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Q&A: Dr Brian Pall

The Johnson & Johnson Vision Care director of clinical science on innovation in contact lenses

24 Jul 2019 by Selina Powell

Can you tell OT about your role?

I joined Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Vision around 18 years ago. Throughout my career, I have worked as a research optometrist helping to design clinical studies and interpret clinical results for different prototypes and products. I am currently the director of clinical science so I not only continue to design and execute clinical trials but I also lead a team of research clinicians who are focused on developing tomorrow’s contact lens breakthroughs.

I certainly consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity since joining the team to witness the innovation that has happened across J&J Vision and across the industry in general.

Often things don’t work out – that is the nature of research and development – but there are times when our work in research and development goes all the way from concept in the lab to a global launch. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a project through from infancy to launch.

What are some of the projects you have worked on?

The benefit of working for a global eye health company is that you have exposure to a lot of different projects. Earlier in my career, I worked in the materials group and supported the efforts to bring uncoated silicone hydrogel lenses to the marketplace, ultimately leading to the launch of products like Acuvue Oasys. There was an unmet need from patients and eye care professional to optimise silicone hydrogel lens materials and then a subsequent need to be able to deliver uncoated silicone hydrogel lens technology into a daily disposable modality. An example of this is the development of Acuvue Oasys 1-Day which was a project that I also worked on.

More recently, I have worked to establish evidence around the benefits of UV blocking in contact lenses, as well as the development of future innovation. 

“We will continue to work on base contact lens innovation – innovation in technology, material science, and optical designs to further improve comfort and vision. As I look around, I still see people wearing spectacles. Is that about comfort, vision or personal preference? I think there are opportunities there.”

What change have you seen over your career?

From the contact lens industry as a whole, there appears to be a move towards an increased prevalence of daily disposable lenses, as well as the increased prescribing of silicone hydrogel contact lenses. I think eye care professionals see the clinical benefits of the daily disposable modality and are very proactive in offering their patients the newest innovations from the contact lens industry.

Within J&J Vision, we have adopted a philosophy where we focus on understanding and addressing the unmet customer need. Instead of sitting in a room and deciding, ‘What do we think the unmet needs are?’ it is really about getting out there and talking to the eye care professionals, talking to patients and really looking to them, through market research and other avenues, to find out what the unmet needs are and then determining innovative ways to address them.

The development of Acuvue Oasys 1-Day is a really good example of how market research can be effective. We did some research where we asked patients to rate their comfort, vision, and overall satisfaction over the course of a single day while wearing their habitual contact lenses. Ultimately, around six out of 10 people reported a decline in the performance of their lenses over the course of the day. Given this research was done in 2012 with relatively modern contact lens products, I might have predicted more like three out of 10 people to report a sub-optimal contact lens experience. We were shocked that the majority of contact lens wearers experienced a decline in their performance. We felt like that was an unmet need and we wondered what we could do to try to address that.

The scientists took advantage of a principle of polymer chemistry where you can modify the surface adhesiveness by increasing the crosslinker content within the material. Laboratory models supported that the increased crosslinker did, in fact, reduce the adhesiveness of the lens material. If you think about an eyelid, blinking over a contact lens 14,000 times a day, that is a really great example of where reducing the level of adhesiveness or friction is key.

We conducted multiple clinical trials to compare Acuvue Oasys 1-Day to the modern daily disposable silicone hydrogel lenses that were in the marketplace and the clinical results were exceptional. It was very satisfying to see how the clinical data ultimately supported the earlier laboratory work. Ultimately, what was even more satisfying for me was to hear the anecdotal feedback. Peers of mine were continually saying how well the lens was performing for their patients as well as for themselves.

“Myopia is yet another area of patient need. The unmet needs are tremendous here: By 2050, half of the world’s population is expected to be myopic and one billion are expected to have high myopia”

What future developments will research focus on?

We will continue to work on base contact lens innovation – innovation in technology, material science, and optical designs to further improve comfort and vision. As I look around, I still see people wearing spectacles. Is that about comfort, vision or personal preference? I think there are opportunities there.

However, there is another opportunity for innovation that I would categorise as breakthrough innovation. This is innovation that expands beyond comfort and vision. For example, understanding how contact lenses can help to bring a benefit through in terms of how they filter light. We see that with the recently launched Acuvue Oasys with Transitions light intelligent technology. We think light modulation, understanding light and the impact that it can have on our vision and lifestyle requirements is an opportunity to address additional unmet patient needs. Our research, with over 10,000 consumers across the globe, indicated that 80% of respondents are bothered by some type of lighting condition on an average day, which can result in their eyes feeling tired as well as feelings of distraction and frustration.

Myopia is yet another area of patient need. The unmet needs are tremendous here: By 2050, half of the world’s population is expected to be myopic and one billion are expected to have high myopia. We have both an internal research platform and are also supporting research externally. An example of the latter is our work with the Singapore National Eye Centre and the Singapore Eye Research Institute on a research collaboration to understand the mechanisms behind myopia, how it develops, how it progresses and how it may be intercepted. We look forward to being active in this space, one where with the eye care professional community, we can truly change the trajectory of eye health.

Image credit: Pixabay

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