Interview with Dr. Richard Young, Chief Scientific Officer.
Please describe your role at Contamac?
“As Chief Scientific Officer, I have responsibility for many of the technical aspects of the organisation and its products, which leads to a very diverse range of activities. I work with the Board to identify new product developments that meet the company’s strategic goals, advising what is realistic and achievable within set timescales. Effective management of our dedicated R&D team is then essential to ensure these developments result in successfully delivered outcomes. Responding to customer questions, particularly providing support and guidance through regulatory approval processes, requires an increasing amount of attention but helps secure the long term aspirations of both our customers and ourselves. Working with customers and other companies to develop new products, sometimes in applications outside our core business, is another part of the role.”
What do you enjoy most about working at Contamac and our industry?
“I have been with the company for over 15 years and while we have always had excellent staff over those years, the current team is exceptional and we have delivered many innovations, both in terms of products and internal projects, aimed at manufacturing improvements. As a scientist, the development of new products for our customers is the most interesting and rewarding aspect of the role and is the main focus of our R&D team. In recent years we have established collaborative research projects with companies and academic centres, which gives access to a greater scientific base of knowledge, often resulting in novel and ground breaking research activities. I have also been responsible for writing a number of proposals to seek government and EU funding, to increase our R&D commitment to develop new products and it is very rewarding when these are successful, as many have been. The variability in the role, often on a daily basis, along with exposure to interesting projects and talented people, makes for a very enjoyable challenge.”
What are some of the key products that are being developed?
“We are unique in that we provide a full range of materials for the ophthalmic sector. In the contact lens arena we provide the full range of hydrophilic materials, silicone hydrogel materials and rigid gas permeable materials. For surgical products we also provide a full range of materials from PMMA to our market leading CI26 hydrophilic material and have recently launched our own hydrophobic material in combination with an innovative approach, to enable our customers to produce cost effective finished lenses. This diversity of products is very demanding on our R&D team – we have to bring innovative products to the market in many of these areas. For our core products we are investigating new silicone hydrogel and gas permeable materials for the use in specialty contact lens applications. Further iterations of hydrophobic materials are also in the pipeline to meet the requirements of premium IOL manufacturers. For some industry demands we are having to look at radically different approaches, which as scientists is what really gets us motivated.”
This sounds very exciting for the company, what are the goals of these projects?
“To deliver exceptional product performance while ensuring economic viability throughout the supply chain. For both contact lens and IOL products we only consider the best quality raw materials to ensure performance meets the standards we set and the expectations of our customers. We often specify higher grades of quality than routinely used in the industry and this can make some products not viable financially. For our hydrophobic IOL material we used a radically different approach – we supply a part with a fully moulded optic and leave the haptic design and overall lens production to our customers. This results in a huge reduction in the amount of petrochemical derived monomer used to produce each lens, bringing significant environmental benefits. Using less monomer per piece means we can use higher purity monomers that otherwise would not be viable. For our customers we remove the challenge of lathing soft hydrophobic materials and significantly lower the number of reject lenses that have to be discarded. We feel this can have a significant impact for the IOL industry.”
What about the contact lens side of the business?
“Our customers and the industry as a whole have done a great job in identifying new applications for specialty lenses and we are seeing significant growth in many areas, including Scleral Lenses, Ortho-K and lenses designed for Keratoconus patients. Many of these conditions require enhanced material properties which inevitably include higher oxygen delivery whilst still ensuring the materials are comfortable for patients, often with compromised tear health. Increasing lens thickness also dramatically reduces the level of oxygen reaching the cornea. The semi-finished approach being used for IOLs could be used for contact lens products in the future as increased silicone levels bring both increasing monomer costs and challenges for lathing lenses. From a comfort perspective we are developing a technology called Hydra-PEG which provides the lens with a highly wettable and lubricious surface which increases tear film break-up time and reduces friction between the lens and ocular surfaces. Initial results are very encouraging for both RGP and silicone hydrogel lenses, and we are currently seeking US FDA approval for these materials.”
What other projects is the company working on?
“For many years we have been working with a US company to bring to market an implantable, continuous sensor for measuring glucose levels in patients with diabetes. This device is implanted under the skin of the patient and has no link to the eye in anyway. We use our expertise to apply a hydrogel coating to the device and then perform quality and diagnostic testing before sending the device to be sterilised. The potential market size for this device is massive and CE marking should be gained in the next couple of months. We have also conducted some work with the University of South Australia to put conductive polymers on the surface of contact lens materials. This could provide a means to develop lenses that could function as either sensors for a variety of conditions or as visual display devices. As a company we are always interested to pursue such developments, as these could pave the way for the next generations of contact lens products.”