The secret to better vision starts with a single piece of material. But not just any material. STAAR Surgical develops, manufactures, and markets implantable Collamer lenses for the eye made through a highly scientific process. The West Coast company has focused on ophthalmic surgery alone for nearly four decades. Now, its research and development teams have created an innovative material called Collamer. The collagen and polymer material becomes flexible EVO Implantable Collamer Lenses (ICLs) that provide UV protection and treat common conditions like myopia and astigmatism.
While many US doctors and consumers are more familiar with other solutions like LASIK, STAAR’s new chief operating officer, Warren Foust, says that’s about to change. His company has already distributed implantable lenses for about two million patient eyes in more than seventy-five countries. Already 99.4 percent of those patients report they would elect to have EVO ICL surgery again.
Buoyed by those good results, Foust and his colleagues now have FDA approval and are ready to launch their innovative product in the United States. They’ll next have to train doctors to do the procedure and win market share from the laser eye surgery providers who have relied on one popular method for the last thirty years.
It may sound like a tough task, but Foust and his partners have a secret weapon: Joe Jonas. The pop star selected EVO to correct his myopia, which is the most ubiquitous vision disorder, and has since partnered with the company to help other consumers discover the effectiveness of EVO ICLs.
Jonas has become a strong advocate for STAAR and often talks about how the small lenses added to his eyes in a “life-changing” operation provided immediate correction and clear vision without dry eye syndrome.
Doctors performing an EVO procedure implant the biocompatible Collamer lens between the iris and the anterior capsular bag. Unlike LASIK, the surgery preserves the cornea and is reversible. In late 2022, STAAR and Jonas launched a robust digital campaign to reach the millions of US patients ages twenty-one to forty-five who suffer from myopia. One of those patients was Jonas’s brother Kevin, who also had the procedure. EVO ICL is set to sponsor the Jonas Brothers 2023 North American tour.
Foust knows the worthwhile investment will pay off. While he may be new to STAAR, the longtime medtech executive and former Johnson & Johnson Surgical Vision president says consumers value the reputation, culture, and approach that attracted him to the organization in spring 2023.
“Our customers are really excited about our innovative lens technology, but they are elated about the fact that we are the only company out there advertising to help drive patients to their offices for a more permanent solution for their vision needs,” Foust says. “We are investing into the market to bring patients forward.”
After studying business, public relations, and marketing at the University of Alabama, Foust started out selling orthopedic trauma equipment. The young graduate was open to exploring other careers until he observed a surgeon speak to the family of a thirteen-year-old patient who had surgery to repair a complex distal tibia fracture.
“Once I saw how technology drove critical outcomes that made a real difference in patients’ lives, I was hooked,” Foust recalls, adding that he resolved to look for an employer that would use its platform for good and develop novel products to create a positive impact in the world.
That quest took Foust around the country as he moved seven times to pursue new opportunities with organizations like DePuy Synthes and Mentor Worldwide. Foust’s first foray into ophthalmology started when he took the helm at Johnson & Johnson’s surgical vision franchise where led a team over five thousand employees focused on surgical ophthalmology.
That’s where Foust learned the power of mentoring. He replaced a respected and retiring industry leader, Tom Frinzi, who became both a mentor and a friend. “I inherited the structure and relationships that Tom built. I saw how he and the company helped people, and I fell in love with ophthalmology,” Foust says.
Johnson & Johnson develops its leaders by moving them around its large organization. And while Foust would have loved to continue that journey, a desire to stay in ophthalmology led him led him to join STAAR, where Frinzi now services as executive chairman and CEO.
The culture, people, customers, and collegial way that the ophthalmology industry collaborates with its customers to find patient solutions is what allowed him to make the difficult decision to leave Johnson & Johnson, Foust explains. STAAR has given a home to work alongside other leaders he says are committed to changing lives through improving sight. “I was attracted to the talented people, innovative product, and the chance to change the refractive market.”
As STAAR’s COO, Foust is responsible for the global commercial organization and areas like supply chain, quality assurance, and marketing. While ICLs have done well around the world, he is squarely focused on the US launch of EVO ICL.
To replicate STAAR’s worldwide success with the EVO ICL, Foust intends to lean on company culture anchored by traits like empowerment, speed to execution, integrity, respect, and fun. “We have high performers here that attract other high performers,” he says. “That culture leads to happy patients, and happy patients help grow healthy refractive practices.”
A passion for service and camaraderie comes naturally to Foust, who grew up as the youngest of three boys in a military family. He went to college on athletic scholarships and emphasizes the importance of a team mentality both at home and at work.
These days, teamwork at STAAR means everyone must be doing their part to grow capacity in an organization that’s expanding by double digits in every market around the world. Although the US EVO ICL launch is a present focus, Foust says the event is just the beginning of what STAAR can do. The company is poised to follow it up with EVO VIVA, another implantable Collamer lens that corrects presbyopia (near vision) in patients after the age of forty-five.