Industry Insider is a timely chat with an ophthalmic industry thought leader.
Rick Eiswirth was promoted to president and chief executive officer of Alimera Sciences at the start of 2019. Before then, he had served as the company’s chief financial officer (2005-2010), chief operation officer and chief financial officer (2010-2015); and president and chief financial officer (2016-2019). Alimera recently launched a direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing campaign for Iluvien, an intravitreal implant for diabetic macular edema (DME) patients that uses a patented continuous microdosing technology to release anti-inflammatory agents for up to 36 months.
Ophthalmology Management: Why did Alimera introduce a DTC marketing plan for Iluvien?
Rick Eiswirth: We feel we have a very unique treatment for DME — we call it the only non-acute treatment for this chronic condition. All other therapies are short-term relief, whereas Iluvien delivers daily treatment for up to three years. In our research with DME patients, we hear that they want to have improved vision but with fewer injections — our campaign, which is currently in a pilot program in four cities, helps inform patients that Iluvien can let them have that, enabling them to discuss it with their doctors.
We think that there is a specific, unmet need in the marketplace that Iluvien can address. It allows the more persistent treatment that we see in other non-ophthalmic states.
OM: Do you have plans to use the continuous microdosing technology in Iluvien to treat conditions beyond DME?
RE: Potentially, but for now we are focused on DME. We believe that Iluvien is underutilized for treating DME, so before exploring further conditions we want to generate more data so that Iluvien can be used earlier in the treatment paradigm.
Some doctors see a place for Iluvien in treating retinal vein occlusion, so we’re looking at doing some investigator-sponsored studies and pilot studies in that field.
We also have a significant amount of data from our pivotal FAME studies that show Iluvien can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy (DR), the precursor to DME. There’s a lot of discussion about steroids providing broader protection to the retinal fiber layer of the eye than anti-VEGF, which is currently the standard of care for neuro-protection of the eye. If steroids like Iluvien can work better than that standard, then there might be a good reason to use them earlier in the treatment process.
OM: What are your goals for Alimera as CEO?
RE: Our goal in the next three to five years is to make Alimera the place to be for retina therapies. We have a great way to do this with Iluvien, as well as having a commercial presence in both the United States and Europe. I would like to use both of those advantages to partner more directly with the retinal community, add more products in the retina space and become a trusted place for retina therapies and disease treatments.
I think we’re in a good place to do that — we have a lot of experience from bringing Iluvien to market, getting it approved and launching it commercially on what I’d call a shoestring budget. Alimera generated profit for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2018, and we have already generated profit in 2019.
OM: You have a long history with Alimera, Mr. Eiswirth. What first attracted you to it?
RE: When I arrived, there was a great management team here already, and I joined to help the company raise money and create the balance sheet that would help Alimera grow further.
From a product standpoint, what attracted me was the focus on diabetes and DME. My mother was diagnosed as a diabetic almost 40 years ago, so I was interested in something that would take care of her vision. Luckily, she does not currently have DME and her DR is stable. But, I think a lot of patients, like my mother, deserve to have something like this available to preserve their vision for longer, if needed. OM