This month, we revisit Contamac Ltd., a U.K.-based manufacturer of materials for the contact lens, intraocular lens (IOL), and other healthcare industries. I recently had the pleasure to speak with Robert McGregor, Contamac’s managing director.
Mr. McGregor, please tell us about your company in terms of its history and direction.
Contamac is proud to celebrate its 30th Anniversary this year. My father John McGregor, the current chairman, founded the business in our family home in 1987, making Contamac a true “garden shed” story, as we would say in the United Kingdom.
Contamac’s focus has always been material manufacturing, our first being a 38% HEMA material for the contact lens industry. We’ve made many advancements in both the contact lens materials industry and the IOL materials industry. For example, in 1997, we launched C126, a foldable hydrophilic acrylic material for the IOL industry; we launched the Optimum GP materials in 2004; and we developed Definitive, the first latheable silicone hydrogel (SiHy) material, in 2008. Contamac now manufactures more than 250 materials for all contact lens and IOL applications.
Contamac has been honored to receive several awards in the company’s history. One of our polymers was recognized with a medical design excellence award in 2008. And, in 2012, we received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category. We also received a second Queen’s Award for Enterprise, this time for Innovation in SiHy materials, in 2016.
Also in 2016, we relocated our headquarters and manufacturing plant into a 35,000-square-foot purpose-built facility in Saffron Waldon, England. We manufacture more than 15 million finished blanks annually, but the business is capable of producing >18 million as needed. Outside of the United Kingdom, we have a sales, marketing, and distribution center for the business in the United States. We work with a range of distributors worldwide, and we also have an office based in Shanghai.
In April 2017, we formed a strategic alliance with Shanghai-based Haohai Biological Technology, a high-tech enterprise that is principally engaged in the research and manufacture of absorbable biomedical materials. Its business is focused in industries outside of our traditional contact lens and IOL markets. That partnership is going to strengthen our core research and development (R&D) capability, not just in the markets that we already serve, but it will also help us to expand into new geographical territories and to look at new technologies that complement the healthcare industry. It will further provide us with additional funding to improve not just R&D, but our client liaison and support structures within the business.
I think this can be viewed as a new chapter in the history of the business. But, the important point is that our company philosophy and leadership remain unchanged; and, even more importantly, our customers remain our priority.
Tell us about any new products or new developments in which Contamac is involved.
The lifeblood of our business is R&D; we relocated to a larger facility in part to provide our R&D team with significantly greater resources. Because R&D is fundamental to the business, we reinvest about 15% to 20% of our revenues back into our research program.
Our research team is currently developing SiHy and GP products for the contact lens industry. We also are researching new hydrogel materials and working on a new generation of IOL materials. Our team of chemists is researching technologies related to surface chemistry as well as frequent lens replacement. Our goal is to continually provide our finished lens manufacturers with new options and opportunities.
Although the eyecare sector is our core business, we are also developing biocompatible materials for use in other healthcare fields. For example, we’ve developed polymers that are used as skin expanders for particular traumas, such as for deep burns, that can be placed under the skin to help repair and grow the skin in the area of the damage. We’re also doing work in the field of diabetes in which we are integrating our chemistries to help develop devices that ultimately will be used for glucose monitoring systems, for example.
Tell us your vision for the contact lens field in the short term (<5 years) and in the long term (20 years from now).
I believe that the specialty lens industry offers immense opportunity. The daily disposable segment will continue to grow, but I don’t believe that this growth will be at the expense of the specialty lens segment.
In the short term, innovation and R&D advances will continue to drive success. Scleral lenses will continue to play a significant role. I think that everyone in the industry needs to and will make presbyopia more of a priority. In the near future, I believe that we’ll see developments in frequent replacement lathed lenses. The possibilities are exciting and are generating a lot of optimism around the industry. We also feel that partnering with academia will help us meet our need for the information that fuels the advancement of the industry.
Over the long term, I think that the industry itself — the actual infrastructure of the industry — is going to be completely different from what it is today. I believe that new manufacturing technologies will be developed that will, ultimately, change the product offerings to consumers.
I also believe that the incorporation of integrated or flexible electronic circuits in contact lenses is going to become a reality. It will take time; but this technology ultimately will not only provide excellent information for day-to-day wear, it will also collect and provide information and data to the healthcare industry that will be used to either manage or diagnose a wide range of health conditions.
Why did Contamac choose to support an entire 13th issue of Contact Lens Spectrum dedicated to specialty lenses?
If you Google “contact lenses,” you’ll find a lot of information about frequent replacement and daily disposable contact lens products. Almost everything you find will be about the large manufacturers because they’ve got the marketing dollars to be able to really reach consumers. At the end of the day, in our small industry sector, I don’t think that any of us has that ability to be able to reach consumers in the same way.
However, what we do have is a tremendous amount of passion, a tremendous amount of industry expertise, and phenomenal products about which practitioners need to be informed. So, our thought process behind proposing this special edition was essentially to help not just Contamac, but also our customers, contact lens practitioners, and the specialty contact lens industry as a whole. We are looking to raise the profile of this sector.
There’s no question that the specialty lens industry is frequently overlooked. Practitioners can set up a contact lens practice and do very well by selling glasses and mass-produced frequent replacement and daily disposable contact lenses. But what the specialty lens sector provides is a genuine business opportunity. Patients can go anywhere to buy their daily disposables. They can go anywhere to buy their glasses and frames. But they can go only one place to get their specialty lenses. Practitioners need to be specially trained to be able to fit specialty lens products on what are effectively diseased or irregular eyes in one way, shape, or form — or just corneas that don’t fit the norm. We wanted to give practitioners the opportunity to understand that the specialty lens industry offers many opportunities for them to not just differentiate themselves, but to grow their business and to protect their business moving forward. Contamac believes in that, our laboratory partners believe in that, and we wanted to get that message out to practitioners. We all win on the back of this, and that’s the whole point.
We also believe that with Contamac’s role in the contact lens supply chain, we’re in a position to, in a way, represent the industry as a whole. What we want to achieve through this journal is to raise awareness of the category, and we are doing that through our partners in the industry. When you read through this issue, yes, you will see information about Contamac, but really what we want readers to experience is the entire industry.
We all have worked hard to ensure that this issue covers every aspect of specialty lens fitting, from incorporating it into practice to fitting and troubleshooting different designs to getting appropriately reimbursed. It is our hope that this issue will serve as a reference guide to which practitioners can continue to refer in their desire to become successful specialty lens fitters. If we can accomplish making this issue a go-to reference for a range of eyecare professionals, that would be an incredible achievement. CLS
Mr. McGregor expresses his thanks to the industry and to Contamac’s customers for their support.