Ditch the reading glasses? Startup focuses on biomimetic lenses that correct presbyopia

eye, eyes, brown eye, corneaAround age 40, patients often develop a fuzziness of vision close up, presbyopia–becoming farsighted and losing elasticity in their natural lenses. Docs prescribe reading glasses or bifocals, and the eyes continue their decline.

But Irvine, California-based startup LensGen hopes to mimic the lens’ natural movement with an implant. This intraocular lens would harness fluidics and displacement to manipulate curvature, to capture 100 percent of the light. The implant’s curvature then gives it its elasticity.

To get that lens to flex requires energy, which is hard to attain in the eye, LensGen COO Michael Landreville said.

“But changing curvature allows for more efficient power-changing and is more biomimetic,” he said.

If it works, this means it would accommodate a range of distance (near to far) and potentially “age” with the patient.

Landreville called a permanent solution for presbyopia the “holy grail of ophthalmology.”

When patients are 15 years old, they might have about 15 diopters of accommodation and lots of flexibility in the lens. (Diopters measure the optical power of a lens.) A 40-year-old patient, on the other hand, might have one. Between one and three are needed to see items close-up, according to LensGen CEO Ramgopal Rao.

LensGen’s device would be implanted during a regular cataracts surgery, giving surgeons no learning curve and patients ease of access. (Cataracts surgery is ubiquitous: According to the National Eye Institute, it’s one of the most common operations in the U.S.)

LensGen plans to target younger affluent patients, who may elect to pay $3,000 per eye, and older patients over 65 who are getting cataracts surgery anyway, Rao said.

The race is on to crack the multibillion-dollar presbyopia market.

Presbia works with LASIK-like technology to correct presbyopia with a laser; Encore Vision has a liquid eye-drop it hopes will add flexibility to the lens. Neither are commercialized in the U.S.  Other companies in this space are focusing on creating hinge-like lenses that focus like a zoom camera, but Rao said those lenses don’t age well with patients.

Bausch and Lomb’s Crystalens is the first and only FDA-approved intraocular lens to treat presbyopia, and also makes use of cataracts surgery and claims to mimic the natural lens. (Plus, Florence Henderson is the spokesperson. Cue “Brady Bunch” theme song, please.) The Crystalens promises about “one diopter of monocular accommodation,” while Rao said the LensGen simulations (though yes, just simulations) offer about five.

Abbott paid more than $400 million for Visiogen in 2009 for an intraocular lens implant that replaces the original with cataracts–presumably with the ambition of treating presbyopia as well.

Still, Rao said scrutiny levels for strategics and investors is high “because there have been more failures than successes” in potential presbyopia treatments.

LensGen has raised half of its $4 million “Series S Preferred,” a smaller round that will bridge the company between seed funding and Series A. Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Office of Science and Technology awarded the company a nondilutive grant as part of its $1.5 million seed round. 

The company is completing its prototype and plans to test its product in the human eye in Q4. The company will seek a CE Mark, hoping to use revenue from global sales to fund its FDA premarket approval process. Landreville said in an email that seeking EU approval will cost about $18 million.

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