Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures in the United States. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that an estimated 20.5 million people over the age of 40 in the U.S. have cataracts in one or both eyes and 6.1 million people have had their clouded lenses removed and replaced with a lens implant. But the procedure often leaves patients still requiring glasses after surgery. The latest diagnostic technology is changing that for good.
Prior to the availability of the new technology, surgeons could only conduct pre-operative testing through the clouded lens to estimate the power of the implant the patient would need, and gauge the magnitude of the astigmatism that existed. Historically, the patient would then have to wait 30, 60 or even 90 days to understand if the surgery has been a complete success and if glasses were no longer required.
New technology now offers surgeons the chance to conduct diagnostic testing during the operation, after the clouded lens is removed. The company providing this technology is called WaveTec. The firm, headquartered in California, has developed a system that raises the bar in diagnostic devices for the eye in the healthcare sector. WaveTec’s technology is called ORA (Optiwave Refractive Analysis). WaveTec recently launched an upgrade to their technology (the ORA System with VerifEye), which offers refractive information throughout the surgical procedure.
“The data clearly shows that far too many times surgeries are not hitting the target and patients need spectacles postoperatively or a secondary procedure to ensure that they can see clearly after cataract surgery,” says Tom Frinzi, CEO and president of WaveTec. “We believe the time has come for cataract surgery to really perform more like a refractive procedure leaving the patient fully corrected and not in need of glasses or contact lenses.”
Aside from helping improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, this technology also provides a hugely profitable market for WaveTec. “The market is certainly compelling,” Frinzi says. “If you look at it from a pure dollar point of view it’s close to a billion dollar market opportunity. When you look at the number of potential installation sites around the world, it’s well over 14,000 opportunities for us. To put that in perspective, to date we have 224 systems installed, predominantly in the U.S. There’s still a huge runway in front of us to take advantage of.”
WaveTec’s technology has also attracted a healthy level of investment. In June this year the firm announced it had expanded on its D2 round of funding and raised $11 million. All of the firm’s existing investors participated, and were joined by a new lead investor – Foresite Capital Management, of San Francisco. Among previous investors: Accutive Medical Ventures, De Novo Ventures, Versant Ventures and Burril & Company.
It’s fair to say WaveTec struggled to make an impact during its early years, and the major turning point was the appointment of Frinzi. “When I took over the company over two years ago we really took the time to re-look at the technology and we re-engineered the device to improve consistency and accuracy,” Frinzi says. “We took a look at the business model and revised it to better reflect what our customers were looking for, we changed our commercial organization by bringing some new blood in, and culminated it with rebranding and reintroducing the product late in 2011 at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) meeting, and from that stake in the ground forward, the business has really taken off.”
WaveTec’s main competition comes from technology that offers preoperative biometry. Frinzi says there is really no direct competition, although there will undoubtedly be players entering the same space at some point. The WaveTec technology has guided well over 80,000 procedures and has already captured approximately 2.3 percent market share of total cataract volume in the U.S. since it was reintroduced in 2011.
Demographics play to WaveTec’s favor – the baby boomer generation is now fast approaching the age range where procedures, such as cataract surgery, are common. This is a generation that has witnessed great leaps in technology, and as such their expectations for being glasses-free after surgery are much higher.
“I think all of this has come together at a perfect time to create consumer demand, as well as professional demand to improve clinical outcomes. A technology like ours fits well into what’s been happening in the marketplace. We think that the demand is going to continue to be strong and we really look at our technology as a gateway technology for those whom want to improve the refractive outcomes of cataract surgery in the next five to ten years,” concludes Frinzi.