Science and serendipity unite to improve sight: the Centre for Contact Lens Research

This is part of a continuing series showcasing some of Ontario’s many clinical trial strengths and assets.

About 140 million people worldwide wear contact lenses and if you are one of them, chances are you are wearing a product that was tested at some point in its life cycle at the Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR) at the University of Waterloo.

The globally-respected research enterprise has played a key role in the development and clinical trials testing of many types of contact lenses, such as silicone hydrogels, today’s lens of choice for 70% of contact lens wearers. These permeable soft lenses allow five to six times more oxygen to reach the eye than previous soft lenses.

The CCLR also helped to develop and test multifocal, daily disposable and continuous wear contact lenses (that can be worn for up to 30 nights without removal), as well as contacts to prevent the progression of myopia or near-sightedness, a condition that is increasing among children around the world.

When it was founded in 1988, the CCLR answered a need for objective, academically-grounded research to support a growing contact lens industry. Over time, the centre broadened its mandate from clinical trials to include basic research.

“Conducting some of the core science that underpins our clinical efforts has allowed us to become involved in developing new products, rather than simply testing them,” explains CCLR Director Dr. Lyndon Jones. “Not only are we able to tell a company that lens A performs better than lens B, but now we can provide basic science support to try and understand why.”

The added value of this knowledge can help a company “to be more competitive and inform their decisions about next-generation products.”

One of the two largest research centres of its kind in the world—the other is in Sydney, Australia—the CCLR has grown into a thriving 7,500-square-foot hub of basic and applied research that employs more than 50 people and attracts over $5 million in business annually. Other major areas of research focus include understanding the underlying mechanisms associated with dry eye, slow-delivery eye drops and using contacts to deliver drugs for eye conditions.

Since its inception, the CCLR has conducted more than 500 clinical trials for the major international companies that produce contact lenses and related products. The centre runs about 30 Phase II, III and IV clinical trials each year.

Trials range from a single day to five years and involve 20 to 150 participants. The CCLR has a database of over 6,000 female and male participants from children to seniors, including people with varying ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

“There are not a lot of centres like the CCLR with a dedicated clinical research team, the infrastructure for recruitment and the ability to complete studies looking at specific, key targets with good turnaround time,” says Dr. Nancy Keir, Senior Clinical Manager, New Technologies at CooperVision. The American company, a leading contact lens manufacturer that sells its products and related services in more than 100 countries, has conducted clinical trials with the CCLR for over 15 years.

While Dr. Keir admits to some bias toward her former Canadian colleagues—she served as Head of Clinical Operations at the CCLR before moving to California in 2013 to work for CooperVision—she is quick to point out that “there are plenty of other people at CooperVision who would agree with what I have said.

“The people at the CCLR are dedicated, highly competent and they are up to date in terms of the latest research, equipment and techniques. The data we get from the CCLR is very reliable. You can’t overstate the importance of that. For us at CooperVision, getting good information fast is essential to our ability to move quickly during product development, evaluate the feasibility of different concepts and, ultimately, to get ahead of our competition.”

Dr. Jones credits the CCLR’s success to his team of professors, clinicians, microbiologists, engineers and social scientists; their passion for research and scientific rigor; and their commitment to objectivity and appreciation for inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Undoubtedly, his team would credit Dr. Jones for his leadership, creative partnerships with other University of Waterloo departments and international outreach. Dr. Jones joined the CCLR in 1998 and became Director five years ago. He has authored over 250 refereed and professional papers and given over 600 invited lectures at conferences in more than 30 countries.

“Through fortuitous discussions and collaborations, our research has gone in ways that I would never have predicted,” says Dr. Jones. “I am very much a believer in serendipity.”

For more information, visit the CCLR website

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