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Innovations in eye care technology by Johnson & Johnson Vision

“I’m a scientist dedicated to bringing eye-health innovations to the world”

Meet Xiao-Yu Song, Global Head of Research & Development for Vision at Johnson & Johnson, who leads a talented team that creates cutting-edge products addressing vision problems through all stages of life.

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Imagine a contact lens that, when worn overnight while you sleep, actually helps reshape the cornea and improve your vision. And envision what it would feel like to wear a contact lens that delivers technology to help address the increased digital demands on our eyes.

Headshot of Xiao-Yu Song, Global Head of Research and Development at Johnson & Johnson Vision
Xiao-Yu Song, M.D., Ph.D., and her Vision research and development (R&D) team at Johnson & Johnson have brought these and many more eyecare innovations to people around the world, making a true impact in global vision health. As the Global Head of Research & Development for Vision at Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Song oversees the creation and commercialization of cutting-edge products that address vision problems through all stages of life, from childhood myopia to cataracts in older adults.

Her inquisitive mind and love of problem-solving inspired Dr. Song to pursue a career in healthcare research and R&D. Seeing the patient impact of the innovations her team developed has kept her at Johnson & Johnson for more than two decades.

“The short answer to the question of why I do what I do? It’s to make an impact,” says Dr. Song. “I did try working in different areas, including academia. But once I started helping people in a large-scale way—beyond treating one patient at a time, as a medical doctor does—I never looked back. It’s so rewarding.”

Ask Dr. Song what she’s most proud of and she won’t talk about her many patents, the scientific studies she’s published or the industry awards she’s earned. She won’t even mention that her R&D leadership resulted in the creation of the Johnson & Johnson TECNIS Eyhance™ IOL—an intraocular lens (IOL) widely used in cataract surgery that was awarded a Johnson Medal, the company’s highest honor in R&D, in 2022. In 2023, it also earned a Red Dot Design Award.

Instead, she points to her team as her biggest achievement. “I love celebrating their successes when we get innovations out the door,” she says.

For Healthy Vision Month, Dr. Song shares the childhood experience that inspired her to work in healthcare, why she’s dedicated her career to R&D and what she hopes is in store for the future of eye health.

Q:

Growing up, what was the first clue that you would go on to pursue a career in healthcare?

A:

My mom was an ear, nose and throat doctor, and one day when I was about 4 years old, she took me with her to the hospital outpatient clinic where she worked.

I sat there the whole day while she saw patient after patient, gathering their history, asking questions and examining the patient. Everybody was different, and she tailored her response to each individual’s needs. Some were treated on the spot, a few were admitted for surgery and others were asked to try a treatment for a few weeks and come back. The patient-doctor interaction—how a doctor attends to the patient’s problem and tries to solve it—fascinated me.

Q:

What part of your work do you enjoy the most?

A:

What gets me excited is looking into the science—understanding a disease and what’s causing it, then targeting the right solution. This gets me going every day, and it’s why I’ve stayed in R&D throughout my career.

Q:

What’s one of the biggest challenges of your job?

A:

Persevering when studies aren’t successful. Sometimes it can take two or three different types of experiments and approaches until we get to the answer. It causes a lot of anxiety. I try to have patience and never lose sight of the problem we’re trying to solve.

Q:

Why is advancing diversity and inclusion in healthcare settings such a priority?

A:

The patients we serve are from diverse backgrounds. So it makes sense that the people on our teams should reflect this diversity—which leads to better ideas and a diversity of thought and approaches.

I’m also passionate about making sure our next generation of STEM leaders reflects all populations, and that’s why I got involved as the executive sponsor of the Johnson & Johnson WiSTEM2D, University Pillar chapter in Jacksonville. I am also an active member of Women in Ophthalmology, an organization that is dedicated to improving the professional environment for female ophthalmologists. Women comprise 20% of the field, but they are absent or rarely in key leadership positions. I want to help change that.

Q:

What eye-health breakthroughs do you hope to see in your lifetime?

A:

I’d like to see more breakthroughs around treatment of myopia, or nearsightedness, progression. People who develop high myopia have a greater likelihood of developing retinal diseases that can lead to loss of sight. It’s a big problem; myopia prevalence has doubled over the last 20 years, and by 2050 one out of two people will have it.

If we don’t address myopia as a progressive disease, we will have more patients with early-onset retinal diseases in their 40s. This will increase the healthcare burden tremendously. We’re addressing myopia right now with two products designed for myopia management, but we also want to make sure we get ahead of myopia progression through research and development..

Xiao-Yu Song showcasing TECNIS Synergy and TECNIS Odyssey intraocular lenses developed by Johnson & Johnson Vision.

Dr. Song onstage, presenting eye-health advancements at a conference

I’d also like to see more versatile post–cataract surgery adjustment technology, where you have the patient implanted with an IOL that offers a range of vision or monovision. The IOL can be adjusted if the patient decides they want more distance, or if they want to see better up close. When you think about the possibilities this can offer, it’s unbelievable. It would change how cataract patient outcomes are going to be measured.

Q:

How do you start and end your day?

A:

First, I have an espresso. Then I focus on what is in front of me: What do I need to think about? What do I need to prepare for? I do this before going to the office because it’s important in my role to bring energy into every interaction I have, whether it’s with my team or one on one.

After work, I spend time with my husband, have dinner, chat and watch a little bit of TV before doing a workout. If I work out for a long time I’ll watch a show. Right now I’m streaming 3 Body Problem on Netflix, about life outside of Earth. It’s a little bit out there, but it’s really interesting.

Q:

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

A:

The first piece: Always deliver in the role you’re in. And, by the way, to be able to do that, you have to love what you do. Matching what you’re passionate about to your work is critical. I love science and problem solving, and that’s why I have no intention of leaving R&D.

Number two is to be open-minded about taking on opportunities outside your comfort zone or making a change even if it feels risky or not like the right time. An opportunity may come too early, but believe in your own ability to learn and grow. Learning is the key.

Q:

What has been your proudest achievement in your work life so far?

A:

What makes me most proud is the team I have the privilege to lead. All the accomplishments and innovative solutions we’ve launched would be impossible without these talented and committed scientists, clinicians, medical professionals, marketers and supply-chain experts. Our broadest accomplishment is that we continue to design, develop and commercialize world-class, first-of-their-kind innovations.

More ways Johnson & Johnson is innovating in eye care

Read the 2021 Vision Impact Report to see how the company is working to change the trajectory of eye health.

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What to know about We All Belong: 2023 DEI Impact Review

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