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The Innovation Game

Being the Editor of The Ophthalmologist is a particularly privileged position. I am fortunate enough to attend a multitude of congresses, satellite meetings, (and dinners) and almost everyone I introduce myself to will engage me in conversation. At events like Ophthalmology Futures and Ophthalmology Innovation Summit, I get to speak with everyone from Chief Executives of industry giants, to surgeons with a great idea. And as Jim Mazzo has told me, “You don’t have to be the size of Alcon to change ophthalmology, you just have to have a great idea.” From what I can see, I agree. Of course, not all great ideas make it. Eye care is a lucrative, and therefore hugely competitive business. You might have a great idea, but others will try desperately hard to work around patents, adapt, improve... and outcompete you – after all, business is ruthlessly Darwinian. But it’s not just the financial rewards that drives innovation in ophthalmology – ultimately innovators are helping people, so there’s a strong altruistic component there too.

And the eye is such a wonderful, unique organ around (and in) which we can innovate. The blood-retinal barrier makes for unique pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics, where the right drugs can act in an almost completely localized manner – and long-acting slow releasing drug/device ocular implants can shine in that context. The eye’s complex and beautiful anatomy can be manipulated in so many ways, with lasers, lenses, stents, shunts and ever more exciting interventions. And then there’s the retinal imaging and even retinal prostheses…

But as Jim said, it doesn’t need to be a multi-million dollar endeavor to make a big difference. Small surgeon-directed modifications to needles, blades, phaco tips and forceps have helped improve many surgical techniques – and even small improvements, multiplied by a high volume of procedures, equal a huge amount of benefit. Small outfits with smart software can do amazing things, be it in terms of image analysis to help direct better surgery, or an app that helps the public screen their ocular health, or those with visual impairment navigate their daily lives.

It’s truly an honor to report on these advances and to be able to celebrate them in our 2015 Innovation Awards. And despite my privileged position, I’m aware that I don’t know of even a fraction of the developments out there. So to enable those whose efforts deserve recognition, please make sure that you nominate them for this year’s Innovation Awards at:

Look out for the winners in the next issue!

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About the Author
Mark Hillen

I spent seven years as a medical writer, writing primary and review manuscripts, congress presentations and marketing materials for numerous – and mostly German – pharmaceutical companies. Prior to my adventures in medical communications, I was a Wellcome Trust PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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