Bernie’s Quarterly Update – December 2022
December 19, 2022
As we near the end of a very strong quarter and wrap up yet another year, all of us at CorneaGen pause to wish all of you the happiest of holidays. The collaboration and team spirit, both internal and external, are what made 2022 successful. Together, we reflect on what we’ve achieved and look to the year ahead, preparing to take advantage of ongoing and new opportunities to deliver sight-restoring corneal care to patients.
Here are just a few reasons to celebrate.
Product innovations this year and next…
CorneaGen launched the EndoSerter-PL at ASCRS, and we had another impressive showing of this FDA approved DSAEK solution at AAO—our best AAO ever. We had record booth attendance, meeting up with more surgeons and key opinion leaders than at any previous event. The EndoSerter-PL has been used in hundreds of surgeries and counting, as we get it in the hands of more and more surgeons. We’re also very excited for a couple of new product launches planned for 2023. Much more to come soon.
Teams who worked tirelessly…
With shortages in storage media and subsequent uneven tissue supply, we all faced a lot. Yet despite the issues, I saw endless can-do and creativity in working to solve these challenges. In the end and in collaboration with of all our Eye Bank and OPO partners, we finished Q4 very strong, delivering at yearend a high volume of sight restoring grafts to surgeons and patients.
Partnering with surgeons and industry leaders…
It was rewarding to reignite our Eye Bank Experience Program and host fellows again in person, helping educate our future leaders in cornea/anterior segment. We’ll keep offering and promoting educational pathways in the year ahead. Also, we’re happy to welcome Jane Rady back to our board. Her wisdom and experience in corporate ophthalmology greatly enhances our board and CorneaGen governance. Finally, I want to celebrate the gratis tissue CorneaGen provided for our surgeon partners’ mission trips this year—176 tissue donations from the beginning of 2022 through Nov 30, including for the WakeECHO mission below.
After a long hiatus due to COVID, WakeECHO Brigade #10 traveled to Honduras in October to provide cataract, cornea, and subspecialty surgery, as well as ophthalmology consultations to those in need.
Challenges surmounted in the industry at large…
We have been engaging eye banks and donation partners in new and meaningful ways. Consolidation continues, and it’s by strengthening relationships with these partners that we raise awareness and expand access to our innovative services and technologies for surgeons and their patients around the country. We’re developing best practices to shine a brighter light on corneal transplant reimbursement. We will expand this impactful program in 2023. And as always, I expect there will be many more prospects to partner on in 2023, improving awareness, education, and tissue supply for everyone.
On a closing note, I want to highlight the reason we do what we do. At CorneaGen, we remain committed to providing the highest quality donor tissue, unparalleled service, and superior products—all the while, we never forget the donors, their families and their final gifts, honoring the sacred process of eye, organ, and tissue donation.
Here’s to 2022, a Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year to all!
Bernie Iliakis, President and CEO
Bernie’s Quarterly Update – September 2022
September 26, 2022
We approach the end of another great quarter and exciting opportunities and challenges are abound. As many of you know, we recently refined our organizational structure and refreshed our Board, continuing to leverage longstanding expertise with this group. Last month, we were happy to welcome nine doctors to our Seattle headquarters for the Eye Bank Experience Program as well as host new fellows in our Boston office for two wet labs. Getting to spend this time together, with the next generation of corneal surgeons, was invaluable. And I wanted to share the opportunity to sit down with Inside the OWL Studio and talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion at CorneaGen – it’s incredibly important to keep advancing this discussion in ophthalmology.
Here are another few key moments from the last three months.
The EndoSerter-PL keeps advancing the next generation of cornea care.
Since its launch at ASCRS, the EndoSerter-PL has been used successfully in hundreds of surgeries. We’ve also achieved broad availability for our best-in-class insertion device, which continues to be the only FDA approved product on the market. As we get the EndoSerter-PL in the hands of more surgeons, we’re encouraged by new testimonials and look forward to showcasing it at AAO. Dr. Keith Walter and Dr. Marjan Farid will be leading demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday respectively at the upcoming event, October 1-3, booth #4200.
Our team evolves…
We’re sad to have to say goodbye to J.D. Osborne, but we’re proud of him and everything he’s accomplished at CorneaGen. J.D. has been part of the team for nearly nine years, starting as our first Surgical Product Specialist and advancing to Vice President. He has had a huge impact on the corneal transplant field, developing strong relationships with surgeons and colleagues. As a champion of our mission and vision, he remains as passionate about CorneaGen as ever. We’re thrilled for him as he moves on to his new role in the ophthalmic space and glad he’ll still be giving to this industry.
And the eye banking profession keeps moving as well.
There was big news out of our partner SightLife last month, as they announced a merger with Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research. Our relationship with SightLife is unchanged and goes forward as strong as it has always been. At the same time, many new opportunities may present themselves to improve donor supply and collaboration. We haven’t scratched the surface on this yet.. On that note, one more rewarding moment from our collaboration with SightLife to share – please watch this story on a donor and recipient family coming together virtually for the first time. From recovery, to processing, to shipment, to getting donor tissue in the hands of the recipient’s surgeon, the massive team effort that happens in the background all contributes to making more sight restoring impact.
So, an incredible amount has happened in recent months, and there’s so much to look forward to in the quarter ahead. Change is good. We continue to move forward, making a positive difference together for corneal transplants and all the stakeholders involved.
Thank you for your attention.
Bernie’s Quarterly Update – June 2022
June 16, 2022
It has been just over a year since I officially had the honor of being named President of CorneaGen. Throughout my 27 years with the organization, beginning as an eye bank technician, I have seen CorneaGen grow and evolve. Heading into 2022, we embraced a new mission, vision, and structure. We continue providing the highest quality donor tissue, unparalleled service, and superior products. We strive every day to better serve surgeons, patients, donor families, and industry partners through constant innovation in tissue processing technology and surgical devices.
We’ve achieved many successes, taken on new challenges, and we continue to be a leader in this industry. Yet I’ve never been more proud of this team than in reflecting on what we accomplished in the first half of this year alone. Through industry collaboration and teamwork, we’re surpassing our goals.
We launched the EndoSerter-PL, advancing the next generation of cornea care.
Our new, pre-loaded insertion device for DSEK is the only FDA approved device on the market. By integrating Nano-Thin or Ultra-Thin DSEK tissue with a best-in-class insertion device, working with our surgeon community, we’re helping redefine and reinvent these surgeries. We’re saving precious O.R. time, very excited by initial results, and looking forward to expanding distribution in the months ahead.
Our work at ASCRS was a success, reconnecting with our communities.
In addition to showcasing the new EndoSerter-PL, the opportunity to interact with other industry leaders was incredibly valuable. We had a new booth, and it was one of the most active at the event, featuring demonstrations from Edward Holland, M.D., and John Berdahl, M.D. We sat down with several reporters, and a true highlight was seeing Dr. Holland present the EndoSerter-PL on EyewireTV.
We faced an industry wide Optisol shortage, leading conservation efforts.
Alongside others, we took steps early on to help with this issue affecting the entire industry. We employed several different conservation measures and were very proactive with communications to our surgeons. Our goal was to provide as many corneas for transplant as possible during the shortage, and we’re cautiously optimistic we’re all coming out on the other side.
Our team evolved in a most exciting way, promoting Annie Thompson to CFO.
Annie joined us in 2020 as our corporate controller, and she’s made a huge impact in a small amount of time. As a veteran financial professional, she has 20 years across multiple industries and companies of different sizes. She’s an expert in her role, but what I’m most excited about is her passion for our mission and team. Her belief in what we’re doing and tireless effort to better connect us inspires every day. She is of great value to our Executive Team.
And that’s not all that’s happened so far this year. From donating twenty corneas to Dr. Lloyd Williams’ life changing sight restoration surgeries in Sierra Leone to coming back together in the office, in all ways big and small, we continue to move forward. We continue to make a difference together, treating and caring for every person impacted by corneal disease.
Thank you for your attention.
Bernie Iliakis, President
Ziemer USA Announces Partnership with CorneaGen
November 11, 2021
Ziemer USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Switzerland-based Ziemer AG, announced a new partnership with CorneaGen.
“We have started an exciting new collaboration with CorneaGen,” said David Bragg, President of Ziemer USA & Canada. “Through combined development efforts, we are looking forward to bringing new applications to the Z8. The advanced applications will permit the Z8 to perform novel treatments in corneal therapeutics, and we expect they will have a tremendous clinical impact for patients.”
Together, through this joint commitment to innovation in corneal care, Ziemer plans to bring new procedures to the ophthalmic field and further its mutual mission to create technology that helps solve ongoing clinical challenges.
“CorneaGen provides the highest quality donor tissue, service, and products to surgeons and their patients while driving innovations in corneal care,” shared Bernie Iliakis, President of CorneaGen. “We remain committed to transforming the lives of those impacted by corneal disease, and this partnership with Ziemer is critical to creating better solutions to help restore sight.”
Source: Ziemer USA
Industry Veteran to Accelerate Development of Advanced Therapy Platform for Ocular Diseases
June 8, 2021
Greg Kunst has been named chief executive officer of newly-launched Aurion Biotech, whose mission is to cure blindness by developing a differentiated platform of advanced therapies to treat ocular diseases. The company’s first candidate is a cell therapy for the treatment of corneal endothelial disease, which affects millions of people worldwide, with symptoms that include blurred vision, glare, discomfort and pain. Invented by world-renowned ophthalmic surgeon and research scientist Professor Shigeru Kinoshita and his distinguished colleagues at Kyoto Prefecture University of Medicine (KPUM) in Japan, corneal endothelial cell therapy has demonstrated long-term efficacy in Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies in Japan.
“I am delighted to join Aurion Biotech because we have all the key ingredients for success—the best science, the best scientists and medical advisors, and the best backers,” said Greg Kunst. “Our lead candidate, in early research and Phase 2 and Phase 3 studies in Japan, has already demonstrated long-term, significant improvements in patients’ vision. I look forward to scaling up our team to pursue clinical development in the US and around the world, and to build a platform of transformational biotechnologies with the aim of restoring vision to all patients who need it.”
Greg has deep and varied experience in ophthalmic medical devices, drug delivery systems, diagnostics, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical products. His expertise spans global corporate development, strategy, health policy, marketing, commercialization, business development, market access and medical affairs. Before Aurion Biotech, Greg spent six years at Glaukos Corporation (NYSE: GKOS), where he led the worldwide marketing, market access, reimbursement, health economics and outcomes research, government affairs, and business development teams. During his tenure at Glaukos, Greg launched four new products and led the development for multiple ophthalmology device, pharmaceuticals and biologics candidates targeting corneal, glaucoma, and retinal diseases. Before Glaukos, Greg was global franchise director over the glaucoma surgery and retina pharmaceutical businesses at Alcon, a Novartis company. Before joining Alcon, Greg was the global head of market access at Kinetic Concepts, Inc. (Acelity Inc.) Greg is a member of the steering committee for the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at the University of California, Irvine. Greg holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University and a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University.
“Greg’s achievements and experience have prepared him well for the opportunity at Aurion Biotech,” said Tom Frinzi, board chair. “I quickly realized he is the right person at the right time to lead this team, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have him accelerate the company’s growth and success.”
“Having backed numerous successful technologies in ophthalmology, I know that great people are every bit as important as are great products,” said Bill Link, general partner at Flying L Ventures, and board member. “With Greg at the helm, I’m excited for Aurion Biotech and its very bright future.”
About Aurion Biotech
Based in Seattle and Boston, Aurion Biotech is a clinical stage biotech company. Our mission is to cure leading forms of blindness and transform the lives of millions of patients, by developing a platform of advanced therapies. Our first candidate is for the treatment of corneal endothelial disease, and one of the first clinically validated cell therapies for corneal care. Healthy cells from a donor cornea are cultured in a novel, multi-step, proprietary and patented process. Cell lots manufactured from a single donor may be used to treat more than 100 recipient eyes. In early research and Phase 2 & Phase 3 clinical trials in Japan, patients have experienced long-term, significant improvements in key measures of corneal health: visual acuity, corneal endothelial cell density and corneal thickness. The Aurion Biotech team is preparing for clinical trials in the U.S. To learn more about Aurion Biotech, a division of CorneaGen Inc., visit www.aurionbiotech.com
Bernie Iliakis Promoted to President of CorneaGen
March 16, 2021
CorneaGen, a mission-driven company committed to transforming how corneal surgeons treat and care for the cornea, today announced that Bernardino “Bernie” Iliakis has been promoted from chief operating officer to president of the company. Bernie will assume leadership of the company as part of Monty Montoya’s transition from CEO to strategic advisor to CorneaGen.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Bernie for over 25 years,” said Monty Montoya. “He is deeply passionate about CorneaGen’s mission to eliminate corneal blindness, he is a beloved leader and manager, and he is well known in our industry for his integrity and work ethic. I’m delighted to continue our collaboration in the months and years to come, and to support Bernie and the team in driving continued growth and success for CorneaGen.”
Bernie began his career in eye banking as a technician at SightLife (then known as Northwest Lions Eye Bank) in August 1995 where he did everything from recovering tissue from donors to training other technicians. By 1998, Bernie had become technical director responsible for all operations staff and eye bank policy and procedure. He then became COO in 2003 and transitioned to CorneaGen when it was formed in 2016. Also in 2016, Bernie was honored by the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) with the Leonard Heise Award for his outstanding contributions and devotion to the field of eye banking.
“There are very few people who have had as much impact in our industry as Bernie. We’re delighted for him to lead CorneaGen,” said Tom Frinzi, chair of CorneaGen’s board. “He is well respected and his insights, proven track record and deep industry experience will help drive CorneaGen to the next level of growth and success.”
Bernie has spent his entire career in cornea donation and transplantion, working nationally and internationally to extend the gift of sight. His multi-year clinical research on the development of the practical use of laser technology was unique enough to apply for a U.S. Patent in 2006. The result, a process to surgically cut corneal transplant tissue using a femtosecond laser, helped to revolutionize the delivery of care to individuals suffering from corneal blindness.
“I’m excited and honored to lead CorneaGen and continue our commitment to fulfill our mission,” said Iliakis. “We look forward to serving our surgeons, patients and donor families and industry partners with relentless dedication to quality and innovation in corneal care.”
Bernie served for 15 years on both the Medical Advisory Board for the EBAA, which creates and revises the medical standards that govern eye banking, and the Accreditation Board as an inspector, determining accreditation status of eye banks. He has also been a member of the American Association of Ophthalmology and American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery participating on the course faculty for Femtosecond Laser Keratoplasty.
Bernie received his master’s degree in Health Administration from the University of Washington and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology, also at the UW.
CorneaGen is a mission-driven company committed to transforming how corneal surgeons treat and care for the cornea. Based in Seattle, the company is innovating the next generation of cornea care, from new medical devices and biologics to treatments and interventions. CorneaGen supports corneal surgeons and their patients with a spectrum of services, including the latest in innovative products, delivery of the highest quality tissue, surgeon education, and advocacy for patient access and reimbursement policies. https://corneagen.com