100% Optical

NuVision: “Where optometrists are offering specialist dry eye clinics, this can be part of the service”

OT  spoke to NuVision Biotherapies’ Andy Hill and Tonicha Spencer as the company launched its Omnigen and OmniLenz products to optometrists at 100% Optical

Stand at 100% Optical with four people standing in front of it

NuVision Biotherapies is a UK-based tissue therapy company founded in 2015 and built on PhD research completed by Dr Andrew Hopkinson at the University of Nottingham.

The company exhibited at 100% Optical in February for the first time, officially launching its products to UK optometrists.

NuVision manufactures and supplies two products: Omnigen, a dry and stable human amniotic membrane material that can be used to aid the natural healing process in ophthalmic conditions such as dry eye, and OmniLenz, a contact lens that holds the amniotic membrane in place on the surface of the eye without the need for surgery.

Speaking to OT at the show, Andy Hill, CEO of NuVision, explained: “Amniotic membrane has been used in wound care for years. The first publication into the use of amnion in general wound care was in 1910. It was first used in ophthalmology in the late 1940s.”

However, while it has been used for over 80 years for medical care, Hill highlighted that until the development of Omnigen and OmniLenz, there were two main challenges.

“The first was that, in those days, if you were going to use amniotic membrane in the eye, the only way to keep it in the eye was to stitch it on, so the patient would require surgery along with anaesthetic. The second was that the tissue had to be preserved,” he explained.

Exploring amniotic membrane as part of his PhD, the research of Hopkinson, NuVision co-founder and chief scientific officer, developed a process to preserve the tissue in a dry form that can be stored at room temperature. Hopkinson went on to found NuVision to commercialise Omnigen and develop a contact lens that would hold the amnion tissue in the eye without the need for suturing, expanding dramatically where and how Omnigen could be used, as well as by whom.

Beyond hospital ambitions

Today, Hill estimates that around 80% of NuVision’s business comprises of care delivered in an outpatient setting.

“As a company, in many ways we benefited from COVID-19, as hard as that is to say. Patients couldn’t get into the operating theatre, so our goal of having our products used in outpatient clinics was accelerated.”

At the time of speaking to OT, Hill shared that Omnigen and OmniLenz were mainly being delivered through outpatient care by ophthalmologists, and in a small number of cases by nurses and optometrists.

However, identifying the large NHS waiting lists and a “struggling” ophthalmology workforce, NuVision believes its products can be used safely and effectively by optometrists in a High Street setting, particularly for patients with conditions such as dry eye.

“We want to help patients get access to treatment and reduce the NHS waiting lists, which stand at an estimated 600,000,” said Tonicha Spencer, head of UK sales and clinical support for NuVision.

Hill added: “The more the NHS can push patients into primary care, the more it will free up ophthalmology in secondary care to do the stuff that they are good at. And why not have optometrists do what we do when they are perfectly capable with just a little bit of training?”

Into optometry

In November 2023, the AOP confirmed that optometrist members who had undergone training and wished to use Omnigen and OmniLenz in practice would be insured to do so. “This has allowed us to launch Omnigen and OmniLenz into optometry today,” Hill said.

Asked about the type of patients Omnigen and OmniLenz would be appropriate for, Hill explained, “it can be used in a range of different areas and on a range of different patients.”

“Basically, if there is superficial damage to the surface of the eye or there is inflammation, that’s where it is going to be useful,” Hill said.

Focusing on patient type, Spencer highlighted patients with dry eyes are those who could benefit from Omnigen and OmniLenz. “Dry eye patients with staining or inflammation would benefit from this treatment. It’s not going to change meibomian glands as that’s not part of it, but with patients who have dry eye or ocular surface issues, this is where optometrists should focus their patient selection,” she said.

She added: “Where optometrists are offering specialist dry eye clinics, this can be part of the service. It adds to the suite of therapeutic options that practitioners in these clinics have available to them.”

Discussing the training that is required by optometrists who want to use these products with their patients, Hill said it is “surprisingly straightforward.”

The training programme has been written by Spencer.

She shared: “We go through the background of where we get the tissue from, explaining the remit of the Human Tissue Authority who regulates us, to make sure that practitioners understand the framework. We share samples of the tissue and the lens and allow the clinician to feel and play with the lens, before we go through the technique of using it. Finally, we talk about patient selection.”

Hill highlighted: “We are holding people’s hands during this process as there is a learning curve that comes with it. We also really value feedback from clinicians and patients – it’s important that we have a long-term relationship with our optometrists and our ophthalmologists in the hospitals.

Business ambitions

Today, NuVision employs 20 people. With expansion into High Street optometry a key goal during 2024, it estimates that it will “double in size” by the end of the year.

“We are looking to grow by an additional 25 people by the end of the year,” Hill told OT. “We are creating jobs in manufacturing here in the UK, as well as in marketing, regulation, finance and HR. This product is labour intensive to create. It needs trained people to do a manual job – it’s quite skilled. You will never automate it.”

Speaking about the company’s ambitions in optometry, Hill said: “In the UK, optometry is really important to us and is our big focus going forward over the next year.”

“We want to continue to build the hospital surgical and outpatients’ side of the business, but optometry is an enormous opportunity for us,” he added.

The company estimated that by the end of March it would have 100 optometrists trained to deliver the product.

Hill shared that NuVision will also begin to sell overseas. “The separation between optometry and ophthalmology is different overseas and it’s not the same kind of model, but over the course of the next 12 months we will be up and running in around 13 countries, including the Nordics and the Middle East” he confirmed.