Device Innovations for Ophthalmic Surgery : Dr. Amarpreet Sawhney, I-Therapeuitx, Inc.,

I-Therapeuitx, Inc., a privately held company founded in November 2006, is involved in the development of ophthalmic therapeutic products using its proprietary hydrogel technology to address unmet needs in ophthalmology and ophthalmic surgery. In addition to its first product I-Zip ocular bandage, the company is in the process of developing sustained ocular drug delivery vehicles for the therapy and treatment of ophthalmic diseases and ocular infections.

eHEALTH caught up with Dr. Amarpreet Sawhney, President and CEO, I-Therapeutix, to know about his entrepreneurial ventures, device inovation and the scope of premium products worldwide.

Please tell us about your journey as the CEO of I-Therapeutix, Inc. Apart from the USA, which are the other countries in which you have direct or indirect marketing networks?

While I was running my previous company Confluent Surgical, we were getting a lot of demands from the ophthalmologists for creating polymers for the eyes. After we sold Confluent, we decided to look into this further and charted a business plan for starting I-Therapeutix. I-Terapeutix, started with a small nucleus of 4-5 people, which has now grown to almost about 300 people.

The companies that I have been involved with are start-up companies. We find unmet needs in medicine, surgery, etc. and we try to design devices that can meet these needs. By the very nature of these companies, they start off very small as the products are first built, then approved and finally launched. The entire process from concept to stability and profitability takes about 6 years; sometimes we sell our companies and some times we continue to run them. For commercialisation, we typically look at the US market, which is the biggest for us and then Europe, which is a potentially good sized market but a little slow in adopting technology. The top 5 countries in Europe are Germany, UK, Italy, Spain and France.

A more mature company may have a different profile as compared to a start-up company as they also focus on sales outside the US, but since our products are not registered yet we tend to focus on the US and a few countries in Europe.

What was the idea behind creating Incept and what is the model that it works on?

The first company I worked with was Focal, where I was the technology founder. But I was not running the company and did not have input into many aspects of the business. I then decided to start my own company and after agreeing to a one year non-compete with Focal, began Confluent Surgicals. Focal, however, retained 50 of my patents that I could not make use of.

Incept was created in order to use a different model to create companies. Incept is a holding company that owns all intellectual property rights. Another reason why Incept was formed was it being an enabler. Unlike the venture capitalists, the technology founders have everything in one company and if that goes bust they are left with nothing. Finally when Incept was formed my partner Fred Khosravi and I realised that we could not scale this too much because there were just two of us and multiple things to do. We needed to create ventures and mentor one or two people to take it further. Hence we created a group of entrepreneurs who could take on more opportunities.

Which are the other entrepreneurial ventures that you have been involved with in addition to I-Therapeutix?

One of the companies that I have been involved with is Market Rx. Market Rx is involved with creating software that can enable the service aspect, is faster, easier to use and more accurate based on other analytics. The company eventually became very successful and we sold it for USD 165 million.

Another company that I ran in the early stages is Augmenix, which is working in the radiation oncology field. The company produces material that could be injected between two organs lying near by so that the radiation, while giving chemotherapy, doesn’t spread to non cancerous organs.

Please tell us about the in situ formed hydrogel technology behind I-Zip?

I-Zip has two freeze dried droplets, to which one drop of water is added, following which they are mixed and applied onto the corneal incision in cataract surgery. I-Zip provides a liquid environment that seals the incision and also helps in holding the edges together so that the healing can be better. After about five days, the material eventually falls off and the epithelium grows underneath it.

“For introducing premier products it is easier to go for the highest priced markets first as the margins there are higher and the product is viewed as a premium commodity. The prices can be  dropped later on in order to introduce such products in markets like India.”

Another product that we developed is DuraSeal, which is a serum for brain surgery. DuraSeal helps in sealing the dura mater post brain surgery. Its reaction is very fast and it immediately forms a flexible membrane that stays for about a month and a half and then liquefies, during which the brain forms a new membrane. 

How do you perceive the market for this technology vis-a-vis the other conventional procedures used for similar procedures?

We think the market for this technology is about USD 600 million worldwide. We have recently finished a 420 patient trial and found out that the patients treated with I-Zip are more comfortable, and have less inflammation, oedema, and pain. These things haven’t existed in the past so there are no other products that can provide competition to this technology.

What is the scope of such products in India?

In India, the price pressures are a lot more as any procedure that is performed here is at least 4-5 times more expensive in the US. Looking at the price constrains selling a high priced product is difficult in India if the cost of the entire cataract surgery is very less. Hence, for introducing premier products it is easier to go for the highest priced markets first as the margins there are higher and the product is viewed as a premium commodity. The prices can be  dropped later on in order to introduce such products in markets like India. When we launch a product, we launch it in the US first, followed by Europe and Japan and then the rest of the world.

Are there any products that are currently in the pipeline? Will they be based on the same technology?

We are currently working on developing a series of drug delivery systems, starting with an antibiotic system which could deliver antibiotics post  cataract surgery. This will be administered just once and will eliminate the need for taking any eye drops after that.

Another product that we would be launching in the near future is for glaucoma.

Can you tell us about some of your patented technologies and the procedure that you follow to obtain these patents?

Usually, obtaining a device patent is simple and its fairly easy to design around it. We try to build a patent umbrella and have multilayer protection. The first layer is of the composition or matter, the second is for the methods of the used patent, the third is for the applications type of patents and finally for patent related to use of colour in implants. Hence, there are three to four layers of patents and then patent for the delivery device.

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