Ophthalmology Professor Richard Eiferman
Ophthalmology Professor Richard Eiferman

University of Louisville Ophthalmology professor and lifelong learner Richard Eiferman recently launched a new and unexpected chapter in his career prompted by an unlikely catalyst – his Bernese Mountain dog, Teddy. The one hundred pound-plus dog needed ear drops for an infection, and it took three people to corral him to give him the medication.

“I just thought there has to be a better way,” said Eiferman.

In his seventies, Eiferman made the decision to embark on an online MBA program at the UofL College of Business to link his 40-year career in ophthalmology with his longtime research interest in developing a new medication delivery system.

“I’ve always been very interested in the business aspects of things, and we always had these research ideas that we’d never had the chance to bring to fruition, so I thought maybe we could put two birds together in one,” he said.

From his decades of experience with eye ailments, Eiferman recognized that a sustained delivery system was needed. “It’s particularly important in ophthalmology, because for example, if you have glaucoma, you have to take drops once or twice a day for the rest of your life, and compliance can be the biggest problem.”

Eiferman connected with a PhD chemist and the two investigated a long-acting sustained release way to deliver medication.

“We discovered a way to put drugs in a wafer that slowly dissolves over two-to-three months, so no drops,” said Eiferman. “It’s a totally new concept. We conducted tests on rabbits and sure enough, it worked beautifully.”

With the help of College of Business faculty, he submitted a proposal and won the top prize of $25,000 in a “Shark Tank” style contest sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology in November 2022. That success led him to present at another contest in April 2023 at Yale University, and again he won the top prize, this time $265,000.  

Eiferman said that the UofL MBA faculty were incredibly receptive and supportive, teaching him a novel approach for his presentation to the Yale panel.

“This was different than any paper or lecture I’ve ever given,” he said. “Five slides and five minutes. I was fixated on the science and the chemistry, but they told me the panelists would want to know about  the market and how to make money from this idea,” he said. “They were 100 percent correct.”

With the patent and his newly formed company, Sustained Drug Delivery, Eiferman plans to use the prize money to fund a study at Michigan State involving beagles that have congenital glaucoma since the FDA requires two species studies, rabbits and dogs in this case. The experiments need to demonstrate the wafers are equivalent in efficacy to the traditional drops.

“We believe it will work and we can then ask for permission to test in humans and evaluate a certain number of people for a certain length of time,” he said. Once Eiferman completes that hurdle, the drug delivery system could be marketed as a device and not a drug, which can reduce the time between testing and approval.

Eiferman said he believes it could be a multi-million-dollar idea because of the technology’s broad applicability.

“In dentistry, for example, they could pack a socket following a tooth extraction or put it in sutures,” explained Eiferman. The other huge market is veterinary medicine to address a severe eye ailment that can make horses go blind.

In May 2023, Eiferman got to wear his green hood and walk at the university’s online MBA graduation ceremony.

“I never expected to be getting an MBA or starting a company in my 70s, but I wanted to prove I could still go to school and learn.”