West Virginia team strives to make a better eye shield

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — More than 6 million people per year undergo eye surgeries and require an eye shield for protection during the healing process.

A team at Intermed Labs in Morgantown learned in July 2021 that the shields on the market aren’t very comfortable or easy to use, and set out to make something better. The result was SNAPS, now in beta testing before going to mass market.

And it took just a year. “A year in the world of medical devices — unheard of,” said Intermed co-founder and CEO Tom McClellan. “To have a product already on the market from literally a napkin to discussing with a multinational, in my mind, is incredible and is a testament to what is possible here in Morgantown.”

SNAPS CEO Joe Duda explained that eye shields are plastic or other materials but are fixed on the face with tape. They’re needed following cataract, retina, Lasik and reconstruction surgeries.

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Taping a shield on poses several problems, he said. It occludes air flow, needed to help healing. It has to be removed to examine the eye or apply medications, which may need to be done several times a day. And existing shields have sharp edges that dig into the skin, causing irritation.

“The unique things about SNAPS,” he said, “is the adhesive anchors that are used.” They’re modeled after cardiac leads, but smaller. No tape is needed. SNAPS is transparent and has air holes and is easily hinged open and rotated for an exam or medication application. And it sits up just off the skin so it doesn’t dig in or irritate.

McClellan described how SNAPS got started. “When doctors have ideas, they don’t necessarily have the time, money or expertise to make those ideas come to fruition, or they don’t have the ability to pivot off those ideas to make them better.”

In this case, Intermed was approached by a retina surgeon in Sarasota, Florida, who had trouble with current eye shields and had an idea that technically wasn’t good, McClellan said. But they started to do market research and saw that the shield issue is a bigger problem and could be a low-hanging fruit for problem solving.

So they got Intermed together to figure out how to improve standard eye shields considering ease of manufacturing and market constraints — price and production cost.

A photo of a SNAPS prototype shows the developmental model was gray, being 3D printed there on the top floor. It went through multiple iterations to perfect the shape, size, connections. Intermed has a deep medical bench, McClellan said, through its partnership with Mon Health, and they consulted with physicians for suggestions and feedback.

They considered using magnets for connectors, Duda said, but that was a no-go because of patient aversion to the magnets. That led to using the adhesive tabs modeled after cardiac leads. A patient will wear a shield anywhere from a day to a couple weeks, depending on the procedure performed. So their testing included showering with SNAPS on and other trials to make sure the tabs stick.

Once they had the design they wanted, the final version was injection molded.

The version they’ve shipped for beta testing is medical grade polycarbonate. It’s transparent but strong, Duds said. The anchors flex but don’t break.

Beta testing will last about three months, McClellan said.

Production volume is in the thousands at the moment, McClellan said, but with 6 million shields per year in use, “clearly this has room to ramp up.” They recently talked with a multinational marketing and sales organization interested in partnering with them.

Duda is a Morgantown native who recently moved to Winchester, Va. He is a pharmacist and MBA who worked at Mylan/Viatris and left that company in April 2020.

After leaving Viatris, he said, he was connected with McClellan. “It sounded like a very interesting, grass-roots opportunity, very boutique.” They come in with an idea, sit around a table and get something done quickly — unlike at a bigger company that moves more ponderously.

Intermed design engineer Zac Hoopes was recruited from Pennsylvania. He said he was involved in the early design phase of SNAPS — testing, materials, 3D printing — but other engineers then took over. He’s heading up another Intermed project.

Intern Emily Stanton is a UHS junior recruited in late July who is also developing her own project making prototypes based on her original ideas.

Stanton’s internship led McClellan to talk about his vision for Intermed. “If we can attract talent like this who stay locally and then continue to work for us,” he said, “and they spin off products to create revenue to hire them. Do you see the ecosystem we’re starting to build?

“This is a very unique place,” he said. “My singular goal for the rest of my life is to attract talent like this to West Virginia.”

They want to fill up the entire floor, 12,000 square feet, with engineers and design space, McClellan said.

“That’s why we’re so excited to be partners with Mon Health, and hopefully very soon CAMC in Charleston, and service the 5,000 doctors and 20,000 nurses in the state that have amazing ideas that can help patients. We can do all of that right here.”

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