Today GoINPHARMA® meets Dr. Benjamin Sullivan, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of TearLab. Prior to obtaining his Ph.D. in Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, Benjamin graduated summa cum laude from Boston University’s Biomedical Engineering program as well as worked with his father, Dr. David A. Sullivan, researching the effects of Dry Eye Disease on molecular profiles of the tear film while at the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.
Tearlab Corporation develops and markets lab-on-a-chip technologies for the diagnosis and management of dry eye disease. The company is a Nasdaq listed company, headquartered in San Diego California, with approximately 150 employees and global sales across the US, EU and other CE marked countries.
GoINPHARMA®: Dr. Sullivan how would you describe the ophthalmic market where Tearlab is active, what are the most important dynamics and needs?
Dr. Benjamin Sullivan: The in vitro diagnostics market is in its infancy around the world. Unlike cardiology, oncology, or even general practice, ophthalmology has not had access to laboratory testing. As a result, most eye diseases are diagnosed based on relatively non-specific signs and symptoms. This is especially true at the front of the eye, where allergy, dry eye disease, inflammatory conditions, conjunctivochalasis, and a variety of other irritations frequently present with very similar clinical signs. It is the goal of TearLab to encourage broad adoption of in vitro diagnostics to ophthalmology and optometry, and to increase awareness of anterior segment disease with regards to its impact on quality of life, and its role in adverse surgical outcomes following refractive and cataract surgery. Moreover, there has been a lack of FDA and EMEA approved treatments for dry eye disease over the past two decades. We believe that is due to the inability to quantitatively track therapeutic changes as well as a fundamental misunderstanding about the disease mechanisms which govern anterior segment disease. In vitro diagnostics provide molecular level information about the status of the ocular surface and tear film, helping your doctor to make far better informed decisions about which therapies could work for you, while allowing industry to demonstrate to the regulatory authorities an otherwise unavailable, objective measure of efficacy.
GoINPHARMA®: Talking about science, what are the most recent developments (if any) which are going to radically change the scenario and what kind of benefits will they bring to the patient?
Dr. Benjamin Sullivan: It’s interesting you ask that – obviously, I think the availability of novel lab-on-a-chip devices that works directly with the tear film will change how we practice medicine within ophthalmology. Instead of guessing which type of therapy could work, hopefully lab testing will improve what is now a very subjective process. The classic profile of a dry eye patient is a post-menopausal woman who moves from doctor to doctor, endlessly searching for someone to take her seriously and to help fix a very intrusive disruption in her life. Doctors frequently count dry eye disease as a secondary irritation, but don’t realize that it affects vision, contrast sensitivity, night driving, reading and light sensitivity. And, because there are so many types of artificial tears and types of dry eye disease, doctors may have to take a trial and error approach to therapy which can takes months or years of repeated visits to tailor exactly the right approach for a particular patient, which can be very frustrating and expensive on both sides. From the system’s standpoint, there is an incredible amount of inefficiency and wasted money on these types of patients. We think that laboratory testing is the key to streamlining this dynamic by identifying which patients to treat with which therapy.
GoINPHARMA®: What is the technological solution that Tearlab proposes to the market and patients?
Dr. Benjamin Sullivan: TearLab has developed a unique lab-on-a-chip system that provides analytical lab results in seconds at the point of care. The key to the TearLab system is that it collects just 50 nanoliters of tear, making it very safe and non-invasive. Designing a system with such a low volume was critical to the quality of the lab results, since it mitigates the risk of corrupting the sample with reflex tearing, and the immediate analysis compensates for any effects of evaporation. Tear collection happens in a fraction of a second from the corner of the patient’s tear lake, and we’ve made the whole process so simple that people with minimal training can easily collect tears.
GoINPHARMA®: Could you share with us what are the challenges that you and your team of scientists face when engage in the development of solutions for dry eye disease? What is a typical development time and time to market for Tearlab?
Dr. Benjamin Sullivan: Unfortunately, as a public company we can’t tell you exactly when we will release our second product, but we are in development now. I can tell you that we have an extraordinary team of scientists and engineers working diligently to bring these products to life. Our partners include the world class teams at miniFAB in Melbourne, Australia, Minnetronix in Minnesota, DCN in Carlsbad CA, Sparton Medical in Colorado, and Invetech, also in Australia. It’s taken several years to figure out how to expand our portfolio of tests and multiplex our results. Working with nanoliters of tears means that there is a vanishingly small amount of signal, very few molecules to detect, so we have had to engineer a system with superior sensitivity and precision to be able to bring this product to life. I personally am very excited to show off the great work they have been doing.
GoINPHARMA®: Now we would like you to share with us the highlights of the Tearlab´s pipeline and the most exiting innovation or product you wanted to propose to the patients?
Dr. Benjamin Sullivan: Well, we haven’t yet made our pipeline. I can tell you that there are some amazing products waiting in the wings that will hopefully bring a deeper understanding to patients and doctors alike.
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