Bionic Vision Australia: Working Together to Develop a Bionic Eye

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Video title: Bionic Vision Australia: Working Together to Develop a Bionic Eye
Released on: July 25, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review, filmed at #BIO2012 Convention in Boston, Fintan Walton talks to Veronika Gouskova, Marketing & Communications Manager at Bionic Vision Australia
Bionic Vision Australia: Mission and technology
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here at BIO in Boston, in 2012. On this show I have Veronika Gouskova, who is with a very interesting organization called Bionic Vision , which is based in Australia, welcome.
Veronika Gouskova:
Thank you very much, it's a pleasure to be here.
Fintan Walton:
Good. Veronika, when I heard about Bionic Vision I was absolutely amazed about the organization, because you're doing something quite unique, clearly this the vision element to this, so tell me more about Bionic Vision ? Why it was set up and what's your organization is all about?
Veronika Gouskova:
Sure, Bionic Vision Australia is a research consortium and what we are trying to do is build a Bionic Eye that can restore a sense of vision to people who are profoundly blind, so we are working with patients who have retinal degenerations at the back of the eye in the retina and they have lost their vision over time, so they've had healthy vision in the past but due to these conditions they have become completely blind, and the technology that we are working on is quite exciting it's really it's an exciting time to be in this field.
Organisational structure
Fintan Walton:
Okay, so it's how you are organized because you are not a private company, you are a not for profit organization with a mission to build a Bionic Eye?
Veronika Gouskova:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
So tell me how that organization works and how you draw on the various resources within an organization?
Veronika Gouskova:
Sure, so as I said we are a research consortium, so we have an unincorporated joint venture. There are five core members, I can read their names for you if you like, we have the University of Melbourne, The Bionics Institute, The University of New South Wales, The Centre for Eye Research Australia and National ICT Australia or NICTA. We also are partnering with the University of Western Sydney, The National Vision Research Institute of Australia and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital which is where all of our patient care is delivered. So it's a pretty big organization because of the number of people involved, number of member organizations involved, but each of them really bring a different set of skills to the project. Building a Bionic Eye is such a complex undertaking and that really requires input from all flavors of engineers, to material scientists, to neuro scientists, clinicians, and surgeons and they all speak very different languages, so bringing them altogether into this collaborative you know convergence to build this device is really exciting.
Coordination and Resource management
Fintan Walton:
Amazing and that's the thing I found quite intriguing really because I suppose you could never really bring that skill set together in the same way other than through an organization like Bionic Vision , because as you say you've got material scientists, you've physicists, you've got ship engineers, you've got neuroscience obviously neuroscientists and you've got clinicians as well all working together within a program, but I suppose a key thing that people would ask is how do you coordinate that, how can you make sure that you can actually ultimately deliver what you want to deliver?
Veronika Gouskova:
It's a tricky challenge sometimes because we are spread out all over Australia, we are in Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney, so not only do our researchers speak different languages in terms of their areas of expertise they're also geographically you know quite dispersed. We have a fairly light on management team and there is sort of central executive office and our project manager who is very busy in running around all the labs keeping everybody on track on the milestone clinical path all the way through the development process, so it can be tricky, but everyone came together because we have in Australia a rich culture of collaboration and working together for towards a common goal and that's what's really exiting, what unites us is a global goal of restoring vision and improving the quality of life of our patient.
Fintan Walton:
Yes, well I can understand that. How are you funded?
Veronika Gouskova:
We are funded by the Australian Federal Government. So it's actually interesting story, in 2006 our Prime Minister got up and said right we need to get some new ideas and kick all that ideas in Summit which we call the 2020 Summit and later, so few years later that Summit came to be and someone whispered in his ear and he just went right, we need to have a Bionic Eye by 2020 and there was a an allocation of funding to our pick sort of research funding body and a special research initiative was established and it was open for bids from various organizations, a government likes a collaborative project they want to see researchers working together in this sort of convergence and collaborative environment. So it was a fully competitive process and we were awarded a large share of that funding, so hit the ground running in 2010 and have made leaps and bounds since then.
Fintan Walton:
So did you get funding from the at state level at the various Victoria and New South Wales et cetera or you just purely federal?
Veronika Gouskova:
So at this point we are purely federal, but the state government of Victoria and New South Wales and host of others sort of state level organizations help to put together the seed funding for the first for the proposal to the federal government, so really without them we wouldn't be here because they were the one that kind of got the conversations going and assembled this team that put forward the idea to the federal government and with federal funding it's just been hits the pole.
Future plans
Fintan Walton:
So in the end you've got about a 10-year run to get the Bionic Eye?
Veronika Gouskova:
Four-year run, so we've got four years.
Fintan Walton:
Veronika Gouskova:
Four-years, it will four-years for medical device is unheard of it, it's a huge talent and a lot of our collaborators have been working on this technology on their own from their various perspectives they are experts in the field and they have been attacking it from more different angles, but coming together four-years is a really you know we have gained a lot of momentum in this project and off course that momentum has to continue beyond their funding period and at the end of 2013. So we have established a company that will commercialize the technology once we've gone through our patient tests next year, but beyond that we will need to continue as a research organization as well to keep the technology developing. As a research organization it's exiting because we can really stay ahead of the current technology that's available and push the boundaries a little bit on what we can achieve and I think that's what makes our project at Bionic Vision Australia really quite a unique project.
Fintan Walton:
Thank you very much indeed Veronika, for coming on the show.
Veronika Gouskova:
Thanks for having me. Thank you.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Veronika Gouskova
Marketing & Communications Manager
At the time of recording this PTV interview Veronika Gouskova serves as Marketing & Communications Manager at Bionic Vision Australia. Her past experiences include Communications Coordinator (Online) at The University of Melbourne, Office of Admissions, Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator, Graduate Research at The University of Melbourne, Office of Admissions, Marketing and Communications Officer at The University of Melbourne, Faculty of Economics and Commerce, Junior Publicist at Chamber Music Australia and Consultant, Business Assurance Resources, Services and Government at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialisation.
Bionic Vision Australia
Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) is a national consortium of researchers working together to develop a bionic eye. The aim of this technology is to restore the sense of vision to people with vision impairment due to retinal degenerative conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration . The Australian bionic eye project brings together a cross-disciplinary group of world-leading experts in the fields of: Ophthalmology Biomedical engineering Electrical engineering and materials science Neuroscience Vision science Psychophysics, Wireless integrated-circuit design Surgical, preclinical and clinical practice In December 2009, the Australian Federal Government awarded a $42 million ARC grant to Bionic Vision Australia to develop bionic vision technology.