Cultivating its own unique technologies and R&D, Japanese firm Ophtecs has been developing high-quality contact lens cleaning solutions since 1981. In this interview, CEO, Joe Yoneda, touches on Ophtecs’ history of innovation and gives more details on their main product lines and the distinguishing features of products such as Cleadew. Mr. Yoneda also explains Ophtecs’ plans to develop new products, such as eye drops, and its international strategy to expand its overseas presence, which will be helped by the recent acquisition of leading Dutch firm, Microlens.
In recent years, we have seen regional peers copying and replicating the manufacturing processes at a lower cost. However, when it comes to the field of high technology, Japan remains number one. Could you give us your overview regarding why Japan still dominates this field? How would you define the essence of the Japanese monozukuri?
Monozukuri is a Japanese word, in which “mono” means product and “zukuri” means the process of creating. However, Monozukuri does not simply involve “product creation” but also implies the skill, spirit, passion, and pride in the ability to perform activities that produce the best quality products. Therefore, the meaning of Monozukuri is not only a repetition, but it also requires creative thinking associated with craftsmanship, in other words, the “art of making things”.
The difference between other countries and Japan is that we are more focused on providing the best possible products to satisfy our customers, rather than just making money. Thus, to avoid any defects in our products, Japanese companies usually implement the Toyota Kaizen methods, which means “continuous improvement”. No process can ever be declared perfect but it can always be improved.
Hence, at Opthecs, we implement Monozukuri through our ambition of making the highest quality contact lenses solution while meeting the needs of every market.
Founded in 1981, your company has worked under the slogan of “Challenge andInnovation”. What can you tell us about the meaning of implemented philosophy at Ophtecs?
Ophtecs was founded by my father to contribute to society through a businessspecialized in the ophthalmology field. Since then, Ophtecs develops, manufactures, sells and exports contact lens solutions under the philosophy of "Challenge and Innovation". This slogan was createdwhen we just entered the industry as a weapon to fight the competitors. By that time, we needed to stand out from the rest of the companies in the sector to be able to remain.
Under this philosophy we have managed to create new products that were not yet in the world, starting with the release of the world's first liquid enzyme cleaning agent "Bioclen L"in 1988. In this way, we have a track record of producing many “first in the world” and “first in Japan” products.
An example is when cold disinfectants such as soft type and hydrogen peroxide were starting to spread in Japan, they had a strong bactericidal action to make original products with higher disinfection effect and convenience. Instead of following them, we worked on the development of a new disinfectant focusing on Povidone-Iodine, launching finally the world's first disinfectant for soft contact lenses, "Clencide", in 2001. Nowadays, with the increasing awareness of the antiseptic effect these days, the usefulness of this disinfectant for contact lenses containing Povidone-Iodine has attracted the attention of many doctors including contact lens specialists.
What is the role that R&D plays within your company?
The R&D department at Ophtecs is the instrument that makes all the innovative ideas happen. By using our accumulated wealth of experience, our knowledge as a CLC specialized manufacturer, and our state-of-art technology, new products are developed with superior functions, which are then contributed to the market.
A key factor in this process is to analyze the market. It is essential to see what is happening globally to create products that meet the needs of every customer, regardless of the country.
You have three main product lines: Cleadew, BIOCLEN and Tearé. Could you give us an overview of them?
Our production is mainly based on these three product lines. Cleadew was introduced as CLC solution and its unique feature isa proteolytic enzyme-containing disinfectant for soft contact lenses. It consistently removes protein on the lens at each application. Povidone-Iodine exhibits strong disinfection efficacy against bacteria, fungi, viruses and acanthamoeba as compared with other disinfectants. Ophtecs is the only company that uses this component.
BIOCLEN has been our iconic product line. It has a wide range of items, including Bioclen ONE,which promotes high moisture retention by the roles of multiple moisturizing ingredients and a high disinfecting effect whilst meeting primary test criteria of ISO stand-alone test. High-molecular ingredients (sodium hyaluronate, etc) and low-molecular ingredients are combined, keeping the lens moisturized from inside out. Moreover, Bioclen ONE meets the primary criteria of a stand-alone test by adjusting the variety and composition of the moisturizing ingredients. Furthermore, this product suppresses adverse effects on corneal cells through its ingredient composition. Hence, it is also recommended for use on silicone hydrogel contact lenses (SHCL), which has a high tendency of absorbing ingredients like disinfectants.
Finally, Tearé improves lubrication and tear retention on the surface of the cornea and keeps the eyes lubricated for extended periods as it contains sodium hyaluronate and hypromellose. Those ingredients serve as a cushion between the eye and a lens, preventing a gritty sensation and discomfort while wearing the contact lenses.
Moreover, nowadays, our R&D department is also working on a new type of eye drops. There are a lot of different kinds of eye drops depending on the function: to prevent allergies, tiredness of the eyes, or red spots, among others.
Most of our products are available in Japan and overseas. For those that are not yet available overseas, we are looking to expand them worldwide.
What channels of distribution do you use to expand these products?
Our distributors must be companies that belong to the ophthalmology industryand know the sector well enough to be able to introduce our products in the proper way to our clients.
We used to have just one distributor per country. However, last year we acquired a 100% stake in Dutch contact lens manufacturer, called MicrolensContactlensTechnology B.V. and made it a wholly-owned subsidiary. Thus, we will be able to expand much more our presence in the EU. The new company will set out to expand its business in Europe by creating synergy effects between Ophtecs' existing European distributors and Microlens' existing customers mainly in Benelux and Germany. Furthermore, they will also continue with Microlens' contact lens R&D, manufacturing and sales operations.
Last year Ophtecs reached $36 million USD of turnover. What is your mid-term strategy to continue with your corporate growth?
Regarding the turnover, this year we expect to reach $50 million USD. Moreover, some of our main objectives are to increase the overseas presence, due to the fact contact lenses use is growing globally. Furthermore, we aim to grow in Japan. Nowadays we have 11% of the market and our target is to increase this figure until 20%. Hence, we will continue investing in R&D to continue innovating and improving our products.
Since your global operations started in 1994, you have continued growing overseas. What is your international strategy?
Ophtecs is proactively expanding its global business as a priority strategy under the "Breakthrough 2021" medium-term business plan.Ourmission is to strengthen our business structures in Europe in addition to Japan and East Asia. Furthermore, we also plan to enter the US market in the near future and seek to raise sales in the overseas market to 20% of our total sales in 2021.
Moreover, to enter the US we aim to create a partnership with companies in the ophthalmologic industry to take advantage of their distribution networks. Furthermore, this partnership will allow us to have joint development, enabling us to grow and expand our businesses by improving our products and technologies.
Do you seek to find more international partners?
We already have a well-established network of partners. However, we are looking to expand to the soft lens market. This sector is much bigger than the hard lens one. Therefore, we are open to making some partnerships to grow together in this industry and compete against the big players.
Ten years from now, what do you wish to have achieved?
Our objective is to become a global eye care company, helping people who need contact lens solutions all around the world. Moreover, we also aim to introduce new medical devices and new eye drops.