The article below featuring our client was originally futured in the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus Glossy about 2021. Download the full glossy.
As an ophthalmic surgeon, Professor Henny Beckers is in her element dealing with challenging glaucoma operations. A few years ago, she was awarded two grants – each in the millions of euros – that allowed her to develop her own glaucoma implants, which she hopes will help her take a big step forward in glaucoma surgery.
Henny has worked at Maastricht UMC+ as an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist for 23 years. ‘The cutting edge of the profession is what has always attracted me. Helping someone with medication is a good thing, but solving a problem with your own hands is even better, especially if that problem is a tricky one to solve.’ Henny runs the Glaucoomkliniek (glaucoma clinic) at Maastricht UMC+, which treats patients from all over the Netherlands. The clinic also has an excellent reputation nationally and internationally in glaucoma research.
”Developing my own product excites and terrifies me at the same time”
The first step has been taken
The progress that Henny had dreamed of for so long is now finally starting to happen, with many
new surgical methods emerging in recent years. Henny introduced some of these new techniques in the Netherlands, but they don’t always get eye pressure down to a safe level. ‘I was sure the situation could be improved. Well, a few years ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to develop my own treatment method!’
Two new implants
Chemelot InSciTe awarded a grant to her project called SEAMS: Smart, Easy and Accurate Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery. Together with a number of partners (see box), Henny is developing her own glaucoma implant under this name. The implant is made of a new material that also has an application in heart surgery. A special tube is used to drain exactly the right amount of eye fluid from each patient. Together with the implant, a small globule of medication is inserted to prevent scarring. For patients who can’t be helped with this treatment method, Henny is working with the same partners on a second implant with a different design. This project was named ISEA: Innovative Surgeries for Eyes with Advanced Glaucoma.
‘It’s very challenging to work on a development that doesn’t yet exist worldwide. What we are developing is not comparable with the implants used today; this method is unique in the world. It could represent the big step forward that glaucoma surgery has been counting on for so long. This excites and terrifies me at the same time.
Huge sums of money are involved, and only the very best method will become the new standard; the rest of the innovations will die a quiet death. I really feel the weight of that responsibility. I suddenly find myself leading a consortium with many FTEs, PhD students, postdocs, and other scientists. Having that fantastic team behind me takes some of the pressure off. I’m the person who keeps morale high and encourages people. But at the end of the day, they’re the ones who have to do the job. Thanks to their efforts, the development of both products is now almost complete and ready for the first-in-human trials.’
To the market
‘If all the trials go well, we need to look at how the product could enter the market. This could be via
a young, driven scientist who places the product in a startup, or via a big player in the market. In any case, I’m not going to start another business. Experience shows that it can take ten or fifteen years for a new product like this to become truly successful, and by that time I’ll have long retired. Bad timing on my part: with all these new innovations, my field is becoming more and more exciting. If only I were twenty years younger… But I’d like to stay involved in the valorisation process. We’ve come a long way, and I’m very proud of that!’
‘When I first started to work as an ophthalmologist, I never thought I’d have the opportunity to develop
such a ground-breaking product. I’m developing my own new form of glaucoma surgery, which is great fun. I hope this will be an important step towards a future where we can stop blindness from glaucoma. That would be my ultimate dream.’
Thanks to two grants from Chemelot InSciTe, each in the millions of euros, Henny was given the opportunity to develop two innovative glaucoma implants together with research partners from Maastricht MUMC+, Maastricht University, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), and the industrial partner InnFocus Inc., a Santen Company. Chemelot InSciTe is involved as a catalyst in the research, part of which is taking place at the Medace laboratory that InSciTe recently joined.