In a two-decade career as a researcher at Johnson & Johnson Surgical Vision, Piers has been a part of teams at the forefront of a number of innovations in IOLs. She discusses her career and the outlook for research and development in ophthalmology.
Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Hutton, Ophthalmology Times: Hello, I'm David Hutton of Ophthalmology Times.® Dr. Patricia Piers, head of R&D, Ophthalmic Implants at Johnson & Johnson Surgical Vision, recently received the 2022 Women in Ophthalmology Scientific Contribution Award. This award recognizes a physician or non-physician scientist who has made significant contribution in the field of ophthalmology. Thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the contributions you made to ophthalmology that have led to this recognition?
Patricia Piers, PhD: Thank you for the question. I've been involved in as many as 20 new product launches. There are always several that stand out. Twice, I've been lucky enough to work on IOLs that were the first in the category. The first of these was actually the very first project that I got to work on as a new employee. That was the Tecnis lens, that was the first ashperic lens on the market. Last year, 2021, was the 20th anniversary of the Tecnis IOL. So I guess that kind of dates me a little bit, and tells you how long I've been working here. But that lens actually evolved into the platform that we have today that delivers high quality of vision, due to its design and its unique materials. And all of the lenses in the Tecnis family of products are built on that platform that we created 20 years ago.
The second category that I got to work on was the Tecnis Symfony lens, which was the first of its kind, extended depth of focus lens. That was also really special as we were part of the creation of a category with that one of the lenses for presbyopia correcting. You know, like with anything else, it's always the ones that you have to fight the hardest for that are the ones that you're most proud of.
In discussions of products that I'm most proud of the one that immediately springs to mind is one of our current, most current, and most innovative products. That's the Tecnis Eyhance IOL that slightly extends the depth of focus for patients in the reimburse category. You know, it is strange to say that I worked on these because as you know, I'm not responsible for anything alone. That would definitely not be fair to say. Science is very rarely done, alone. And I'm really blessed to work with a very special group of scientists and engineers. And actually, probably the thing that I'm most proud of is the group of extremely competent, talented individuals that I get to work with every day.
DH: What does this recognition mean to you?
PP: I feel tremendously honored to represent Johnson and Johnson Vision leadership in R&D and Surgical Vision. And especially with the WIO, this is a very special group that's extremely welcoming, and really setting the example of women helping women lead. I got the privilege of presenting this award to last year's winner and she was such an impressive individual that I don't really feel like I'm remotely in the same league. I'm excited to leave any imprint within Women in Ophthalmology that I can as we really work together, to pave the way for more women in ophthalmology as well as STEM and supporting women in underrepresented areas of science and technology, which I'm also extremely passionate about.
DH: Looking to what's going on right now, what are some of the latest developments going on that you're seeing that will impact ophthalmology?
PP: It's actually the best thing about this field. As a scientist and innovator, it's a field that truly gets completely under your skin because innovation moves at a very fast pace in this industry. You know, 2021 was a very exciting year for J&J Surgical Vision, as we launched two very exciting products in the US market: The Tecnis Synergy IOL, a high-performance hybrid lens that's designed for spectacle independence, and the Tecnis Eyhance IOL, that slightly extends the depth of focus for those patients in the monofocal category. And this year, J&J Vision announced the Tecnis Symfony, OptiBlue IOL, the extended depth of focus lens that expands presbyopia correction to more patients and includes the InteliLight technology.
DH: What can these lenses, how can they help ophthalmologists provide better outcomes for their patients?
PP: As we as we go through new editions of technology, what we're really looking for is higher quality of vision. And there's always a balance in everything we do, between providing a range of vision, providing a high quality of vision and providing reduced symptoms. And so as we continue to innovate in presbyopia correcting lenses, what we're looking for, is really a better balance. With the Tecnis Symfony OptiBlue, we've provided a lens is actually looking forward to the best contrast and low light performance in the presbyopia-correcting IOL category. So, every time we're innovating, we're striking a better and better balance between those three things, especially in the presbyopia correcting category. That helps surgeons when we're reducing symptoms, it helps them to have to deal with less chair time, have less complaints from patients. Higher contrast vision is making patients safer. And having a larger range of motion is providing them with increased spectacle independence, or enabling them to do things that they otherwise wouldn't be able to do without spectacles.
DH: You mentioned having a great 2021. Are we still seeing any residual impacts from the pandemic on research and development?
PP: Yeah, we are. Most of it comes from what is trickling down from what we see in supply chain issues that we see worldwide. That affects us also on the front end of innovation as well. That's mostly where we're seeing the effects, at least in industry. That as well as talent and staffing, and making sure that that you're able to work with the best possible people and it's really taking a lot more time to ensure that you're getting the same caliber of scientists and engineers that you really want to drive innovation forward.
DH: Are we seeing artificial intelligence being integrated into research and development efforts?
PP: Yes, definitely. It's being integrated in many, many areas. It's being integrated in diagnosis, it's being integrated in calculations, it's being integrated in design … all throughout the process. It's not taking away from what people need to do, but it's making our lives easier.
DH: And looking forward. What's your outlook for research and development efforts in ophthalmology in 2023 and beyond?
PP: Oh, gosh, you know, there's just so much to be done. Billions of people during their lifetimes will have eye health needs. And the numbers are increasing every year. We all have our work cut out for us to raise the standards of care and improve outcomes for all those patients, as well as improving accessibility to care and improve solutions for all. And in cataract R&D, we're faced with aging populations and increased comorbidities. These are really exciting problems to work on. As I described earlier, we'll continue to develop new IOLs that will continue to improve and evolve and allow patients to have better outcomes and range of vision. The other thing, bringing it back to Women and Ophthalmology, as a member and advocate for Women in Ophthalmology, we also continue to strive to elevate women in diversity in ophthalmology in R&D. This is through the actions of things like sponsorships and speaking engagements and clinical trials and R&D engagements to ensure that we really have a diverse group of people helping to solve all these problems that I just mentioned in order to ensure that we are providing the best solutions.