One sketch on the back of a napkin or a product flyer can influence how a surgical procedure is performed or how a patient is treated. It is for this reason that I feel relationships among physicians and industry are essential to improving patient care. In my 9 years at Accutome, I have had the benefit of working with many of the top innovators in the ophthalmic industry, including Sheraz Daya, MD, FACP, FACS, FRCS(Ed), FRCOphth; Uday Devgan, MD; and Eric Donnenfeld, MD. This opportunity is particularly exciting for me because I am also able to see a new generation of younger surgeons who are interested in following in their elders’ footsteps. I consider Allon Barsam, MD, MA, FRCOphth, an ophthalmic surgeon at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom, to be part of this new generation.
Allon and I first met at the 2010 American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) Meeting. Allon was doing a fellowship with Dr. Donnenfeld at Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island, New York, at the time. Eric and I had previously completed successful product launches of surgical instruments for performing limbal relaxing incisions (LRIs) and toric IOL implantation, and Eric had some new ideas for corneal crosslinking and femtosecond cataract instrumentation. Allon looked at our designs and developed some ideas on how to improve them. After the meeting, Allon shared some of these ideas with me.
Allon had an idea for a capsule support system using two tiny segments and iris retractors for patients with weak zonules. He felt this type of design would be easier to use and would provide better support than the available options. The ideas were sketched onto my notepad, and we shook hands. It took many revisions, multiple computer-aided design drawings, and at least five prototype versions before we had a design ready to test.
TESTING THE DESIGN
Allon and I met again at the 2012 European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS) meeting in Milan to finally see if our design would work. There was a sense of excitement mixed with a slight nervousness as we walked into the wet lab. This product was 2 years in the making and could have ended at that moment if it proved unable to deliver our expected results. I acted as part surgical technician and part cameraman, videotaping from the TV screen using my iPhone, while Allon inserted the segments into a porcine eye. After a few trial runs, it appeared we had a winner! Some other surgeons even popped their heads into the wet lab to see what we were working on, and it was reassuring that they seemed intrigued by the concept. We made a few modifications after the trial to further improve the design.
Currently, we are in the process of getting the Barsam Capsule Support Segments patented. Allon plans to use the device in surgery and present his ideas at the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) meeting in April. Accutome hopes to officially launch the product later in 2013, and I am excited to add this device to the company’s growing Challenging Case product mix. After the launch, I reckon that Allon and I will sit down for a nice glass of wine and toast to our first product launch together. We will then likely use the napkin to sketch out our next idea.
TIPS FOR GETTING A DESIGN GREEN-LIGHTED
Be fearless. Companies rely on new ideas not only to increase sales but also to improve brand image. They should be more than willing to hear your concept.
Develop your expectations. Determine what you feel the potential for the product is and what you feel you should gain for your idea. Some ideas will enable you to collect royalties, while others might bring only the prestige of having your name associated with the product.
Target potential companies. Find companies with product mixes that match your ideas. They will better understand the product’s potential and how to market and sell your idea.
Follow up on your idea. Two major ophthalmic meetings, ESCRS and AAO, fall toward the end of the year when some companies are busy trying to hit yearly goals or working on the following year’s budget. Giving a call to a company after the meeting to discuss your ideas can help keep the development on track.
Supply numbers. Your company contact will need some numbers to determine whether this product is worth investing time and effort in. The numbers can be as informal as, “I do 40 cases per week and would use this product 10 times.”
Remain patient. A lot of products require multiple drawings and prototypes before they are even ready to test. It can be a long, stressful process, but the rewards of inventing a new product can be amazing.
James M. O’Connor is the Marketing Manager of Accutome, Inc., in Malvern, Pennsylvania. He may be reached at tel: +1 610 889 0200; fax: +1 610 889 3233; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.