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Business & Profession Business and Innovation

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I am passionate about innovation and next-generation technology in ophthalmology, in terms of both the initial development and the translation from bench to bedside. And who is best-placed to direct industry where to invest or to help them develop the next-generation technology, as well as teach others how to use it? Ophthalmologists, of course.

I know it might be controversial to some, but I am a strong advocate of properly designed and well-intentioned collaboration between the industry that develops the products and the ophthalmologists who use them. A powerful innovation cycle needs a quality physician – the individual who is working in the ‘arena’ and fully aware of the problems. Ophthalmologists can inform industry colleagues what the unmet needs are and help them find ways to resolve them. Then they are able to assist with the challenges of developing a product to address those unmet needs, bringing it to market, and sharing best practice.

Clinicians can start helping to drive the cycle of innovation by simply not being ‘intimidated’ when an opportunity presents itself. But we can also be proactive. We spend our days seeing patients and being confronted with unmet needs. And with hundreds of thousands of ophthalmologists worldwide, there are many problems that are being seen – and all need to be solved. The next step is to seek a solution, which can begin by us getting inventive or by looking for talented collaborators – such as those in industry or engineers – to see if they know of a novel way to solve the problem at hand. Next comes expansion of the idea, potentially through recruiting more partners to help, and working through the innovation cycle.

It’s true that ‘shepherding’ through the whole innovation cycle – from idea to reality to commercialized product – can take 10 or 15 years, so I can understand why some physicians don’t want to get involved in the process; it does takes a lot of time and effort. But it can also be incredibly rewarding. And if a clinician is committed and believes in an idea, it is absolutely possible – as proven by the fact that I have been through the process multiple times!

A powerful innovation cycle needs a quality physician.

One main challenge in ophthalmic innovation is how we best help the proactive entrepreneurs – those individuals who have come up with ideas to tackle unmet needs. Such people invariably need some help getting started.  Working together with the Octane Group in Orange County, we created a fund called Visionary Ventures to invest in new technologies in ophthalmology. In addition, my good friends Bill Link, Andy Corley, Matt Larson and I have founded Flying L Ventures. To date, these two entities have invested together in SightLife Surgical, RxSight and Equinox. Visionary Ventures has also invested in Mynosys, Iantech, TearClear, and TearFilm.

As well as helping new and interesting startups, such as Mynosys and Iantech, we had a completely new,  “out-of-the-box” idea to help one key area that has been neglected for investment – cornea. Cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) all receive a lot of investment, but because we only perform around 50,000 corneal transplants a year in the USA, it is a smaller opportunity. We saw it as an unmet need, and together with the director of the world’s largest eyebank – SightLife – we conceptualized a unique model where a for-profit entity (SightLife Surgical) is owned by a not-for-profit entity (SightLife). SightLife’s primary mission is to eradicate corneal blindness in the world, and it’s hoped that money made from running a successful company might accelerate their mission. So far it is working quite nicely, and I am really excited by it. It’s a fascinating new model that will bring innovation investment into a field that has been somewhat neglected – and it will be of real benefit to patients with corneal disease.

What will continue to drive ophthalmic innovation? Essential collaborations between clinicians and industry, plus the right kind of support for ideas born of those collaborations. I certainly plan to continue pursuing collaborations with industry as long as I can – and I hope I inspire others to do the same.

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About the Author

Richard Lindstrom

Founder and attending surgeon of Minnesota Eye Consultants, and Adjunct Professor Emeritus at the University Of Minnesota Department Of Ophthalmology, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
An ophthalmologist and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Lindstrom holds more than 30 patents, having developed a number of refractive solutions, intraocular lenses and surgical instruments. He serves on the Boards of Directors of several companies, is a past president of ASCRS and ISRS, and is also a member of the ASCRS Executive Committee as Member at Large. He has been at the forefront of ophthalmology’s evolutionary changes throughout his career, and is deservedly recognized as a world-leading researcher, teacher, inventor, and acclaimed physician and surgeon.


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