Article Date: 9/1/2011

CLMA Celebrates 50 Years
CLMA 50TH ANNIVERSARY

CLMA Celebrates 50 Years

Past presidents of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association reflect on memories and milestones.

By Gretchyn M. Bailey, NCLC, FAAO, & Edward S. Bennett, OD, MSEd, FAAO

It began as an organization 50 years ago with a membership of six and an initial goal to counteract a claim by a Boston ophthalmologist that people could go blind by wearing contact lenses. The group also worked hard over a 12-year period to gain reclassification of GP contact lenses as a Class II device as opposed to a drug. Its mission was to increase awareness and utilization of custom manufactured contact lenses, and 50 years later this proud organization—the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association (CLMA)—continues to fulfill this mission.

The Beginning and the Challenges

It started with a small meeting in 1961. Founding CLMA President Dr. Joe Goldberg remembers: “Although I am the first CLMA president, the late Raleigh Althisar, OD, of Atlanta, Ga. organized the first meeting at which I was elected president. We had a very small membership at the beginning. Our initial six members cooperated with each other. Remember that corneal contact lenses were in their infancy at that time. Ophthalmologists were opposed to corneal contact lenses. A group of ophthalmologists in Boston sent photographs of corneal interference found among corneal contact lens patients to Life magazine, which published them. But we also found ways to bring information about corneal contact lenses to the public.”

Early leaders of the CLMA. Left to right: Dr. Bill Platt, Joseph Soper, Quido Cappelli, Dr. Joe Goldberg, and George Meszaros.

“The CLMA started as a small organization by like-minded people,” according to longtime member and Past President George Meszaros. “The original members felt that as a group, they could combat adverse publicity and attempt to secure materials that could be used by all members for the benefit of practitioners and the public,” he said. “They responded as early as 1966 to the headlines in Life magazine that said, ‘Contact Lenses Cause Blindness.’ They spoke with one voice, and the media took notice.”

The next challenge was very important as well. Soft contact lenses had been introduced and were headed toward disposability and dominance in the contact lens marketplace. However, the vision and safety benefits of GP lenses—often necessary for astigmats, presbyopes, and for keratoconus, post-surgical, and young patients—have always made them an integral part of the vision correction armamentarium. However, as they were being manufactured by relatively small independent laboratories, the expense to bring a new design to the marketplace could be excessive if they were not reclassified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Through more than 12 years of great effort by the CLMA, GP lenses were reclassified in 1990 as a Class II medical device. According to George Meszaros, “The effort to have rigid contact lenses reclassified into a Category II device instead of being classified as a drug was one of the most memorable achievements of the Association, and one that took a little over 12 years. During that period, many people worked very hard and spent many nights burning the midnight oil. We lobbied Congress and talked with anyone who would listen. The Association established its own political action committee, of which I had the privilege to serve as its first chairman, and the membership support was outstanding.

“The Association met its objective; rigid lenses were reclassified, and the regulatory burden was eased to allow smaller, independent contact lens manufacturers produce custom lenses.”

The Importance of Education

The CLMA is the professional association of contact lens laboratories as well as of material, care solution, and equipment manufacturers in the United States and around the world. As a key objective of this organization (Table 1), it has always promoted education to improve manufacturing quality, to improve the fitting skills of practitioners, and to educate consumers. The CLMA holds an annual meeting featuring education for its members. This year's 50th annual meeting will take place from Oct. 6 to 9 in La Jolla, Calif.

TABLE 1
CLMA Objectives
• Educate eyecare professionals, the public, and the industry about contact lens technology, features, and benefits.
• Initiate and support legislation beneficial to CLMA membership, practitioners, and patients.
• Sponsor and support research and development of quality contact lens materials.
• Suggest and enforce industry manufacturing standards.
• Participate in seminars, conferences, and congresses dealing with eye health care.
• Promote the contact lens industry.

Consumer contact lens education is also important to the CLMA, and its consumer website www.contactlenses.org is a leading site for this purpose, especially as it pertains to GP contact lens applications. Many eyecare practices and laboratories have links to both the site and to the specific subcategories within the site (i.e., young people, astigmatism correction, presbyopia, keratoconus, etc.) for the purpose of helping to educate consumers about contact lens correction.

Likely the most visible educational component of the CLMA is the GP Lens Institute (GPLI), the practitioner educational division of the CLMA. The GPLI provides practitioners with educational and practice-building resources to help them better fit GP lenses and increase their GP lens fitting skills. The GPLI was founded in 1985 when a small group of practitioners and industry representatives recognized the need for GP contact lens education within the profession. The GPLI initially sponsored seminars at professional meetings but has since grown into a program of workshops at optometry schools, a three-day optometry resident educational workshop program, monthly online webinars, an educational newsletter, an Advisory Committee consisting of the leading GP clinicians in the United States, and a library of lens design, fitting, and problem-solving educational and practice-building resources, most of which are available through the GPLI's website at www.gpli.info.

CLMA leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. Left to right: George Meszaros, Quido Cappelli, Carl Moore, Charles Neefe, and Dr. Bill Platt.

The GPLI has been led by Dr. Ed Bennett since 1988. His association with the GPLI was the direct result of working with the CLMA president at the time, Carl Moore. Said Dr. Bennett, “I was providing workshop education for the GPLI, and in the summer of 1988 I was asked to assist in developing fluorescein pattern evaluation videos with Dr. Bob Mandell, Carl Moore, and Dr. Gerard Gibbons (president, Visual Eyes Medical Media) at the University of California-Berkeley School of Optometry. After completing the filming, while driving me to the airport, Carl asked me if I would become executive director of the GPLI. I was hesitant as I perceived this to be a very large responsibility and I was truly unsure that I was the correct individual for the position. Carl then made it quite simple for me. He indicated if I did not take the position, he would drop me off on the highway and I would have to find additional transportation to the airport…so I said yes.

“Professionally, this was the best decision I have ever made in my life. When you have the opportunity to represent manufacturers who, in the regular CLMA Board of Directors meetings, leave their egos at the door and work together to brainstorm on how to improve GP quality as well as to promote the benefits of GP contact lenses—and also represent practitioners who know in their hearts how important GP lenses are to patients—it is, indeed, a privilege to be in my position.”

CLMA leaders concur. “CLMA is all about education,” said Immediate Past President Chris Pantle. “I believe it's about future practitioners using GP lenses. Without that, none of us have a continuing business.” Current President Al Vaske agrees. “The CLMA efforts to educate practitioners about GP lens fitting is our greatest contribution,” he said. “Education has been our number-one priority and will continue to be.”

Quality and Excellence

One of the hallmarks of the CLMA's members has been their ability over the years to continuously improve the quality and reproducibility of their lens designs. In addition, utilizing the most innovative technology available worldwide, they are able to make almost any conceivable design for even the most challenging patient, including quadrant-specific back-surface geometries for irregular cornea patients, high-add multifocal designs for presbyopes, high-optical-quality bitoric designs, and a variety of reverse geometry back-surface designs for corneal reshaping and post-surgical applications. Such innovations are not limited to GP lenses, but have also been made in specialty soft lenses and in combination GP-soft material lens designs. This is complemented by the assistance provided to practitioners by experienced and knowledgeable consultants and the availability of a wide variety of fitting inventories and diagnostic sets.

The CLMA also has a commitment to honor excellence. It annually honors both manufacturers and practitioners for exemplary service and products. More importantly, the Seal of Excellence program showcases laboratories that have exceptional manufacturing expertise. The voluntary program is based on tolerances established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI Standards Z80.20—Contact Lenses) and independently measures parameters of contact lenses. Those laboratories whose lenses meet or exceed ANSI standards are granted the CLMA Seal of Excellence to display on company stationery and promotional materials, highlighting their commitment to quality manufacturing.

The Leaders

The past presidents of the CLMA essentially comprise a “Who's Who” in the contact lens industry. From the early effort of industry icons Dr. Joe Goldberg and Quido Cappelli in establishing the organization to Carl Moore promoting GP education and serving as an early chair of the GP Lens Committee, every president of the CLMA has had a significant impact on the contact lens industry. Some of these past presidents share their thoughts on the CLMA in the sidebar on p. 40. The importance of Quido Cappelli returning to lead the CLMA for another three years in 1994, at a time when the CLMA could greatly benefit from his leadership skills, can never be sufficiently emphasized. When serving as president, Keith Parker proposed that the term “RGP” should be changed to “GP” to present a better and more contemporary acronym to represent the evolution of these materials, and with the support and promotion of CLMA member laboratories, his recommendation became reality.

The Future

The future of the CLMA will not be without challenges due, in part, to the custom nature of its business. However, the leaders have a right to be optimistic based upon its 50 years of excellence. “The CLMA members are able to bring new technologies to be showcased at the organization's conventions, and this in turn is heralding a whole new family of lenses for future generations,” said George Meszaros. “It is imperative that the governing body of the Association transmits to each and every independent manufacturer the need to look at the Association as its representative, its educator, and its bearer of good as well as bad news, and that the governing members are available to lend their knowledge and expertise to the common good.”

Al Vaske agrees. “These are exciting times for the regional labs to expand their product lines in specialty areas. The areas include keratoconus, post-surgical, presbyopia, and custom soft lenses. The availability of silicone hydrogel materials to CLMA members will greatly increase practitioners' design options and provide more designs for patient satisfaction,” he said. The commitment will continue as members of this proud organization provide innovative lens designs and materials to meet the varied needs and, not uncommonly, improve the quality of life of many deserving patients.

“The work throughout the history of the CLMA continues today with the same level of passion for providing quality of life through vision,” says CLMA Past President Janice Adams. “All of those who led the CLMA before me and since were all committed and devoted to the industry and its ability to sustain itself. The 50-year anniversary is a celebration that we should all be very proud of.” CLS

To obtain references for this article, please visit http://www.clspectrum.com/references.asp and click on document #190.

Reflections of Past CLMA Presidents
“I attended my first CLMA meeting in 1987. At this meeting, the reclassification of RGP contact lenses as a Class II medical device was announced. I remember the excitement of everyone, but I remember not knowing what it was really all about. After having the importance of this milestone explained to me, it was then that I realized the significance of our Association.” —Keith Parker
 
“The CLMA means camaraderie: the like set of goals people have that allow you to share ideas and get feedback about your business from a group of people who do it every day just as you do. It's such a small group, it's therapeutic to share ideas. When you're sitting in an office, you feel like you're all alone, but you're not. It's a valuable thing because without it, you're Don Quixote.” —Dan Bell
 
Most of us were relatively small companies during my active years with the organization (1976 to 2005), but we took on the ‘big companies,’ and best of all, we took on the FDA. Those challenges required us to cooperate both in terms of our attitudes and also with our pocketbooks. History reveals that we were successful. —Carl Moore
 
During one mid-year session for members, our speaker advised us to acquire good people and to not attempt to do everything ourselves, but to pass the monkey on our back to other people from idea gathering to authority. As it was time to pass the gavel on to Keith Parker, I decided to find a stuffed monkey and enlisted the aid of others to help. John Hibbs combed the stores in Cherry Hill, NJ, and found a Ty beanie baby monkey that I placed on Keith's shoulder when I passed on the gavel. Keith always brought the monkey to board meetings, and that monkey is still being passed on to each incoming president. —Jo Svochak

  Gretchyn Bailey is a longtime editor and writer for ophthalmic publications. She has more than 20 years of ophthalmic experience and is based outside of Philadelphia. You can reach her at gretchyn@me.com.
Dr. Bennett is assistant dean for Student Services and Alumni Relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry and is executive director of the GP Lens Institute. You can reach him at ebennett@umsl.edu.


Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: September 2011