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Bausch & Lomb, University Vision Researchers Renew Partnership

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A fruitful collaboration between two of Rochester’s biggest employers has taken a major step forward, with Bausch & Lomb and the University of Rochester agreeing on an $11 million pact to work together to evaluate treatments for eye disease and to undertake basic research focused on glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other leading causes of blindness.

The latest agreements extend one of the most successful collaborations ever between the University and any one company. Already the partnership has helped move very basic research from the laboratory to the offices of ophthalmologists around the world, where it has helped improve the vision of hundreds of thousands of patients to unprecedented levels. The collaboration has also brought dramatic growth in the number of eye doctors in the Rochester area who treat the most complex visual problems.

“The thriving partnership between the University and Bausch & Lomb is a perfect example of the terrific results that can be achieved when outstanding organizations work together,” says Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester. “Already the collaboration has dramatically improved the eyesight of people around the world. We’re delighted to continue the teamwork and look forward to the continued discoveries that will occur as a result of the collaboration.”

Under the two new five-year agreements, B&L will provide approximately $11 million in new research funding to enable University researchers to undertake projects relevant to eye health. Together with previous agreements between the University and B&L that established the Alliance for Vision Excellence and enabled the University’s Eye Institute to grow dramatically, B&L funding to the University of Rochester Eye Institute and the University’s Center for Visual Science from 2000 to 2011 will amount to more than $19 million.

“Rochester has a great number of partners working together to treat eye disease,” said Steven Feldon, M.D., M.B.A., the founding director of the University of Rochester Eye Institute, and professor and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. “Rochester is home to the nation’s original optics program, to the company that has revolutionized eye-care technology, and to a leading center of research on human vision and eye disease. These new agreements will focus on collaborative efforts to prevent and treat eye disease.  Together we will develop advanced diagnostic and therapeutic technologies and conduct basic visual science as well as clinical research.”

“As the University of Rochester Eye Institute has enhanced its expertise and capabilities in research for vision care, ophthalmic surgery and pharmaceutical development, being able to leverage those resources here in our headquarters community is a real competitive advantage for our company,” said Praveen Tyle, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief scientific officer of Bausch & Lomb. 

Since Feldon arrived in 2001 and pulled together researchers and clinicians around the University of Rochester to create the Eye Institute, it has become one of the fastest-growing institutes in the nation by nearly every measure, thanks in large part to increasing ties between the University and Bausch & Lomb.

The collaboration that made such growth possible came about largely because of research at the University’s Center for Visual Science, home to one of the greatest concentrations of vision researchers in the world. The center is known internationally for its breadth of research on topics ranging from the basic structure of the eye that gathers light, to how our brain puts together electrical signals to give us the experience of vision.

In the late 1990s B&L licensed research by a CVS team led by David Williams, Ph.D., director of CVS and professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, on the same optics technology, known as adaptive optics, that allows astronomers to take crisp images of the heavens through the atmosphere. Williams aimed the technology inward, into the human eye, allowing him to take the clearest images ever obtained of the living inner eye. Williams teamed with Strong Vision refractive surgeon Scott MacRae, M.D., who pioneered the effort to use the new technology to actually improve patients’ eyesight. The work helped B&L bring to market a revolutionary new system enabling surgeons performing refractive surgery procedures to improve their patients’ eyesight to extraordinary levels of clarity. The successful research set the stage for ongoing collaboration between the University and the company.

“We are especially pleased that our early work imaging the human eye continues to pay off for both the University and for Bausch & Lomb,” said Williams. “It’s very satisfying to watch both our research and our clinical programs grow thanks to the ongoing collaboration.”

More than twice as many patients seek care at the Institute now than did five years ago, and the number of doctors who treat complex eye diseases has more than doubled. Patients who formerly traveled to cities like Baltimore or Boston for treatment now stay in Rochester, which itself attracts patients from around the world for some procedures, such as implantation of artificial corneas.

On the research side, funding from the National Institutes of Health to the Department of Ophthalmology has shot up seven-fold since 2002, and the number of scientists doing basic eye-related research has more than doubled. With current construction, the amount of space devoted to the institute’s research is more than tripling; clinical space has tripled as well.

In one set of new projects to be funded by B&L, researchers at the University of Rochester Eye Institute will focus on a greater understanding of glaucoma, macular degeneration, and dry eye, and on testing new treatments for these conditions. As potential new treatments are developed, the institute’s physicians will contribute their unique knowledge gained from working with patients with these conditions.

“The agreement fulfills a crucial step in bringing potential new treatments to the bedside of patients and expands the burgeoning collaboration between the institute and Bausch & Lomb,” said Feldon. The $6.3 million agreement will also help to fund a new faculty position, a technician, a resident position, and a support staff position.

A second agreement will provide approximately $1 million a year to researchers at CVS and the institute who are working on a variety of projects related to eye health. Efforts include studying how glaucoma actually kills nerve cells and damages vision; looking at the earliest changes in patients with diabetic retinopathy; treating presbyopia, where the lens of the eye becomes less flexible as we age, resulting in the need for reading glasses; and developing new tools to diagnose and monitor dry eye.

Other research projects at the University of Rochester Eye Institute and CVS that have borne fruit recently include the successful testing of custom contact lenses that enable people with rare eye diseases to see better than ever, the development of new tools to better detect glaucoma in the earliest stages, and a way to improve the results patients experience from LASIK surgery.

About Bausch & Lomb

Bausch & Lomb is the eye health company, dedicated to perfecting vision and enhancing life for consumers around the world. Its core businesses include soft and rigid gas permeable contact lenses and lens care products, and ophthalmic surgical and pharmaceutical products.  Founded in 1853, the company is headquartered in Rochester, N.Y. It employs approximately 13,700 people worldwide, and its products are available in more than 100 countries.

About the University of Rochester

The University of Rochester is one of the nation’s leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University's environment gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty. Its College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

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