Calhoun Vision Stages Turnaround

Calhoun Vision Stages Turnaround

Medtech companies in ophthalmology have made some significant strides in recent months. Second Sight and Glaukos, of course, staged IPOs in their pursuit of revolutionary ophthalmic devices.

Oculeve excited Dry Eye leader Allergan enough to warrant a significant acquisition offer, bringing the highly promising neurostim device in-house where it may someday complement Restasis.

Now we’re ready to add Calhoun Vision, which has staged an exciting turnaround, to the list.

The company was co-founded in 2005 by Dr. Robert Grubbs, a professor of chemistry at Caltech and Dr. Dan Schwartz, a retinal specialist from University of California, San Francisco. For his brilliant work showing how to confer light adjustability, Dr. Grubbs was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2005.

Their idea was to create a light adjustable intraocular lens that could be changed after implantation with the non-invasive application of UV light to the eye. And, indeed, that’s what the company went on to develop–the first light adjustable IOL that allows for power correction by the physician after lens implantation.

Despite this exciting concept, Calhoun struggled initially. The technology was difficult to refine, and didn’t meet early clinical milestones. The company’s leadership changed frequently as its investors, angel investors with minimal experience in medtech or ophthalmology, failed to provide the necessary oversight. Still, it managed to raise approximately $75 million without achieving any commercial success or FDA approval.

But this year, the company changed its fortune.

  • First, its technology is finally proving to be not only truly innovative, but also is providing stellar clinical results, which were disclosed at the ASCRS 2015 meeting held in San Diego. Data released  at ASCRS demonstrated outstanding visual outcomes in both myopic and astigmatic patients.
  • In addition, in May, Calhoun attained a key milestone, completing enrollment of its 600 patient pivotal FDA trial. Following a FDA mandated one year follow-up and the filing of a PMA in the second half 2016, the company could attain a PMA approval in 2017.
  • The company has also made great strides in bolstering its management team. First, veteran ophthalmic industry executive Andy Corley joined Calhoun in January as its chairman of the board. Corley’s success with Eyeonics, the first accommodating IOL Company, is legendary and his appointment was a huge positive development for the company. 

Corley’s impact was quickly apparent.

He recruited ophthalmic surgical veteran Rick Heinick, to serve as Calhoun’s CEO. He a few weeks before ASCRS.

The new leadership helped Calhoun secure $52 million in new capital and converted $17 million in debt from angel investors into equity. This new equity capital, which nearly doubled the invested capital in the company, was led by several institutional investors and represented the first time non-angel investors have invested in the company.

Longitude Capital led the deal, bringing managing director Juliet Bakker, a former board member of Eyeonics, onto Calhoun’s board.

Following the deal, Calhoun announced the addition of two “all stars” to its management roster: Ron Kurtz, MD, and Eric Weinberg to the positions of Chief Operations Officer and Chief Commercial Officer, respectively.

Weinberg and Kurtz co-founded LenSx Lasers, which was a pioneer in femtosecond laser assisted cataract surgery. Although having a very short life as an independent company, LenSx was sold to Alcon in August 2010 for a staggering $362 million, plus future milestone payments (which are believed to have been substantially earned) of another $383 million.

In real estate circles, the mantra “location, location, location” is often repeated to denote what is crucial to a successful outcome. I believe that in medical devices, “management, management, management” is crucial to success and now, for the first time in its long history, Calhoun Vision has the key people, as well as the cash, to propel it to great success.