A Look at Alden Optical
BY JASON J. NICHOLS, OD, MPH, PHD, FAAO
Tom Shone, president, Alden Optical
This month’s Industry Focus is on Alden Optical, a custom and specialty contact lens manufacturer located in Lancaster, N.Y. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Tom Shone, the company’s president.
Q Mr. Shone, please tell us a bit about your company in terms of its history and direction.
Alden Optical was founded in 1969 by Charles “Pat” Creighton, OD, who started manufacturing contact lenses in the basement of his optometric practice in Alden, N.Y. Dr. Creighton had a strong passion for precise lens fitting, and that mindset and legacy still manifests itself in Alden today.
In the early 1990s, Dr. Creighton’s son Charley started to take the reins of Alden Optical. He soon integrated CNC lathing to significantly improve consistency and lens quality. In the 2000s, he upgraded the manufacturing process to make it fully automated.
I joined the company in 2009 after 20 years at CooperVision. My role involves sales, marketing, and commercial development, whereas Charley now focuses on production, design, and manufacturing. When I first joined, the goal was to increase awareness of the company and to expand fitting of the custom HP Toric, the company’s core product (and the only significant product at the time). We then worked together with others in the industry to build a more robust portfolio in the specialty market, launching NovaKone in 2011 and Astera Multifocal Toric in 2012.
Today, we uphold Dr. Creighton’s mission to support custom and specialty contact lens fitting with a full line of quality specialty designs backed by an outstanding support team and great service. Our business has grown almost five times since 2009, and in 2013 we moved to a 14,000-square-foot facility in Lancaster, N.Y.
Q Tell us about any new products or new developments in which Alden Optical is involved.
We recently launched Zenlens, a scleral design that Dr. Jason Jedlicka codesigned with Charley. Dr. Jedlicka incorporated what we call smart curve technology, which allows one parameter to be modified while keeping all other parameters intact. In addition, early feedback indicates that fitters are happy with the limbal curves and landing zones, that it’s a very easy lens to fit, and that it provides great patient comfort.
We’ve recently formed distribution agreements to roll out our lens designs, particularly NovaKone and Zenlens, in parts of Europe and Latin America.
We’ve been working with Contamac’s new-generation 65%-water silicone hydrogel material. Pending FDA approvals, we hope to have that integrated into our line by early 2015.
We are also working with Medmont to incorporate soft lens fitting algorithms into the Medmont E300 topographer. We feel that many patients drop out of soft lens wear because of complications from poor-fitting lenses, so we want to create tools that make specialty lenses easier to fit.
Looking well down the road, we’ve formed a joint venture to develop wavefront-guided optics in contact lenses for keratoconus.
Q Tell us your vision for the contact lens field in the short term (less than 5 years) and in the long term (20 years from now).
I think that we’re on the cusp of advances that will create very powerful products and approaches to specialty lens fitting, so we’re very optimistic about the direction in which the specialty lens market is heading.
A longer-term concern is that not enough younger practitioners are embracing specialty lens fitting. But I believe that as the products get better, and instrument-based fitting becomes easier and more ubiquitous, then more practitioners will realize that specialty lens fitting is satisfying and a great way to differentiate and grow their practice. CLS
Dr. Nichols is an assistant vice president for industry research development and professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham as well as editor-in-chief of Contact Lens Spectrum and editor of the weekly email newsletter Contact Lenses Today. He has received research funding or honoraria from Vistakon, Alcon, and Allergan.