Bernie’s Quartely – November 2023
November 1, 2023
A message from Bernie Iliakis, President & CEO of CorneaGen
We’re nearing the end of another year and gearing up for AAO 2023—things are very busy at CorneaGen and for many throughout the industry. As we wrap up October, I’m excited to share a few third quarter highlights and opportunities just ahead on the horizon.
Industry partnerships and participation
CorneaGen attended ESCRS in September, where we met with a number of partners—Ziemer, Geuder, AJL, and more. We continue to build these relationships and develop new ones throughout the industry, advancing corneal care together.
Also, on the collaboration note, CorneaGen continues to work in new and unique ways with its fellow eye bank partners to provide the highest quality tissue, service, and products to surgeons and patients.
Mutually beneficial partnerships like those named above help maximize the quality and quantity of corneal tissue for everyone through integrated tissue sharing and improved eye recovery. We will be announcing some of these collaborations soon, stay tuned.
Innovative products and people
Our EndoSerter-PL is in the hands of more and more surgeons, and it has been used in close to two thousand successful surgeries since last year’s launch. This continues to be an exciting product, saving significant time for surgeons in the OR.
We also have our Corneal Tissue Addition for Keratoplasty (CTAK) solution to get in line for now. Improving the treatment of keratoconic eyes, CTAK is in ongoing clinical studies, and we’re very excited to showcase it at AAO. We’ll be running wet labs to demonstrate this latest innovation in corneal contouring. As we approach fifty surgeries completed, we’re receiving outstanding results and surgeon feedback. CTAK also helps save valuable procedure time through the personalized surgical plan it provides, delivering laser cut corneal tissue segments customized to each patient.
Testimonials we’ve received from surgeons so far include:
“Keratoconus is a very frustrating disease with visual disability often requiring a corneal transplant when vision degrades to where glasses or contacts don’t work well. CTAK corneal tissue addition provides a great option for those patients with quick recovery, improved vision without the long recovery or risk of a corneal transplant. We’ve been very happy with the results.” – David Hardten, M.D., F.A.C.S
“Overall, I think CTAK is a fantastic procedure for patients with keratoconus that markedly improves uncorrected and best corrected vision without need for a more invasive PK or DALK.” – Elizabeth A. Davis, M.D., F.A.C.S
This is our mission at CorneaGen—providing the highest quality donor tissue, unparalleled service, and superior products. And this promise is exactly what we’re delivering on with our newest solutions.
In closing, I hope to see many of you at AAO, and I thank everyone throughout the industry—surgeons, organizations, eye banks—for the work we’re doing together to transform how ophthalmologists treat and care for every person impacted by corneal disease.
Annie Thompson Recognized by Fabulous Washington
August 29, 2023
Our very own CFO, Annie Thompson, has been profiled in Fabulous People by Fabulous Washington!
Annie’s remarkable leadership, unwavering dedication, and outstanding financial expertise have not only propelled our company to new heights but have also captured the spotlight of Fabulous Washington’s feature.
This recognition is a testament to her extraordinary achievements and the invaluable contributions she has made to our organization.
Join us in applauding Annie’s well-earned accolade. Check-out Annie’s Fabulous People profile, highlighting her remarkable achievements and journey on Fabulous Washington.
Bernie’s Quarterly Update – June 2023
June 26, 2023
We’re halfway through 2023 and happy about how things are going and what the future holds. We have enjoyed a great six months of growth beyond our forecast. Our ongoing work to build innovative solutions, foster industry relationships, and strengthen our team and company culture continues. Here are several successes and/or opportunities I’m most proud of as we close the second quarter.
Promoting our innovations
CorneaGen was in full force at ASCRS 2023 in May, where we had the chance to celebrate another milestone for the EndoSerter-PL. Now in the hands of more than 150 surgeons, the EndoSerter-PL has been used in over 1,000 successful surgeries. The product keeps proving itself as a next generation device, improving efficiency in the O.R. by helping perform DSAEK surgery with precision. We also previewed our Corneal Tissue Addition for Keratoplasty (CTAK) solution which offers an exciting option for the treatment of keratoconic eyes and is now starting clinical trials. While we enjoyed great booth traffic throughout the event, it was the CTAK preview that earned the most interest, and we’ll have more to share at AAO later this year. And one more ASCRS note, the subspecialty day was incredible this year, with so many innovative developments underway that will transform this industry. We’ve heard about the potential of disruptive innovations such as cell therapy and artificial corneas for years…now they’re here!
Partnerships in the industry and patient access
We’re still forging new relationships and strengthening existing ones across the eye/tissue donation profession. We continue to formalize mutually beneficial arrangements with our partner eye banks to maximize the quality and quantity of corneal tissue available. It was great to interact with many of these colleague at the EBAA meeting in Dallas recently. Whether it be more integrated tissue sharing, access to our innovative devices, or improving eye recovery in certain geographies, we are thinking “outside the box” when it comes to working with our trusted donation partners.
People are our passion
CorneaGen recently congratulated Chief Talent Management Officer Gretchen Coker on her semi-retirement after 14 years with us. And while we’re sad to see Gretchen go, we’re thrilled to welcome Heather Smith, taking over the HR role. Heather brings a wealth of experience, joining us from A Place for Mom, where she served as their Director of Human Resources. We’re also coordinating our next educational opportunity for Fellows, preparing to bring 14 surgeons to Seattle to learn about best practices in the field. And finally, the reason we’re in this industry, doing this work—patients. In always seeking to honor a donor’s gift, I wanted to share a news story about a donation from 2019. In this clip, Kayla’s family shared how they worked to make their daughter’s gift create positive change in their community years later.
As we close, I reaffirm our mission. CorneaGen remains committed to providing the highest quality donor tissue, unparalleled service, and superior products. We have much more to do in the second half of 2023, and I can’t wait to share.
CorneaGen Recognized With Cigna Healthy Workforce Designation
March 27, 2023
Cigna has selected CorneaGen as a recipient of their Bronze level Healthy Workforce Designation for demonstrating a strong commitment to improving the health and well-being of its employees through a workplace wellness program.
“We are working closely with Cigna as we continue to build our employee well-being program here at CorneaGen, providing different forms of resources to engage all employees,” said Gretchen Coker, Chief Talent Management Officer “We recognize that there are different dimensions of wellness and aim to support the well-being of our employees across these various areas. We’ve increased our engagement over the last year with multiple events, including a team fitness challenge, wellness seminars, and a bi-weekly newsletter. We look forward to increasing our efforts towards a healthier work culture.”
“At CorneaGen employee health is our top priority; we are honored to be recognized with the Cigna Healthy Workforce Designation” said Gretchen. “We understand the important role employee well-being plays in a company’s success and the relationship between healthy employees contributing to a more productive, satisfied workforce and positive business performance.”
Investing in an effective workplace well-being program drives value for employers. Senior executives surveyed as part of an Economist Impact study commissioned by Cigna reported greater productivity, stronger staff morale and motivation, and greater retention and loyalty as the most significant business outcomes of a healthy workforce. Additionally, a Gallup Report finds that on average, companies with high employee engagement are 23 percent more profitable.
“As a consultative growth partner, Cigna knows that a healthy workforce is critical to business growth,” said Cindy Ryan, executive vice president and chief human resources officer. “We are honored to recognize organizations like CorneaGen who share our commitment to workplace wellness. Creating a healthy work culture is of critical importance, and many employers are seeing increased employee engagement, productivity, and retention as a result of whole person health wellness initiatives.”
The Cigna Healthy Workforce Designation, formerly known as the Cigna Well-Being Award, evaluates organizations based on the core components of their well-being program, including leadership and culture, program foundations, program execution, and whole person health. Organizations recognized with this designation set the standard of excellence for whole-organization health. Cigna is proud to honor CorneaGen with the Bronze level designation for having made good progress towards a healthy work culture by establishing and growing their employee well-being and engagement program.
Bernie’s Quarterly Update – March 2023
March 23, 2023
We’re already nearing the end of the first quarter, having started 2023 on a strong note. At CorneaGen, we’re excited about how the year’s going so far, what’s just ahead, and the goals that are a bit further out. As always, it’s collaboration that gets the job done. Whether that’s here at CorneaGen or in the broader industry, success happens through partnerships and teamwork.
Here are a few things that are top of mind right now.
CorneaGen launched the EndoSerter-PL at ASCRS 2022, and we’re excited to showcase the product again at ASCRS this May. By that time, EndoSerter-PL will be in the hands of more than 150 surgeons, having been used in approximately 1,000 successful surgeries. We continue our innovative efforts on other new products planned for this year, and we’ll have a preview of those also at the coming ASCRS event.
Partnerships in the industry and patient access
We continue engaging eye banks and donation partners. It’s by strengthening existing relationships and forging new ones that we all succeed. We’re expanding access to our innovative services and technologies, as well as building a program for successful corneal transplant reimbursement. The goal is to increase awareness, education, patient access, and quality tissue for all in the cornea community.
People that inspire
CorneaGen recently promoted three of our industry veterans to new and expanded roles.
First, Jared Young has been promoted to the position of Vice President Sales & Marketing, adding domestic sales, sales operations and analysis, and product commercialization leadership to his past oversight of marketing, communication, and new products. Jared has been with CorneaGen for seven years and has played a critical role in developing and delivering on CorneaGen’s vision and mission. He is a valued leader and is excited to take on this expanded role.
And CorneaGen’s customer facing Surgical Product Specialist (SPS) team now will be overseen by two newly created regional manager roles, led by Melissa Cruz and Terrell Brodnax. Both Melissa and Terrell have demonstrated excellence as SPSs in their respective territories, supporting CorneaGen’s surgeon customers, surgical facilities, and partners.
I close with the opportunity to once again highlight the reason we do what we do. CorneaGen is committed to providing the highest quality donor tissue, unparalleled service, and superior products—from driving innovation to developing stronger ties throughout the industry, our people and partnerships serve as constant sources of inspiration.
Here’s to a successful 2023 and all the work we’ll accomplish together.
Bernie Iliakis, President and CEO
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.</font size>
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