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Femtosecond lasers gain ophthalmology traction

28 Mar 2011

Eyecare giant Bausch + Lomb is to distribute an ultrafast system for both cataract and refractive surgery.

Bausch + Lomb, the healthcare company best known for its contact lenses and ophthalmology instruments, is to start distributing a femtosecond laser system via its global sales network later this year.

The company, headquartered in the optics heartland of Rochester, New York, has signed an “agreement in principle” with its Munich-based affiliate Technolas Perfect Vision (TPV). Ophthalmology laser specialist TPV, which is a joint venture between Bausch + Lomb and Germany’s 20/10 Perfect Vision, has developed an innovative ultrafast system that can perform both cataract and refractive eye surgeries.

While the advantages of femtosecond laser sources, including more precise tissue cutting and lower damage, have been exploited in refractive LASIK procedures for many years, they are only just starting to become used in cataract surgery.

But the market for cataract procedures represents a much larger market opportunity, and this was highlighted last summer by the $744 million acquisition of the venture-backed company LenSx Lasers by Bausch + Lomb’s Swiss rival Alcon Laboratories.

What sets TPV’s approach apart is that its system is able to perform both cataract and refractive procedures on a single platform, including correction for presbyopia (age-related long-sightedness) – seen as another major growth opportunity in an ageing global population.

Clinical advance
“Femtosecond laser technology for cataract procedures promises to be one of the most significant clinical advances in cataract surgery in 40 years,” suggested Robert Grant, CEO and president of Bausch + Lomb Surgical. “The TPV femtosecond laser platform, which uniquely supports refractive and cataract procedures, is a natural complement to our portfolio of cataract products.”

Meanwhile Orlando-based LensAR has just received clearance from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the use of its femtosecond laser system in the lens fragmentation step of cataract surgery. LensAR CEO Randy Frey said that the decision, which builds on previous FDA clearance of its laser for anterior capsulotomy, brings the technology “one step closer to commercialization”.

In cataract surgery, the cloudy, damaged lens of a patient is first broken up and removed (lens fragmentation). The anterior capsulotomy step involves making a small round opening at the front of the capsule that holds the lens, so that the damaged lens can be removed and a clear plastic replacement inserted.

Although the LensAR system has been used on around 500 eyes outside the US, at present it remains an investigational device in the company’s domestic market.

But full FDA approval would open up a huge market opportunity. Bausch + Lomb estimates the global number of cataract surgeries at more than 15 million per year currently. In comparison, about 2 million LASIK refractive procedures have been performed since the technology was first given the go-ahead ten years ago.

The company says that commercialization of TPV’s dual-purpose system should begin in the second half of this year.

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