This month, we focus on specialty lens lab Blanchard Contact Lenses/Les Laboratoires Blanchard (Blanchard). I recently had the pleasure to speak with President Jean Blanchard.
Mr. Blanchard, please tell us about your company in terms of its history and direction.
Blanchard was founded in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada in 1975. The U.S. facility opened in Manchester, NH in 1986. Blanchard has always specialized in custom lenses. In Canada, where the regulation is different, we manufacture some soft lenses, but we strictly offer GPs in the U.S. market. Blanchard currently has 75 employees including seven full-time fitting consultants. We are the largest supplier of custom lenses in Canada, and I believe one of the top five in the United States.
Our earlier efforts focused on GP multifocal designs. When we launched our first design, the Essential lens, we approached fellow laboratories in the U.S. market, and many of them became distributors of that lens. In 2008, interest was growing in the irregular cornea, and we became the Rose K distributor for North America. Dr. Rose selected Blanchard as the U.S. distributor because we already had this relationship with the other labs.
Since about 2011, we’ve focused almost all of our effort on scleral lenses. We initially adopted the MSD design, and now have our proprietary flagship Onefit platform of lenses. Onefit may have started the trend of smaller, thinner scleral lenses with less tear layer for optimal oxygen; it was one of the first to approach fitting scleral lenses for regular cornea patients who were intolerant to soft or corneal GP lenses.
We strive to make fitting our lenses as easy as possible, and we offer many tools on our website to help with this. We also offer Beyond the Limbus traveling workshops—which have trained thousands of practitioners worldwide—and monthly webinars by guest lecturers.
While we have distributors around the world, we want to become a more worldwide company. The world is a small place now; we are able to transfer our software so that labs worldwide can cut our lenses themselves to better service their customers. Our goal is to work with local people and local labs to replicate worldwide what Blanchard has been able to do in North America.
Tell us about any new products or new developments in which Blanchard is involved.
We will soon extend the Onefit family to include a larger-diameter lens that will allow practitioners to have full control over every area of the lens. We are also working on a more custom scleral lens that will allow very specific areas to be modified, such as to fit over a pinguecula. We hope in about a year to have a lens that practitioners can customize to essentially any degree.
With myopia control, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in orthokeratology (ortho-k) lenses. We have some designs in our portfolio, but we are working to see whether we could improve these designs and make them easier to fit.
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).
In the short term, we will continue focusing on scleral lenses for both irregular and normal eyes. We want to make sclerals for normal eyes more affordable and easier to fit. We will also work on ortho-k for myopia control, especially considering that myopia is increasing worldwide and needs to be addressed. I think that, for now, contact lenses can probably manage it.
Long-term, I believe we’ll see intelligent contact lenses that deliver medication or can monitor tear composition. I wouldn’t be surprised if 15 to 20 years from now, a myope will instill a drop and wear a lens for one night to stabilize the cornea for a week, two, or even more. CLS