Guest Editorial

How Do We Grow the Contact Lens Market?

Guest Editorial

How Do We Grow the Contact Lens Market?

Brien Holden, PhD, DSc, OAM , FAAO
CEO, Brien Holden Vision Institute

As Prof. Gary Pisano from the Harvard Business School wrote recently (The Economist, Oct. 29, 2011), "The answer goes to the heart of what ails drug companies. Large pharmaceutical firms used to be engines of innovation, but a big fall in share prices, the onslaught of generic drugs and bureaucracy from recent mega-mergers has tripped them up. Research productivity and approval rates for mass-market drugs aimed at rich consumers are falling. Big firms have grown risk averse, developing lots of imitations of blockbuster drugs and fewer novel ones. The squeeze will get worse as a dozen top-selling drugs lose patent protection over the next two years." Sound familiar?

In the pharmaceutical industry, increasingly, the big guys are moribund. Risk aversion, back watching, safe incremental advances are the norm. Ideas don't survive the committees, adventure and breakthrough have to come from outside. Sound familiar? And sadly in our industry, when funds are made available internally, it's for cutting cost of goods, manufacturing economies margin chasing. There are a few exceptions—but very few.

Creativity and Intellectual Flair

Unless our majors find some 'bottle' and creativity, some people with intellectual flair to tackle the great advances needed in 'comfort and biocompatibility,' 'optics vision and myopia control—a game changer that languishes for lack of investment' and 'eliminating inflammation and infection,' selling cardboard boxes will not make it. Where are matches for the genius of 'Wichterle and the soft lens,' 'Danalens and disposables,' 'Adrian Hunter and SiHy'? These are breakthroughs that we desperately need repeated.

Thirty million dropouts a year from the industry—in some countries more dropouts than recruits—and yet no serious scientific and research industry effort in this field. Why? Because in-house doesn't attract the scientists needed, and out-house is unattractive if you are royalty-averse.

Shifting Paradigm

How do we grow the contact lens market? The new paradigm is an entrepreneurial research group alliance with a forward-thinking, risk-taking visionary individual or company or government with money and attitude. This is far more likely to arise in China and India than in the United States, Europe or Australia, and this goes to the heart of many problems for our economies and societies.

As Prof. Pisano says, "Nimble biotech firms, however, have a good record of innovation. But the bursting of the biotech bubble has left them starved of cash." However, "The good news is that new business models and cash are coming. Three former executives from SmithKline Beecham, Novartis and Aventis have founded Care Capital, a $175 million investment fund that favors novel drugs over 'me too' bets" and "Charities and government agencies are getting cleverer too."

Creating New Alliances

That is why we have opened major new institutes and alliances in both China (Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI)—China, in a new purpose-built research, education and public health facility) and India (the India Vision Institute—a partnership between BHVI and L V Prasad Eye Institute to raise hundreds of millions to kick-start the Indian vision industry).

We believe that tapping into the genius among these 2.5 billion people with knowledge partnerships will feed the future breakthroughs for the billion people in these mega-countries that need vision correction and from there, with the right alliances, the rest of the world. CLS

Prof. Holden is CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney. He has been a major figure in international eye health and vision care for nearly 40 years. His influence extends across science, research and development, professional and academic education, public health and as an advocate for the profession of optometry.