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Glaucoma 360: An Incubator for Innovation

Panelists at Glaucoma 360 including Ruth Williams, MD

Glaucoma 360 is a series of three days of annual events aiming to prevent vision loss from glaucoma and speed the cure.

Equal parts innovation incubator, educational forum, and celebration of philanthropy — Glaucoma 360 engages everyone essential to overcoming the world’s leading cause of blindness in a panoramic experience of the rich possibilities within glaucoma care.

Read on for an inside look at this year’s inclusive and influential gathering.

“Held in February 2024 at San Francisco’s iconic Westin St. Francis Hotel, the 13th annual Glaucoma 360 was truly a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity where attendees can immerse themselves in the latest glaucoma developments, treatments, and management options,” said Andrew Iwach, MD, executive director of Glaucoma Center of San Francisco, who co-founded the event with vision scientist and industry leader Adrienne Graves, PhD. “It’s also a unique celebration of the philanthropic and scientific partnership that drives Glaucoma Research Foundation,” says Dr. Graves, “and an incubator for the brilliant ideas that will become tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”

Celebrating Philanthropic Partners

The three-day event kicked off on Thursday, February 8, with a festive Gala honoring the generosity of Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF) donors, the courage of patients and families, and the dedication of scientists striving toward a world free from glaucoma. Nearly 400 people attended the Gala this year, including many corporate sponsors and industry partners who took the opportunity to learn more about the Foundation’s mission and hear from patients who shared their stories.

A highlight of the 2024 Gala was an inspiring video in which leading-edge researchers from Glaucoma Research Foundation’s four Catalyst for a Cure initiatives spoke about their passion for curing the world’s leading cause of blindness and expressed gratitude for donor support.

“The Gala is the biggest fundraising event of the year for us,” says GRF President Tom Brunner. “It reminds everyone of the true focus of our shared work: improving the lives of people living with glaucoma.” The Gala also celebrated outstanding leadership in ophthalmology and honored individuals who made substantial contributions to Glaucoma Research Foundation’s mission.

Incubating the Next Generation of Care

Carrying the energy of the Gala into a dynamic day of real-time, in-person collaboration, the New Horizons Forum convened on February 9. The heart of Glaucoma 360, New Horizons is a unique catalyst meeting for partners looking to develop the next generation of glaucoma care. Researchers, entrepreneurs, emerging companies, established industry partners, investors, regulatory leaders, clinicians — all were in the room together for a full day of presentations and panel discussions, enriched by plenty of time for brainstorming and networking.

New Horizons aims to facilitate person-to-person connections that lead to the creation of new glaucoma medications, drug delivery systems, innovative devices, and other transformative approaches to care. “If you walk into that room with an idea, you’ll find everything you need to take it to a solution for patients,” says event co-founder Dr. Iwach. In addition to learning what’s coming down the care pipeline, clinicians can find partners to help them implement ideas and deal with challenges that emerge in their care for patients. Entrepreneurs can connect with investors and industry collaborators. All benefit from the perspective of FDA representatives on how to get care innovations into the hands of patients.

New Horizons is so productive that, in its first 13 years, it has been instrumental in introducing, developing, and sharing new glaucoma treatments — from MIGS (Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery) to brand new classes of glaucoma drugs to telemedicine — that have gone on to become the standard of care. Days before the 2024 event, the FDA approved the non-contact Belkin Direct SLT laser and the Glaukos iDose Sustained Release devices, and New Horizons provided an ideal forum for discussing these new developments. And with Glaucoma Research Foundation Catalyst for a Cure scientists now on the frontiers of neuroprotection, neuroregeneration, and vision restoration, New Horizons is already fostering enthusiasm for what will be possible next.

This year’s New Horizons keynote speaker shared firsthand experience on what it takes to get vision innovations to market. Renowned glaucoma pioneer Sean Ianchulev, MD, MPH, is Professor of Ophthalmology at New York Eye and Ear of Mount Sinai, Ichan School of Medicine, where he teaches students and treats patients with glaucoma. He’s also the founder/executive chairman of three groundbreaking glaucoma care new ventures — Eyenovia, Inc., Iantrek, Int., and RemoniHealth, Inc. At New Horizons, Dr. Ianchulev shared The Innovation Journey of an iDoctor — a look at what it takes for clinicians to innovate amidst the challenges of busy clinics and corporate medicine. “As eye doctors we can touch only so many patients. And we are stretched to the limit,” he said. “As iDoctors, our impact can be exponential and global — from clinic i-nsight to i-nvention to i-nnovation to i-mpact.”

Although New Horizons always looks at how innovators can help address unmet patient needs, 2024 was the first year to see an entire session dedicated to this important topic. In a highlight for attendees, Tonian McDonald shared her personal transformation from a college student overwhelmed by a glaucoma diagnosis into an MBA and author of a book about glaucoma and healthy eating. McDonald stressed for her audience of innovators: When it comes to meeting patient needs, their work truly does matter. Future New Horizon forums will continue to highlight companies that are focusing on this important issue.

The Future of Interventional Glaucoma

In the best-rated session of the New Horizons Forum, Iqbal Ike K. Ahmed, MD, FRCSC, inspired his audience of vision care innovators by paraphrasing computer scientist Alan Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to be doing here today.”

Director of the Alan S. Crandall Center for Glaucoma Innovation at the University of Utah, Assistant Professor and Director of the Glaucoma and Advanced Anterior Surgical Fellowship at the University of Toronto, and Chief Medical Editor of Glaucoma Today, Dr. Ahmed is something of a glaucoma rockstar, known for challenging preconceptions about what works for patients and why. In his remarks at Glaucoma 360, Dr. Ahmed championed the idea of interventional glaucoma — deploying new strategies to guide when and how doctors treat the disease, whether with topical medications, surgery, or novel approaches informed by genetics, data, or artificial intelligence.

Interventional glaucoma will require better diagnostics, personalized approaches to medicine, and improved active monitoring of glaucoma. Most important, Dr. Ahmed believes, it will take a more proactive mindset, focused on safety and the patient’s quality of life. “The greatest challenge in affecting change is not technology but people,” he said. “I encourage all of us to accept the challenge to think differently, and to recognize that our mindsets and practices are inventing the future today.”

Inspiring and Informing Vision Professionals

On its final day, Glaucoma 360 completed the circle of innovation, from ideas to impact, with two gatherings to help eye care professionals incorporate the latest developments for their patients. A morning session for practicing physicians highlighted the latest advances in glaucoma management, medications, and surgical techniques. In the afternoon, a session for practicing optometrists helped ensure that they were aware of the latest developments in glaucoma treatment. More than 150 ophthalmologists and 200 optometrists attended. In addition to becoming acquainted with today’s most effective treatment options, participants earned Continuing Education credits.

“Everyone is here to learn, and we give them practical advice, updates, ideas they can take back to the clinic the following week and use right away to support their patients,” says Dr. Iwach.

Glaucoma 360 — From Bright Idea to Patient Care

Like all innovations in glaucoma care, Glaucoma 360 began with a bright idea — this one the brainchild of Adrienne Graves PhD, and Andrew Iwach, MD. “Andrew and I started Glaucoma 360 because, although research is fundamental to what Glaucoma Research Foundation does, research takes time,” says Dr. Graves. “We thought about what we could do to really help patients in the near term, with better therapies and devices. And we created this meeting to highlight innovation — putting early-stage companies together with all the resources they need and sharing new techniques with eye care professionals.” Including a celebration of patient experiences, philanthropy, and excellence keeps Glaucoma 360’s emphasis on two things at the heart of the Foundation’s mission: collaboration and patients.

Posted on June 28, 2024