Allergan chief receives award from glaucoma foundation

March 15, 2006

San Francisco?David E.I. Pyott wants to conquer glaucoma. He hopes that one day the cure is found.

The Allergan Inc. chairman, president, and chief executive officer also dreams about the potential success of memantine, a drug now being studied in the world's most expensive and longest-running glaucoma trial, which is funded by his company.

"This would be the first oral drug for glaucoma that directly protects the optic nerve from glaucomatous damage," Pyott says. "While we're thrilled to have a selection of IOP-lowering drugs, this would be an absolute sea change in the treatment of glaucoma."

The long, expensive trial may take years to pay off for Allergan, but Pyott's willingness to take that risk sets him apart. It is one example that explains why the Glaucoma Research Foundation chose Pyott for its Catalyst Award, awarded Jan. 11 in San Francisco.

The foundation supports the work of glaucoma researchers, including the Catalyst For A Cure consortium, an innovative lab that brings together researchers in nontraditional fields, such as neuroscience and genetics, for collaborative work toward a treatment or cure for glaucoma.

Allergan has been a major supporter of the foundation, giving nearly $1 million in unrestricted grants over the last 20 years to boost patient education efforts. That work has taken the form of the "Understanding and Living with Glaucoma" booklet-now in its 14th printing-that many doctors give their patients when their glaucoma is diagnosed. The booklet explains the diagnosis for patients, and encourages them to comply with treatment recommendations.

Tom Brunner, the foundation's chief executive officer and executive director, said Pyott has invested himself in the ophthalmology field during his 8 years at Allergan's helm, pointing to Pyott's involvement in various national and international ophthalmic organizations and lobbying groups.

"He's personally committed to the field. I think it's very important to him not to be just the corporate partner, but I think he's developed a strong personal interest and is supportive not just of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, but the field in general," Brunner said. "I think that's the making of a strong leader and executive and innovator."

A good influence

Pyott, 52, says his interest in ophthalmology and philanthropy began long before he took the reins at Allergan. He was influenced by his younger brother, a cataract surgeon in Scotland, who spent more than 12 years serving the poor in Africa and Asia. Andrew Pyott, MD, set up the first eye hospital in Cambodia with help from the Christian Blind Mission International, he said.

"When I first joined Allergan, I was hearing about the state of cataract surgery in California, but I had another voice in my head saying 'it's different in Cambodia and Africa,'" Pyott said. "In the past when AMO was part of us, we used to give a lot of lenses to international expeditions."