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We’re thrilled to be celebrating the one-year anniversary of the OIS Podcast. We hope you enjoyed these tales of innovation as much as we have. To celebrate milestone we reveal and review the interviews that most resonated with our listeners.
Tom Salemi: Hello, everyone, welcome back to the OIS Podcast. This is Tom Salemi. I am your host, and I’m happy to invite you to our birthday party. It’s been one year ago, on July 30, 2014 we hosted Jim Mazzo, CEO of AcuFocus and OIS moderator extraordinaire. Jim sort of opened things up of this weekly conversation we’ve had with the leading entrepreneurs, executives, investors, physicians and other influencers of the ophthalmology sector. We’ve been happy to have each and every one of you here, and we look forward to continuing this series of conversations going forward. Today, we’re going to just take a quick look back, though. Last week, I presented my favorite conversation, which was with Mark Blumenkrantz. I thought that was an insightful look into the innovative process. This week we’re going to let you decide. We’ve got our list of the more popular Podcasts based upon number of listens. We’ll start at ten, work our way down to one, and we’ll take excerpts from each conversation to give you a reminder of some of the exceptional wisdom and information that’s been imparted by our guests. So without any further delay, let’s get started.
TS: This week we’ll cover the most popular Podcasts, starting at number ten. We’ll work our way down to number six, and then next week we’ll finish up with the final five. This first conversation actually involved two guests. Tom Frinzi who had been President and CEO of WaveTec and Robert Warner, Region President for Alcon joined the Podcast to discuss Alcon’s decision to acquire WaveTec. Tom Frinzi was gracious enough to reveal the deal or announce the deal at our October OIS, and the two men joined me a few months later to explain how everything came together. One unique aspect of the acquisition was that the two collaborated on creating a clinical trial in the area of astigmatism management. And Rob Warner said that it was a really big turning point for Alcon to have the opportunity to see WaveTec work. Let’s listen in to how the clinical trial factored into the acquisition.
TS: Is that an unusually high hoop, or a small hoop? I’m not sure how one talks about the size of a hoop, but to jump through to get a working relationship going, to partner up on a trial like that? And I guess it takes sort of a leap of faith, as you noted, that we believe this works, we’re happy to test it with you and let the results tell the story.
Rob Warner: Well, maybe I’d jump in and say it is a hurdle, and just having done this a few times, not everyone is willing to do it. But it really shows unequivocal confidence in the technology. And to the extent that we both understood this was a good study, it was good science, I think it was a win-win because one, it made a strategic much more comfortable doing the transaction. And even if we were not to do the transaction, I think it’s very, very valuable for the potential target company to have that level of robust data. I think the data speaks for itself, and it’s sort of the approach that we take at Alcon, that if the underlying science is strong, it makes everything much, much easier. But I don’t know, was it a big hoop, Tom?
Tom Frinzi: No. I think you’re right. I mean we were confident that the technology would deliver on the endpoints that we mutually agreed to. So we felt it was a reasonable step to take, and it gave both parties the opportunity to work together, to a certain degree get to know one another a little bit, and then if the end results were going to be there, then we’ve had a basis for more meaningful discussions. So you know, going through it, you never want to have to take these additional steps, but in hindsight, I think it worked out best for both parties. Alcon had the data to launch globally with this technology, and we certainly had the satisfaction of knowing that the technology was truly making a difference in the marketplace.
TS: Our next guest literally needs no introduction to the OIS community. It’s Emmett Cunningham, Co-chair and Founder of OIS, and partner at Clarus. Emmett’s Podcast, when he joined us in late December, comes in at number 9. And Emmett was kind enough to join me to give his outlook on 2015. He gave many great insights, but one of them centered around a forecast for M&A in 2015. Specifically, Emmett gave his thoughts about the future of Allergan, which was in the process of being acquired by Actavis. As we saw from the news this week surrounding Allergan, the company is set to be a force in ophthalmology going forward. And please bear with me; at the time, I was suffering from a big of a holiday cold. Let’s listen in.
TS: The M&A market was interesting to watch with the pursuit of Allergan and the WaveTec story ended well. Tom Frinzi, who will be a guest on the Podcast in a couple weeks, had some nice things to say about OIS and its role in that company’s turnaround. As a venture investor, any thoughts on what consolidation means for ophthalmology going forward? Is this a concern or just sort of a part of the cycle of life?
Emmett Cunningham: Well, first I would say Tom is kind and it’s nice to hear that he thinks OIS gave him a platform to say what needed to be said about the company. It’s nice to hear that. So I think him for that. I think consolidation is what it always has been. It’s just part of the cycle of the business. Sometimes we worry when companies acquire other companies and they state openly or not so openly that they are, for example, not interested in innovation, or that they are looking mostly at revenue. But I’m not sure that is the case in the Allergan acquisition. I hope it’s not the case. I hope the company continues to be outward looking and innovative. And I know Allergan, the Allergan folk hope that that’s the case.
TS: The dry eye space continued to catch fire in 2014 and 2015. That no doubt helps explain how this next Podcast made it to the most listened list. Tim Willis, CEO of TearScience, joined me to discuss the emergence of dry eye as a chronic problem that ophthalmologists are looking to treat, and explaining how companies like TearScience are introducing products that are giving them the tools necessary to give patients relief.
TS: You started TearScience in 2005, so nine years ago, close to ten years ago. Did the company story, and did the dry eye story play out as you anticipated it would?
Tim Willis: Well, you know, when I first started the company back in September of 2005, our entire focus was on the treatment side. What we found – I had two worries going in, or two concerns, not worries. Two concerns going into it. The first was would the treatment be effective. And the second phase was is would the industry and especially the top physicians and researchers believe that evaporative dry eye or meibomian gland dysfunction is where everything is going. Well, the second one has played out over time extremely – I don’t think we could have done that any better. And we’ve been, as I call it, part of a change agent there. But the entire industry – because everyone was looking for a way to better treat dry eye. If you think about it, Tom, when we did our clinical study for the FDA, we did an evaluation of all the clinical studies that were out there. Thirty-three had failed.
TW: OK, 33 had failed when we did ours, and I told my VP of clin reg, no pressure.
TS: I’m sure he thought that
TW: But we knew what we were doing. But to go back to your question, the second component of it, it became very obvious that we had to do two things. One was we had to develop from scratch a clinical metric that could be consistent, repeatable, and reproducible. And what we did, and therefore that’s why we developed the core of MGE, and we call that MGYLS. Meibomian glands yielding liquid secretions. So we developed that, the FDA recognized it, and now we know others who are actually using it. And there’s been probably 20 papers published around that, because there’s now a clinical sign with that, that directly correlates to symptoms. If you’ll think about dry eye, there was always this difficulty of correlation between signs and symptoms. In all of our studies, almost 40 IRB studies and FDA studies, [?] duration study, we show without a shadow of a doubt signs and symptoms correlate with what we’re doing.
TS: We’re going to go way, way back with this next Podcast. You’ll be able to tell that we really opened up the wallet to buy some better audio equipment for our OIS Podcast series. This conversation with Bill Link doesn’t sound the best, but the OIS Co Chair and the General Partner at Versant Ventures certainly delivered the content and the quality. At the time – this was last summer – Versant was just closing on its most recent fund. Bill shared how Versant would be investing that fund, in and outside of ophthalmology. And then toward the end of the conversation, he offered a bit of advice to entrepreneurs and investors.
TS: What advice do you have for ophthalmologists that want to start a company in today’s market, or have an idea they want to reach out to someone like yourself about?
Bill Link: Well, again, we try to be open minded and have easy access to us. But we’re all busy, of course. I always give feedback to inventors, whether they’re ophthalmologists or non-physician inventors. Protect your idea first. Be careful. Document it, possibly file for a patent. Get some good advice on protecting your idea. Then disclose it to and with somebody that you trust. Maybe it’s a business person that you know as a friend, or you reach out to someone in the community that’s more formally involved, such as Versant or one of the credible private or public companies in the ophthalmic space. But take care of protecting your idea first. Think about who a good partner would be. Trust your gut because you want to enter into discussions and potentially a business relationship with people that you trust.
TS: And this next guest certainly should be listened to. Dick Lindstrom, who was awarded our Ophthalmology Innovator award at OIS in San Diego, joined us early on in the Podcast series. I think he was number 5. Bill Link was number 2. And you’ll see that, or you’ll hear that we had an upgrade in microphones at the time. But he shared his exceptional thoughts and his insights on the future of ophthalmology. The conversation was fairly far-ranging. We covered technologies, pressures on physicians from the FDA, from ACA. But the highlight of the conversation, at least I thought, focused on how technology will help deliver eye care in the future, and why it’s necessary for ophthalmologists and for industry to work together to create new treatment for eye patients.
TS: Can new technologies, some of those that are coming down the pike, can that help lessen that load, lighten that load a bit? Or does it actually increase it because you’re treating more people who perhaps weren’t treated before?
Richard Lindstrom: Well, I think new technology and innovation, arguably, are the only way we can meet the challenge. And just to give you a short example, imagine what it would be like trying to do 3.6 million cataracts a year in America if we were doing intracapsular cataract extraction in a hospital, and fitting patients with aphakic spectacles or contact lenses. And I started my career at that stage. And when I was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, we did 4 procedures a day in the operating room. And in a lot of settings, you could get as high as 6 or perhaps 8. Nowadays, we’ll do 2 or 3 procedures an hour, based on advances in technology, generating a far superior outcome with a much less demanding postoperative course. And so the only thing that’s allowed us to provide the visual rehabilitation we do for the patient burdened with cataract today is through extraordinary innovation. And so I think it’s going to be the same for all the other challenges we face going forward, whether it be glaucoma or age-related retinal disease, that the only thing that’s going to allow us to manage the challenge is going to be innovation. And so here we have a situation where there’s pressure on the ability of people and desire of people to invest in innovation coming up against a situation where we absolutely, essentially, must continue to innovate if we want to continue to provide the high quality lifestyle and care for our fellow citizens.
TS: Well, great, well thank you for listening to numbers 10 through 6 of the top ten listened to OIS Podcasts. We’ll move into the top 5 next week. We’ll hear obviously from some great names, some influential folks in the ophthalmology industry, including one repeat person. Yes, that’s right, one person appeared in the top ten list more than once. So please tune in next week for those tales of innovation. And remember, if you’d like to be in the Podcast, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Healthegy is spelled like the word health with EGY at the end. And if you would like to have your story told at OIS, if you’re a company and you want to present your story, go to OIS.net, fill out the forms you need to fill out, and we hope to see you in Las Vegas.