Letter: The day a professor prophesied
Author: Ron Hamilton, founder of AWARD and Daysoft
My decision, in May 1992, to write to the University of Manchester (UMIST) School of Optometry, was a last-ditch attempt to rescue my work on very low-cost contact lens manufacture. I imagine the feelings I experienced at that time were akin to those of the occupants of a small boat which had been drifting on the open sea for months then, low on hope, deciding to fire its last emergency rocket.
Faced by repeated rejection for funding by venture capitalists and having narrowly escaped the jaws of some major contact lens manufacturers keen to frustrate our initiatives, I am not exactly sure why I decided to write UMIST. I know, however, that I had just read of the recent appointment of a Dr Nathan Efron, from Australia, to head the Department of Optometry at UMIST and must have thought I might get some encouragement. Perhaps he would be looking for something new or as an Australian he would be ‘establishment free’. I therefore wrote a letter requesting a meeting to discuss how I believed daily-disposable contact lenses could become a reality enclosing a write-up on my assessment of the failures of extended-wear and re-usable lenses.
I, and my business partner at that time, Bill Seden, were indeed encouraged. We were invited to meet Dr Efron at the university and took along a small sample-box (Fig 1) and notes describing our technology which was by then the subject of considerable intellectual property (IP) including patents.
A few days later I was delighted to receive a letter dated May 22, 1992 from Dr Efron in his position of Professor of Clinical Optometry at Eurolens Research, Manchester. This was a lifeline to our drifting boat and naturally I have treasured this document, now for some 26 years. This endorsement for our thinking, together with a similarly encouraging letter from Boots Opticians at that time, formed the basis of a new business plan around which I was able to secure some government funding to help open the world’s first daily-disposable contact lens laboratory. The rest is history, as they say, but this marked ‘the beginning’ and is worth remembering. We had received a lifeline and consequently many millions of daily-disposable contact lenses are now sold world-wide with this modality exactly reflecting the benefits identified all those years ago.
Professor Efron’s letter ends; ‘In conclusion, I feel that a daily wear/daily disposable lens system will gain wide appeal among patients and practitioners as being a safe and convenient modality of vision correction.’ The professor had prophesised with stunning perception. Perhaps he was looking for something to do, or being an Australian he was indeed ‘establishment free’ but what a prophesy.