An eye on the future: Rayner Surgical Group

Rayner Surgical Group is at the forefront of developing technology to treat common eye complaints such as cataracts. With Phoenix’s backing, the company has developed a number of innovative products, including more technologically advanced lenses, and expanded its overseas footprint, exporting to over 80 countries. We asked Tim Clover, Rayner’s CEO, to explain Rayner’s latest innovations, how ocular health treatments are evolving, and what the coming decades hold in store for the business founded at the start of the last century.

The Spitfire holds a special place in British history. As well as the fighter plane’s pivotal contribution to WWII victory, it is also partially responsible for another major victory in an altogether different field - curing cataracts.

Fighter pilots injured during the war often had tiny fragments from the Spitfire’s Perspex windshields buried as shrapnel in their eyes, but scientists discovered they did not cause any harm. This insight led to the material being used to develop the first intraocular lenses (IOL), artificial implants used to replace the eye’s natural lens.

It is now over 70 years since the first IOL operation was performed, and in the intervening years cataract treatment has become the most common surgical procedure in the world – around 25m are performed annually. As the company behind the innovation, Rayner, has continued to research, evolve and deliver new technology to help improve patients’ eyesight. It promises plenty more to come.

The latest innovation Rayner has in its pipeline is a more flexible lens that moves with the muscles in the eye, which would represent a significant step forward from the current class of lenses, which are static and therefore more limited in the amount of light they can let in. “This change is very technologically demanding,” says Tim. Much of the initial work has been done using computer simulation, with tests in patients due to start next year.

Another recent development is a piece of technology of a different kind. “We’ve developed a digital health monitor that surgeons can use to track the implants they put into individual patients” says Tim.

“A lot of us at the company are keen runners and cyclists, and we thought it was odd we could have apps that track that kind of thing, but not for something as important as this.”

The system, known as RayPRO, took about two years to develop. It was launched in early summer and is already being used by surgeons all over the world.

Nor is the development of RayPRO a one-off; in total Rayner has launched 11 new products over the last three years, significantly building out the range of products available to patients. These innovations have included: developing a new integrated lens preloaded into an injector with a patented technology that allows a lens to be injected through a particularly small incision; the development of Rayner’s first ‘hydrophobic’ lens using a proprietary material that is glistening free; and a new trifocal lens, that allows patients to see more clearly at all distances without the need for spectacles.

Looking further ahead, say ten or 20 years, even bigger changes are coming as the industry turns its attention to addressing widespread conditions such as presbyopia, where the lens of the eye hardens, making it harder to focus on close objects (such as when reading). It affects an estimated two billion people globally, yet just one million procedures to address it are carried out every year.

Tim says that the industry’s innovators are working to meet this challenge through a range of potential remedies, including some that may even eliminate the need for spectacles. “People will look back on our society with incredulity that we walked around with glass held together with wire on our noses,” he says, explaining that of all the potential treatments being pursued, such as laser correction or drugs, he thinks the most effective might be to replace the eye’s own lens with an accommodating lens that mimic’s the body’s own way of focusing, which would be similar to existing cataract cures.

Another key area of focus for Rayner is tackling dry eye, which is becoming an ever-bigger problem driven by ageing populations, increasing reliance on computer screens, air-conditioning and other features of 21st-century lifestyles. Over 60% of cataract patients develop dry eye so Rayner recently launched a range of drops to tackle the problem and continues to look at other techniques to ease the condition.

Rayner’s research and development programme is extensive. The company employs a team of 15 scientists and engineers, while its network of collaborators – universities, hospitals, surgeons and technology companies is around 150-strong. This gives Rayner access to a wide range of ideas for potential new treatments and devices. “We are very patient- and surgeon-centric in our approach,” says Tim.

Rayner is now focused on addressing the big health challenges of the future, in particular the changing healthcare requirements of an ageing global population. “It’s a big challenge,” says Tim. “The world needs cheaper techniques that speed up the process of putting implants into patients’ eyes. With its focus on ever more efficient and smarter technology, Rayner is well placed to play its part in delivering clearer vision for all.