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Second Sight to wind down on Covid-19 impact

01 Apr 2020

Company developing artificial vision for blind people for past 20 years lays off the majority of its workforce with immediate effect.

Executives at Second Sight, the Nasdaq-listed company that has developed a series of implants designed to restore a form of vision to blind people, have decided to wind down the company’s operations with immediate effect.

The decision comes after attempts to secure additional financing were hindered by the global coronavirus pandemic. Second Sight says 84 of the company’s 108 employees were laid off March 31, with additional layoffs expected in the future.

It also means that company chairman Gregg Williams, who had been appointed acting CEO of Second Sight less than a month ago, will not now take up that role. Instead Matthew Pfeffer, chairman of the Second Sight board’s audit committee, will lead the company through the wind-down period.

Economic shock
Saying that its laid-off employees will be eligible for unemployment benefits subject to local regulations, Second Sight added in a company release:

“Against a background of unprecedented economic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and inability to secure additional financing, the company’s board of directors has evaluated strategic alternatives and decided to pursue an orderly wind down of the company’s operations.”

News of the wind down came less than two weeks after the Los Angeles firm revealed its financial results for fiscal year 2019. Those figures showed an operating loss of $34 million during the year, on sales of less than $4 million.

That meant Second Sight had burned through much of the $35 million cash that it had raised in a shareholder rights issue just over a year ago - the vast majority of which had been provided by Gregg Williams.

As of the end of last year the company had held just over $11 million in cash and equivalent assets, but with a quarterly burn rate typically in the region of $8 million that pile is likely to have dwindled over the past three months.

JHU collaboration
Last October the firm secured a $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It was awarded to fund a four-year collaboration with researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, with the aim of integrating spatial localization and mapping technology with a future generation of Second Sight’s “Orion” visual implant.

By-passing both the eye and the optic nerve, the Orion implant is placed directly onto the visual cortex of the patient's brain. Signals received from a miniature camera integrated within a pair of glasses are fed to the implant and interpreted as "vision" by the brain.

Prior to Orion, Second Sight had developed the "Argus" and "Argus II" implants, which were attached to the rear of a patient's retina. To date, more than 350 patients have received an Argus II implant.

The Orion implant is currently the subject of an ongoing feasibility study with six blind patients, in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles' Ronald Reagan Medical Center, and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Second Sight had been working towards a larger “pivotal” trial of the Orion implant, while all of the patients taking part in the small-scale study had reached the 12-month mark.

Company COO Pat Ryan had said last month: “It is gratifying to know that this device can help profoundly blind individuals gain some independence and participate once again in certain activities of daily life. We look forward to making continued strides in advancing this breakthrough technology.”

Since then, however, the company’s stock price has lost around 80 per cent of its value, amid the wider sell-off in stocks in response to the global coronavirus crisis.

Video: Second Sight study at Baylor College of Medicine

Iridian Spectral TechnologiesLASEROPTIK GmbHAlluxaHyperion OpticsLaCroix Precision OpticsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationMad City Labs, Inc.
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