[FoRK] A new KP investment in eyeglasses (!?)
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
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
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
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
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
"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
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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