I think, you know, for us as a microscopic sort of practice, we do a lot of clinical trials, and it’s been one of the only things that are actually putting water in the bathtub. We’re still seeing patients, but obviously being very cognizant of social distancing. But you brought up a good point. I think you know, it’s global. It’ll have a global impact on the number of basically patients that are seeing in in the clinics as far as being with the recruit for the trials. I think the centers that are pretty, you know, solid and then have a good history will be fine, but I think the centers that are not used to this, and really have had recruiting issues might be in trouble. And I think your point, every ophthalmologist should look at supporting industry by going by looking at clinical trials. We have, and I’ve done it for years and it’s been great. It’s not easy, it’s fun, but it’s a lot of work. But I do think to your point of the biggest, in my opinion as a provider, is like, you know, when is the patient kind of feel comfortable coming back in? You know, people think we’re gonna go ahead and release or relax, the social distancing. Or maybe, you know, in June/July I do think that there’s gonna be some hesitancy of some patients that are basically stable, if you will that have no chronic problems to come back into the clinic. And I do think we need to address that so more to come on that. I really wanted to thank you for coming onboard. Congratulations to you and the family for joining the TearClear company. I think that they’re lucky to have you. We’ve been very, very fortunate to have exclusive podcast with you, pre-announcement, and I wanted to thank you for, you know, I know you’re super busy and a lot of lot of irons in the fire. Um, with that said, do you have any parting words for young entrepreneurs?

Bob Dempsey:
Well, first of all, I thank you again for the opportunity. OIS has and I think I’ve been quoted as saying is is if not one of mine, then I would say easily my favorite meeting of the year. I think what the team has done in creating and absolutely beautiful venue for all of us in the industry to come together and see where innovation is today but more importantly, where is going in the future. But also, at this time it’s important to pause and be thankful for and send out regards to all of our friends and colleagues who may be struggling. We’re thinking about you, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone in Vegas, and that will be an opportunity for us to celebrate where we are. But also, to be thankful for our good health and well wishes to everyone in the ophthalmic community. So, thank you again. I appreciate it.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
Congratulations. And we’ll see you soon.

Bob Dempsey:
Sounds good. Thank you. Have a great day, everybody.

Ehsan Sadri, MD:
Bye.

OIS Podcast VOG:
We hope you enjoyed this episode of the OIS podcast. Listen in for more episodes with the movers and shakers in ophthalmology and keep an eye out for our new virtual OIS, a series of online showcases featuring a selection of the most exciting therapies and development to address glaucoma, dry eye presbyopia and retinal degenerative diseases. If interested in presenting in one of our upcoming showcases visit OIS.net and click Get Involved.

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