The previous wave of innovation in the contact lens market focused on wearer comfort. Will the next wave of innovation focus on usability? Charlie Constable discusses possible avenues for innovation in the contact lens market.

The contact lens market has entered a challenging phase. Consumers increasingly prefer to buy online. Contact lens users are therefore buying without advice from an optometrist, which accentuates price as a point of comparison between offerings. This trend towards online is only expected to accelerate, so premium brands will need to further differentiate their product to reclaim the competitive advantage.

Contact lens manufacturers have navigated this challenge to innovate before. Over the last fifty years, several new technologies have been adopted: soft contact lenses, daily disposables and novel oxygen-permeable materials have all transformed the market in their time.

Each of these developments focused on users and how to improve the experience of wearing contact lenses, particularly comfort. As a long-term contact lens user, and an engineer, I’m highly invested in searching for the next key development for this market.

Key points in this blog:

  • Learning from contact lens “dropouts”
  • Avenues for contact lens differentiation
  • Brand as part of product differentiation

Contact lens “dropouts” give clues for innovation

Workflow

Sustainability

Choice

Age

Avenues for contact lens differentiation

Workflow

One way to achieve this is to push the limits of extended wear contact lenses. Lenses which can be worn continuously for as long as a month have been available for some time now, but there are still challenges associated with infection [6]. The development of silicone-hydrogels has significantly reduced this risk. However, work remains to be done in reducing these rates to be comparable with daily disposable lenses.

More radically, workflow could be differentiated with contact lenses that do not require removal. A lens that would be stable when inserted but then dissolve overnight, perhaps with the addition of an activation agent via a spray or eye drop, would be one way to achieve this.

This exciting possibility has been investigated before, although primarily from the point of view of delivering a drug rather than improving the user experience [7]. Clearly, this entails technical challenges such as how to maintain stability through the day whilst ensuring full dissolution overnight; or how to deliver an agent to begin the dissolution reliably in a way users respond to positively. Notably, there may also be gains to be had here against other points of user frustration: for instance, microplastic pollution would clearly decrease as lenses are no longer discarded.

Lenses that would not have an inside and an outside are also interesting. Users often struggle with identifying the correct orientation of their lenses. Some companies have attempted to make the direction clear and obvious with etching or colour variation [8] — with some success. An even more simple-to-use lens would not have one correct orientation, and hence allow us to remove one user step entirely. The major technical challenge to overcome for such lenses is the optics. There are several avenues to explore which could offer solutions to this, but one possibility may be to have lenses that adopt the correct shape upon warming once on the eye.

Smart contact lenses

Drug-eluting contact lenses

The potential for drug-eluting contact lenses to improve the user experience goes beyond the addition of a single medicinal agent. On the one hand, such contact lenses could reduce the need for eye drops, which are disliked by many users [9]. This may also encourage users to persist with contact lens use as they age, given the perception of eye droppers amongst these users. On the other hand, one could go much further by offering a more personalised lens service with treatments for the changing needs of every individual.

Many groups have investigated drug eluting lenses over the last ten years, and technical challenges still exist, for instance around consistent release over the day. However, the area is ripe for innovation and technical success would offer great improvements for both manufacturers and users.

Brand as part of product differentiation

In the contact lens market, that might look like a single brand which grows with you over time, starting with simple soft lenses for myopia but adapting to you as your needs change towards more complex lenses and treatments. Building that kind of loyalty can be a valuable way to improve a firm’s offering alongside technological developments.

Where will the next wave of innovation come from?

Drug eluting contact lenses are currently seen as the development direction that has the greatest likelihood of transforming the contact lens market, given that a wide range of applications and strong improvements for the user are possible. Forward-looking companies that find and invest in the right technologies are certainly going to reap the rewards from this exciting next phase in the contact lens market.

TTP has a long history in developing innovative products in ophthalmology. From novel optics for contact lenses and IOLs, to innovative drug delivery and surgical systems, we are always looking for ways to address patient, healthcare professional and industry needs. Please contact us if you would like to discuss anything in this blog, or in technology for ophthalmology more generally.

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TTP is an independent technology company where scientists and engineers collaborate to invent, design and develop new products and technologies.