Dr. Steve Charles, Memphis, TN, will be the Keynote Speaker for VIT Buckle Society’s 4th Annual Meeting, VBS004, March 17 – 19, 2016, in Miami, FL. VIT Buckle Society President, Dr. Thomas A. Albini, Miami, FL, first interview with Dr. Charles was published on RetinaLink, November 10, 2015. In the second part of their interview, Dr. Charles outlines his parallel career developments in engineering and clinical care in vitreoretinal surgery as well as his desire to solve problems after hours in the engineering lab from the Operating Room and clinic.
T. ALBINI, MD: Eventually your engineering efforts became profitable. How long and how did you make that transition?
S. CHARLES, MD: I had to learn… and, to this day I’m not good at it… the business aspect. I really “hate” it. Quite frankly, I don’t want to be a CEO, I don’t want to go to an entrepreneurship conference and hear a bunch of people talk about entrepreneurship. For me, it’s not about the money or the challenge, it’s about problem solving. I never made any money from the electrooculography (EOG) machine or from the other things I developed at Bascom. At the National Institute of Health, NIH, you’re not allowed to receive money or royalties. I finally made a little money on a company called Xenotec, which was the first commercial real time grey scale B-scan. I was responsible for the development of the MVS machine and the Ocutome 8000, which was the first linear suction machine, produced by Cooper Vision, but didn’t make any money on these either.
Alcon purchased InnoVision, which ultimately became the ACCURUS® Surgical System (ALCON®, a division of Novartis, and then the CONSTELLATION® Vision System (ALCON®, a division of Novartis). My first royalty started in the last seven to eight years with the CONSTELLATION. To date, I’ve been involved with six start-up companies. The problem with start-ups is two-fold, not only the need to go around soliciting money from private equity investors but also, it’s critical and challenging to get the right managers, for example, somebody exaggerates his/her skill set or works 30 hours per week. Quite frankly, I don’t like begging for money and I don’t like sorting through managers who don’t manage well or work hard. The problem with the medical device industry is well known, anyone can get an MBA and an engineering degree and claim to have accomplished a paradigm shift, but, really they only copy existing technology and become another “me too” company. Over 40 companies received funding to develop an endovascular aortic valve replacement. Only one company has had financial success. And, the same thing occurred with renal denervation for hypertension. Out of some 40 odd companies, they all told their investors “we’re going to change the game and make billions of dollars.” It’s mind-boggling how many “me too’s exist.” They talk a good game but they don’t have anything. The failure rate is extraordinary. So, the hard part is getting the attention of the venture capitalists, VC, when there is so much misinformation and hype.
T. ALBINI: What was your experience at Alcon?
S. CHARLES: The way I think of ALCON is like Newton’s third law, F=MA.
It requires substantial consensus building, explaining and re-explaining, to get everyone from the top marketing guy, the sales guys, manufacturing guys and Research & Development guys on board. But once you have them, you gain tremendous force for the same amount of effort. ALCON was good news. ALCON has incredibly high quality, incredible ethics and remarkable relationships all around the world in every culture and on every continent. They are really terrific. However, their decision-making process is conservative and time-consuming. I’ve got a good track record. The CONSTELLATION is the number one vitreoretinal surgical platform in the world. The ACCURUS was number one in the world, too. Before the ACCURUS, they acquired the MVS, that was number one, and they acquired Cooper Vision with the Ocutome 8000, which was also number one in the world. So since 1980, the number one vitrectomy machine in the world has always been one of my designs.
T. ALBINI: What’s been the most gratifying thing about your career?
S. CHARLES: I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned in engineering to retinal surgery. I’ve lectured in 50 countries and operated in 25. It’s gratifying to go to Beijing, Moscow, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City or Havana and operate with an ACCURUS or CONSTELLATION, and hear people say they love the machine I designed. When you hear that, you know you’re helping people. These people aren’t there to kiss my ass. They’re saying that, because they use these surgical platforms to help their patients. As an engineer, its not about a patent, paper or paycheck. It’s about designing stuff people use for good things. I don’t want to design things for Wall Street or Las Vegas – it’s all B.S. and I want to design good things for real folks with real problems.
Dr. Steve Charles can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org