By Jof Enriquez,
Follow me on Twitter @jofenriq
Alcon, the eye care business of Novartis, has announced an alliance with privately-held medical device startup PowerVision, which has developed a fluid-based lens implant for cataract patients who also have presbyopia, the age-related visual condition that makes it difficult to focus on close objects. The deal also provides Alcon the option to acquire PowerVision.
Presbyopia is often treated with multi-focal intraocular lenses (IOL), which work by distributing light between different focal points, allowing patients to see at far and reading distances. Belmont, California-based PowerVision offers an implant with a different mechanism. It has developed an accommodating IOL (AIOL), which contains a tiny amount of fluid that moves in response to the natural muscle forces in the eye. Thus, the lens mimic natural accommodation – the ability of the eye to focus on objects at varying distances by changing shape – becoming thinner when focusing closely and thicker when seeing far away. The device is implanted into the lens capsule similarly to standard IOLs, a common procedure to treat cataracts.
“We are committed to finding and developing the best, most innovative treatment option for cataract patients who live with presbyopia,” said Michael Onuscheck, Global Surgical Franchise Head, Alcon, in a press release. “The fluid-based technology that PowerVision, Inc. is working on represents a potential game-changer in the category with the promise to offer patients a natural, continuous range of near to far vision.”
Alcon's investment amount in PowerVision was undisclosed, but the companies said the fund will be used for further device development and future clinical trials, as well as provide Alcon the option to purchase PowerVision in the future.
“We are excited about our new alliance with Alcon, and look forward to working together to bring this exciting technology to market,” said Barry Cheskin, president, CEO, and co-founder of PowerVision.
Investing in PowerVision is the latest move by Novartis to turn around its struggling eye care business and expand its stagnant innovation pipeline. In February, it bought Transcend Medical, a medtech company developing minimally invasive surgical devices to treat glaucoma. In 2014, Novartis announced a partnership with Google to create a smart lens to correct presbyopia and measure glucose levels in tears of diabetics. The joint project is scheduled for human trials this year.
Alcon, which represents 20 percent of Novartis’ revenue, dropped 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015. Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez has said a failure to innovate was to blame for Alcon's underperformance. A revitalization plan was put into place earlier this year, with former Hospira CEO Michael Ball appointed to lead Alcon. Jimenez has said 2016 is a critical year for Alcon, which analysts speculate could be sold by Novartis if the business fails to recover.