When Chuck Leiter, PharmD, graduated from the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy in 1983, he planned to continue to medical school to become an ophthalmologist. That is, until a friend—who was an ophthalmologist and fellow pharmacist—told Leiter he could best serve ophthalmology by staying right where he was: in his family’s custom compounding pharmacy.
“I took that advice and never turned back, and I love what I’m doing,” Leiter said.
Nearly 30 years later, Leiter, a third-generation pharmacist, works alongside his father at Leiter’s Compounding Pharmacy in San Jose, CA, where they specialize in eye drops for conditions ranging from glaucoma to hard-to-treat amoebic eye infections.
Some of Leiter’s patients have glaucoma but cannot tolerate the preservatives in commercial glaucoma drops. Without drops to stop the progression of their disease, glaucoma patients can lose vision and eventually become blind. So Leiter compounds preservative-free versions of any commercial glaucoma drop.
“We’re able to help people out, and we can actually see it. You can actually follow them and see them as they get better, and you get satisfaction out of that,” he said.
Leiter helps people not only through the medications he compounds, but also through his business philosophy.
“We have a philosophy here that we never turn anybody away. So if a patient can’t afford the medication and you’re the only game in town, they’re either going to get it from you or they’re going to lose their eye.”
This philosophy has allowed Leiter to help patients around the world. He has donated medications to the Singapore Eye Institute, and he has sold medications on a pay-what-you-can basis right in his store.
For one migrant worker suffering from a fungal eye infection that was unresponsive to commercial drugs, pay-what-you-can meant boxes of handpicked strawberries.
“There aren’t a lot of fungal medications available on the market. These fungi aren’t susceptible to everything, and some drugs don’t get penetrated into the eye,” Leiter said.
The man’s only option was antifungal eye drops compounded especially for his infection, but he couldn’t afford them, so Leiter gave him the drops.
“He was so blown away that he started bringing us cases of hand-picked strawberries the size of your fist.”
Medications that go into the eye must be sterile, and Leiter goes above and beyond the recommended standard testing to ensure the quality and safety of his compounds.
“I’m probably the most conservative in the business. I spend a lot of money on testing to make sure my products are sterile and clean and that I’m not going to have any problems like the ones we’ve seen,” Leiter said. “I’m not interested in cutting corners. I want to go to sleep at night and get up in the morning knowing that everything I sent out was sterile and is what it’s supposed to be.”