Ezekiel puts his focus on vision

PAUL Ezekiel is a rare breed among the Perth types living in New York.

Instead of working for a multinational and working in the heart of Manhattan, Dr Ezekiel is running the US operations of his family’s WA-based company Gelflex from an office in Connecticut, where he commutes each day from uptown New York.

The former Wall Street investment banker joined Gelflex six months after finding things particularly slow in his specialty areas of technology and healthcare.

That appears to be far from the case in his new role as president of Gelflex USA, overseeing the rollout of the world’s first soft translating bifocal contact lens that was launched in America a month ago.

Dr Ezekiel describes the WA-designed customised lenses, which require a doctor’s prescription and retail for around $US500 a pair, as the holy grail of optic technology as the old age catches up with the vanity of baby boomers.

“The aim is to make this a $US25 million to $US50 million company within two years,” he said.

With the backing of global patents, Gelflex’s confidence, he said, comes from the immediate reaction among US doctors and the recent signing of a leading sales manager from one of America’s top contact lens companies, who will lead the charge to get 36,000 prescribing doctors on the program.

“In a world of deteriorating margins for doctors this is not just a good product, they can make some money out of it,” Dr Ezekiel said.

“We are getting doctors ringing up and saying this is the best thing they have ever seen, doctors never do this.

“We have grown our account business in two weeks by 60 per cent, you do the math.”

In preparation for the expected demand, the company has ordered two new lathes worth close to a $1 million that use the latest Italian software. They will be installed in the Perth operation, where all the manufacturing will be done.

The bifocal (called translating) lenses, branded Triton, were designed in Perth at the laboratories established 30 years ago by Dr Ezekiel’s father, Don, who is recognised as a world leader in corneal pathology and works closely with Professor Ian Constable’s Lion’s Eye Institute.

In simple terms, a ridge on the outside of the lens stops it moving with the pupil as the eye looks down, allowing sight to be corrected for reading

In practical terms, the doctor literally designs the lens in the surgery and transmits that electronically to Perth.

If there is an Achilles heel, it is minimum three-day turnaround from ordering to arrival in the US, with seven days a more realistic target. Even this problem, the Gelflex US boss reckons, is more about managing customer expectations than trying to reduce the delays in transport between WA and the US.

As if all this was not enough, Dr Ezekiel has kept has hand in on the investment banking front during this difficult time in the market, currently helping a US healthcare company with a $US900 million fund raising.

“There is plenty of smart money waiting on the sidelines here,” he said.

That includes capital for Gelflex, if it is needed, although he said there was no rush.

“We have plenty of value to generate in the meantime,” Dr Ezekiel said.

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