CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN OPHTHALMIC OFFICE’S RICHARD KIRKNER AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Jay Wei, founder, president, and CEO of Optovue Inc., has been involved with developing optical coherence tomography (OCT) since 1993. He founded Optovue in 2004 to develop next-generation ophthalmic OCT instruments. His vision in the clinical use of OCT technology resulted in the first FDA-approved Fourier-domain OCT system, RTVue®. Before Jay started Optovue, he was a director of advanced development and an OCT program manager at Carl Zeiss Meditec, Inc. Here, Jay talks about the importance of OCT.
Richard Kirkner: What was your vision for Optovue when you started the company in 2004?
Jay Wei: I was fortunate to see the birth of OCT technology. The development of OCT provided me the opportunity to start Optovue and to follow the vision I share with OCT inventors from MIT—OCT should be a practical clinical tool that can be used by every eyecare professional and be available for every patient.
RK: What have you done on your own that you couldn’t have done working for someone else?
JW: I was able to focus my own company’s objectives and move much faster to realize ideas. As a company, we are inherently more like Silicon Valley in terms of working habits. Everyone is very highly motivated and works very, very hard. Seventy hours of work a week was very typical when we were just getting started. Many employees still put in 55 to 60 hours a week. Without this hard work and dedication we would not be able to accommodate so many technology innovations nor could we have been such a competitor in this business.
RK: How did your vision to “make SD-OCT technology available to every patient in every eyecare practice” become reality?
JW: We needed to first build a multi-purpose technology platform to explore all possible clinical applications. From there we had to understand the most meaningful features. Then we wanted to build a cost-effective device. That is why we first developed RTVue for clinical research. In 2009, we condensed the data and clinical features in RTVue into a compact and easy-to-use device called iVue® for every day private practice use.
The last piece of this puzzle is also the distribution of the instrument. With reimbursement cuts and this unstable economy, it is very hard for a doctor to make the capital equipment purchase. Our solution was the iWellness™ exam. It’s a profit-sharing program that allows doctors to access the technology without too much financial burden. Optovue actually takes the financial risk by putting the system in the doctor’s office. If, however, it works according to plan, it will benefit the patient, the doctor, and Optovue.
RK: First came RTVue, then iVue, then iWellness Exam program, and now iStand™. How would you describe that chain of product development?
JW: The RTVue and iVue and iWellness program are all following our strategy to extend the use of OCT technology. The iStand, which allows the doctor to scan a patient in any position, is another form of product innovation which expands use of the fundamental OCT technology. As part of an ongoing process, I continue to discuss different ways to improve OCT.
RK: Where do OCT imaging and Optovue go from here?
JW: This is the 20th anniversary of OCT. OCT really is becoming a gold standard for retinal imaging, and the market is still expanding. The technology continues to evolve and expose possibilities never seen before, even beyond ophthalmic use. Instruments can either become more versatile for all potential use or become specialized for narrow defined or customized purpose.