[FoRK] A new KP investment in eyeglasses (!?)

Rohit Khare rohit at commerce.net
Fri Mar 25 11:18:25 PST 2005

A fusion of technologies results in ultrafine diagnosis and correction
By Penni Crabtree
March 25, 2005

On the production line at San Diego startup Ophthonix, lenses await 
further steps in the manufacturing process.

These are not your grandma's spectacles.

  Fusing laser technology developed as part of the Star Wars weapons 
program with optics, physics, biology and some elegant engineering, the 
San Diego startup company Ophthonix has hit on a new vision for, well, 

  The privately held eye-care company has created a device called the 
Z-View Aberrometer, a laser-based diagnostic machine that allows eye 
doctors to map the unique foibles of the individual human eye.

  Traditional vision testing machines allow eye doctors to write 
prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses that correct common 
problems such as farsightedness and nearsightedness. But Ophthonix's 
device also measures other conditions – known as high order aberrations 
– within the eye that affect the clarity and crispness of a person's 

  "You aren't asked during an eye exam, 'Is that line perfectly clear?' 
you are asked, 'Can you read it?' " said Andreas Dreher, chief 
executive of Ophthonix. "Some people can read the 20/20 line, but it's 
not crisp. They see blurriness. Or, while driving at night, every light 
looks like a star or a comet's tail.

"Those are the fine distortions, the optical aberrations, that our 
machine detects and we can correct," Dreher said.

  The technology is similar to that used in a new generation of LASIK 
treatments, the laser surgery that is performed to correct vision 
problems. But unlike machines that map the eye so a surgeon knows where 
to direct the laser, Ophthonix's device is the first to be used as a 
prescribing tool for corrective lenses.

  Ophthonix began selling its machine to eye doctors in November, but 
the diagnostic technology is only the first step in the process and in 
the company's potential revenue stream.

  Once an eye doctor uses the Aberrometer to map a patient's eyes – 
capturing more than 11,000 tiny measurement points across each pupil – 
the device's software generates a digital prescription.

  The doctor then sends that prescription to Ophthonix, which feeds it 
into its proprietary lens production equipment to create a custom pair 
of spectacles.

  Unlike traditional lenses, which are made from ground or molded glass 
or plastic, Ophthonix lenses are made from two pieces of thin plastic 
that are fused with a proprietary liquid plastic between them.

  The liquid plastic trapped within this lens sandwich is then 
"programmed" through a point-by-point computerized system to correspond 
with the patient's prescription.

  Once programmed, the liquid plastic is cured and hardened, and the 
finished pair of Ophthonix's branded iZon eyeglasses is mailed to the 
doctor to be delivered to the patient. The company produces about 60 
pairs of custom-made eyeglasses each day, and is scaling up to 
manufacture more.

  Dreher said patients can expect to pay a premium over conventional 
lenses for the iZon eyeglasses, but the prices are set by individual 
eye doctors and can differ from doctor to doctor.

  The list price for an Aberrometer is $27,900.

  Phil Smith, a Hillcrest optometrist, said he bought an Aberrometer in 
January because the technology is "cutting-edge."

  "I have a number of patients that complain that their night vision is 
not good with glasses, or it's not crisp, and we just can't put our 
finger on it," Smith said. "But we're starting to learn that a lot of 
these complaints are due to higher order aberrations that can't be 
corrected with ordinary glasses or contacts.

  "I think Ophthonix's technology has the potential to solve patient 
problems, to have a significant impact," Smith said. "That's my hope, 
and I want to be there when it happens."

  Dreher, who founded Ophthonix, obtained the company's technology from 
Trex Enterprises Corp., a San Diego research and development company 
focused on applied optics and lasers.

  In 2000, Dreher, a founder and former president of Rancho 
Bernardo-based Laser Diagnostic Technologies, left his job and was 
looking for a new technology to build a company around. He was 
introduced to Trex, which ran a project on guiding laser beams through 
the atmosphere for the federal government's Star Wars program.

  Dreher saw some of that technology and thought it could be applied to 
vision care.

  "When a laser beam is projected through the atmosphere, there is a lot 
of air that changes in its optical density and properties, and 
therefore the light beam is deviating," Dreher said. "So you want to be 
able to detect how a beam is disturbed and then correct it.

  "And it is the same problem an eye doctor faces. The eye is an optical 
system that has disturbances, and you want to diagnose them and correct 

  Dreher pitched the idea to Trex, which transferred commercial rights 
to the technology to Ophthonix in exchange for an equity stake in the 
new company.

  In 2002, Ophthonix raised an initial $7.5 million in venture capital 
funds from San Diego's Enterprise Partners and Menlo Park-based Kleiner 
Perkins Caufield & Byers, a premier venture capital firm that has 
financed high-tech and biotech powerhouses such as Sun Microsystems, 
Compaq Computer and Genentech.

  Dreher is proud that the company not only attracted VCs with 
impressive pedigrees, but did so after the high-tech and biotech stock 
market bubble had burst.

  "We started at a time where virtually no funding was available, when 
hardly any venture capitalist would talk to you if you came with a new 
idea," Dreher said.

  Dr. Drew Senyei, managing director of Enterprise Partners, said his 
firm decided to back Ophthonix because the technology represents "the 
first innovation in eyeglasses in decades."

  "It is a very unique concept," Senyei said. "The difference between 
traditional glasses and the iZon glasses is like the difference between 
regular television and high-definition television."

  Ophthonix, which employs 52, is slowly introducing the Aberrometer to 
the market – 25 units have been sold in San Diego – and will begin to 
offer the device nationwide this summer.

  In September, Ophthonix formed an alliance with San Jose-based Optical 
Connection, which will manufacture iZon disposable contact lenses.

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