From the motorcycle shop to the optical shop

When eye-care professionals (ECPs) talk with patients about the role of sunglasses, the discussion emphasizes protection. When patients consider sunwear, they think style.

In a classic case of "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," those two divergent concepts merged in a line of protective eyewear (Panoptx, Pleasanton, CA) that also shields the cornea.

Panoptx protective eyewear was conceived and designed by Rudy Kopfer, MD, a maxillofacial specialist and an avid skier. While on the slopes, Dr. Kopfer was frustrated by the continual need to swap sunglasses for goggles. To eliminate the nuisance factor, Dr. Kopfer created a pair of "goggles in sunglasses" that provided both functions in one product.

Dr. Kopfer's invention included a proprietary, removable, medical-grade micro-fiber eyecup (Orbital Seal, Panoptx) that filled the space between the frame and the wearer's face.

"The benefits of the sealing eyecup go beyond blocking wind and airborne irritants," said Jackson Hogen, vice president of research and development for Panoptx. "The precise seal also eliminates peripheral glare and provides a moisture chamber that helps soothe traumatized corneal surfaces."

Inventions often take a circuitous path to market. For Panoptx, the market breakthrough came by way of an atypical opportunity-motorcycle riders, particularly Harley Davidson users. Bikers found that the protective eyewear was particularly effective in blocking wind, leading to the descriptive term "windless eyewear." As the protective eyewear became one of the best-selling non-Harley Davidson products at Harley Davidson dealerships, the Panoptx sales force pushed market boundaries by selling to other sporting goods outlets, such as ski shops and boating suppliers.

Then, the Panoptx marketing plan turned a hard corner, targeting optical shops and private practice ophthalmologists.

Eye-care applications

In late 2003, Shareef Mahdavi, president of SM2 Consulting, became aware of Panoptx and its product, since the company is based in Pleasanton, where he lives. After visiting corporate headquarters and meeting with management, there was clear potential for using Panoptx protective eyewear as an adjunct that could help ECPs help their patients who experience dry eye. One new factor for broader application was that Panoptx began offering its product with prescription options.

Dry eye syndrome has moved to the forefront of daily ophthalmic practice. Punctal plugs, over-the-counter lubricating drops, and prescription pharmaceuticals have become the standard therapeutic regimen for patients with dry eye. Earlier devices-such as the customized moisture chamber-were both expensive and difficult to make. Anecdotal stories of patients with Sjögren's syndrome resorting to wearing swim goggles underscored the need for ECPs to add a better alternative to their armamentarium.