The Power List 2020 – Power List
Chairman and Founder
Avellino Lab USA, Inc.
What path led you to ophthalmology?
I had just completed the sale of my previous precision medicine company in 2008 when I was approached by EK Kim in Korea with a challenging proposition: to help patients with corneal dystrophies. I had not worked in ophthalmology before, but I saw a real opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and introduce genetics more broadly in ophthalmology.
What’s your career highlight?
Being named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2016 and then being appointed to the WEF’s Precision Medicine Council and receiving the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2019 are a few of my career highlights from the last 10 years. We are a group wholly dedicated to the advancement of technology and patient safety in precision medicine, big data and advanced diagnostics.
What are the biggest unmet needs in your field? How is the company working to address them?
Education, no doubt. We need to help physicians and patients get comfortable with genetic data, and show how it can be used to make better decisions to reduce or avoid health and vision risks. There is a lot of fear out there around capturing genetic data. We are also developing AI and machine learning algorithms to manage the data we are gathering, which will lead to additional exciting breakthroughs in diagnosis and gene therapies in the coming years.
What is the most exciting project the company is working on?
We are excited for the AvaGen diagnostic test for keratoconus risk factors and corneal dystrophies, which we recently launched with the hope of making it part of the standard of care in ophthalmic and optometric practices. We are excited about our discovery – through partnership with Ulster University – of certain siRNA molecules that are capable of targeting genetic mutations; it gives us the unique opportunity to pursue genetic therapies for autosomal-dominant diseases. Another exciting development is our partnership with SiSaf Ltd, whose technology will permit us to deliver siRNA molecules to the cornea, and block the production and accumulation of mutant TGFBI proteins. We believe that our partnership with Ulster and SiSaf will collectively yield significant advancement in gene therapies.
What should we expect from your company over the next five years?
Our goal is to expand precision medicine within eye care and beyond. We will continue to expand the capability of the AvaGen test, helping physicians make
genetic testing an integral part of their examination and diagnosis strategy. Our therapy programs will be further developed or already in clinical trials, and we expect to have a genetic therapy approved and improving patients’ lives within five years.