Backing Vision Tech Startup Avedro, VCs Take Long View on Eye Surgery Market

6/2/09

It’s not an ideal time to be in the business of providing vision-correction surgeries such as Lasik, as demand for these mostly elective procedures has fallen in sync with the overall economy. But the consensus at Waltham, MA-based Avedro appears to be that it’s a great time to be developing the next generation of vision-correction technology.

The economic recession was not top of mind for David Muller, CEO of Avedro, when I chatted with him recently about the startup’s plans. Earlier this month it was revealed that the startup closed a $10 million Series B round of financing led by blue-chip venture firm Flagship Ventures, of Cambridge, MA. Now Avedro has the financial firepower to forge ahead with the clinical trials needed to gain European regulatory approval of its technology, which it is developing to correct nearsightedness, or myopia.

“The reason that the laser refractive surgery [market] has taken a hit is because of the economy, but like everything else the economy is going to come back,” Muller said. “By the time [Avedro's product] gets to market, we expect the economy to be more robust.”

There are two other factors that make Muller unconcerned about the current state of the refractive surgery market, he says. One is that Avedro plans to initially market its product to treat relatively mild cases of nearsightedness, and laser-based surgeries like Lasik are done mostly on patients with more severe vision problems. Also, there are features of Avedro’s vision-correction technology that Muller believes will make it appealing to people who have previously stayed clear of Lasik. (At this point, it should probably be noted that Muller was CEO of former Summit Technology—the first company to garner FDA approval for laser refractive surgery. Alcon Laboratories, a majority-owned unit of Swiss food giant Nestle, bought Summit for about $900 million in 2000.)

Avedro’s procedure, called Keraflex, directs microwave energy onto the cornea or front of the eye, Muller explained. The energy heats a small ring of tissue, causing the tissue to shrink and flatten the cornea slightly to improve vision. This 10-minute procedure is designed to provide vision correction that lasts for two years or so. As the cornea returns to its original shape after the procedure, he said, changes in vision are expected to be … Next Page »

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