US eyecare specialist Bausch + Lomb, arguably best-known for contact lenses, is looking to expand its pharmaceutical operations and become the partner of choice for drugmakers involved in ophthalmology.

Chief executive Brent Saunders has told PharmaTimes World News that the 160-year old company benefits from being an exclusively eye health care company and its business follows three pathways - vision care, cataract and vitreoretinal surgery and pharmaceuticals. Given this scope, "we call on every ophthalmologist and optometrist in the world", he noted.

Mr Saunders argued that pharma is the "hidden gem" of B+L, posting strong double-digit growth this year and last. Growth drivers include the steroid eye drops Lotemax (loteprednol) and Besivance (besifloxacin) used to treat bacterial infections.

However the company is also developing its own pipeline of pharma products, headed by the anti-inflammatory agent mapracorat, a selective glucocorticoid receptor agonist. The early-stage drug is being developed principally as treatment of dry eye disease.

Mr Saunders said he is also interested in licensing-in Phase II/III compounds as "we are very comfortable about taking on development" of candidates. "We have full capabilities to do everything".

He added that we have "a laser-like focus" in becoming the partner of choice, noting that unlike some of its peers, getting access to the B + L boss is not a complicated procedure. Mr Saunders also said that given its exclusive focus on  eye health, the organisation is a flexible, agile one.

Growth in the emerging markets is a priority and Mr Saunders said all three of B + L's businesses are now active in every country it operates in. He noted that just taking into account India and China, "you have 4.6 billion eyes. That's a lot of eyes".

In October 2007, Warburg Pincus led the acquisition of B + L, which put the company into private hands. In the future, Mr Saunders noted that "we have an aspiration to go public" again but set no timelines due to the state of the markets.