It was an afternoon in late October 2001. A fax from the American Academy of Ophthalmology
had just printed in my office, and at the top in large capital letters, it said:
====== ¬† URGENT! ¬† ======
Fax machines in doctors' offices are targets for every company trying to market surgical instruments, medications, automobile tires, lunch menus, you name it. And normally, I never look at what has come in. But something about this fax caught my eye. Looking more carefully, I saw that it came from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and it was announcing a ground-breaking study just completed at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.
The study acronym was AREDS, and what it stood for was Age-Related Eye Disease Study. For the first time ever, this study found, after testing thousands of patients over several years, it had been proven for the first time that high doses of particular vitamins and minerals slowed the progression of macular degeneration. The amounts of these ingredients were far, far higher than anything used before in eye vitamins, but then again, nothing at lower doses had been shown to work before AREDS. Patients were split into several groups:
- 80 mg of Zinc oxide alone with 2 mg Cupric oxide added to prevent Zinc-induced anemia
- Antioxidants alone, including 25,000 IU of beta-carotene, 500 mg of Vitamin C and 400 IU of Vitamin E
- Zinc plus Antioxidants
Zinc oxide alone was effective, but the Antioxidants plus zinc were most effective.
The initial reaction? Most doctors scoffed at the results. The effects weren't huge (25% slowing of AMD), and nutritional supplements didn't sound very scientific to many of them.
But not me. I recognized that this was the first giant step to gaining control over a disease that up until that point, often caused unabated dramatic vision loss or blindness. I was inspired, and in early November 2001, launched a new company, VItamin Science, Inc
., whose name put together the very two terms that most doctors didn't think belonged together. With zero prior experience in manufacturing nutritional supplements, I searched for quality laboratories, graphic designers, printers, fulfillment centers, order taking operators, web site designers, Internet hosting companies, and more. Fortunately, medical school and post-graduate education trains you to do much of this by instilling dogged¬†perseverance in you. Hundreds of days and thousands of hours were invested.
It took just days to learn that nutritional supplements were out of the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Supplement makers were required to put two disclaimers on every bottle, including this one: "This product is not intended to diagnose,¬†treat, cure or prevent any disease." And along with that, ¬†I learned that the FDA didn't test any of the supplements. So it was inherent on every manufacturer to do the right thing. And this is where things got murky, because unscrupulous things can occur when no one is watching out for the consumer. Known among industry insiders but not yet this trusting physician was that many companies, fancy labels to the contrary, ¬†put less than the stated ingredients that were listed in the Supplement Facts. The reason? Higher profits.
So in 2001, we wrote a Mission Statement. Imagine, an eye vitamin company with a publicly posted mission statement! It was the first time EVER that had been done. Now copied by many other companies, and edited since it was first posted, you can read it here:¬†http://www.visivite.com/mission-statement1.html
VisiVite started small, fulfilling a handful of daily orders from our basement. My two sons - one now a medical student and the other a college sophomore - helped fold boxes. My wife packaged the orders. The United States Postal Service flew a movie crew to us from Washington, D.C. and featured me in a national video¬†campaign¬†about Priority Mail pickup
. But doctors and patients began ordering in larger quantities and soon we hired a large processing center to fulfill orders for VisiVite eye vitamins.
There were other firsts:
- Large population studies had shown that beta-carotene, one of the five ingredients in AREDS, increased the risk of lung cancer in heavy smokers. So we substituted Lutein, a different carotenoid without that risk profile, and created VisiVite Smokers Formula. Now widely imitated, it was the very first macular degeneration supplement that was based on AREDS for smokers.
- Vitamin Science was the first company to manufacture mixed nutritional supplements that were based on AREDS and contained high doses of Zeaxanthin, an even more powerful carotenoid.
- Vitamin Science was the first company to manufacturer an AREDS-based supplement without Vitamin E, for patients on Coumadin (warfarin).
Throughout our 11+ year history, we've tried to "stay small." By that, I don't mean that we're content not to grow. Rather, we have maintained a personal quality to caring about and communicating with our customers, who I often mistakenly call, "our patients."
It's been quite a ride. This month, we sold our 20 millionth VisiVite capsule. As the physician president of our company, I feel good about how we have helped people. Combined with the sea-change in the treatment of wet macular degeneration using intraocular injections of medications that block Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, there is a lot of hope for patients with this condition.*
Paul Krawitz, M.D., President and C.E.O.