The Intralase Story, Part I

intralase logo

Intralase Corp– another story about great people, process and results.

Ron Kurtz, MD was a second year resident at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center in 1992 when a graduate student from Gérard Mourou’s Center for Ultrafast Optical Science presented with retinal damage from a laboratory femtosecond (~10-15 sec pulse) laser. This unfortunate encounter lead to a research collaboration between Kurtz and Mourou’s lab in the area of laser – tissue interactions.

While at a conference in 1994, Ron met Tibor Juhasz, PhD, Chief Scientist at San Diego start-up Intelligent Surgical Lasers (ISL). Tibor and his team were investigating picosecond (~10-12 sec pulse) laser technology and had successfully developed a delivery system for the cornea. This encounter, which I liken to the vintage 80’s Reese’s commercial where the guy with a chocolate bar bumps into the gal with peanut butter, resulted in an intense collaboration at Michigan.

Ron Kurtz, MD and Tibor Juhasz, PhD circa 1996

Ron Kurtz, MD and Tibor Juhasz, PhD circa 1996

With seed capital and guidance from Tom Porter at EDF Ventures, Kurtz and Juhasz negotiated patent licenses and spun out from the University as Intralase Corp. in 1997. While myriad applications existed for the technology, the company chose to focus on creating “flaps” (a horizontal dissection of the cornea), the first step in the LASIK procedure, with more precision and safety than the current oscillating metal blade.

A year later they moved the company to Irvine, CA, the epi-center of ophthalmic innovation. With the move, the Company was able to attract world-class management in Randy Alexander, Eric Weinberg and Shelly Thunen along with top-tier ophthalmic tech venture investors Bill Link, PhD and Gil Kliman, MD . Together they launched the world’s first commercially available femtosecond laser in 2001 – a true breakthrough.

In 2003 the board hired Bob Palmisano, a seasoned public company CEO, to help the Company achieve the next levels of performance. Bob had previously been CEO of Summit Technology, Inc., a company that benefited greatly from his HPMS or “high performance management system”, so naturally he brought this process and a few of his senior executives with him. I was fortunate to have been one; another was Charline Gauthier, OD, PhD.

Like many novel technologies, the Company faced significant market adoption challenges. In my next post I will summarize how we leveraged proven quality principles and practices to solve for these challenges and become the new standard-of-care in LASIK surgery worldwide.

Read ‘The Intralase Story – Part II’ here