Article Date: 4/1/2005

contact lens update
What's New In Contact Lenses
Industry executives weigh in on materials, comfort, price ... and your opportunities.
BY KAREN RODEMICH, Managing Editor

Over the past year, the contact lens industry has been anything but static. New lenses, lens solutions, research and regulations have all impacted optometrists. Recently, executives of top contact lens and lens care companies shared their views on the state of the contact lens industry in 2005.

Common challenges

So what are the greatest contact lens-related challenges that manufacturers and/or optometrists face? "A certain segment of consumers are price shoppers and will continue to search for the best price in the absence of service," answers Jeff McLean, president of CooperVision's U.S. Operations. He says that it's best for optometrists to treat these consumers as such because they'll continue to migrate.

Naomi Kelman, president of Vistakon Americas, a division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., makes her point clear. She says, "Dropouts frustrate doctors. If a patient in contact lenses equals patient satisfaction, then a patient who drops out equals patient dissatisfaction."

And Ms. Kelman posits that the greatest challenge for both manufacturers and practitioners is delivering patient satisfaction.

Rick Weisbarth, O.D., F.A.A.O., vice president of Professional Services for CIBA Vision North America, believes that the greatest challenge for the industry is convincing practitioners to break their older prescribing habits and to adopt new technologies and fit patients with the best products available today (i.e., silicone hydrogels, daily disposables and new lens care solutions).

In addition to breaking old habits, Fred Edmunds, O.D., of Bausch & Lomb's Professional Relations, says optometrists -- particularly the younger set -- aren't giving contact lenses their due. They "have been taking the back seat to other, more medically oriented optometric procedures" and he believes that part of the reason may be optometrists' fear of losing lens revenues to alternative retailers or they think that fitting contact lenses isn't challenging enough.

Kelly McKnight, executive director, Sales and Marketing at Unilens Vision Inc., approaches the question solely from the viewpoint of a manufacturer: "Our greatest challenge," she says, "is to ensure that we continue to exceed the expectations of eyecare professionals throughout the industry by the continued introduction of new, cutting edge lens technology and by providing the best customer service and education-based practitioner programs available in the industry."

 

Tremendous Opportunity

According to Naomi Kelman, president of Vistakon Americas, the market for spherical, two-week, daily wear and planned replacement monthly contact lenses represents a tremendous growth opportunity for the U.S. market. The numbers below are based on the premise that only 20% of the people who could wear contact lenses do so.
MARKET POTENTIAL NEW WEARERS VALUE (LENSES/FEES)
Torics 14 million $1,075m
New Fits 14 million $675m
Former Wearers 12 million $576m

Positive notes

Challenges aside, it's clear that a number of trends will continue to impact contact lens sales positively, say executives.

Ms. Kelman says that consumer advertising that targets new wearers and dropouts has a positive effect on category growth. She says, "At Vistakon, we've heard from many doctors that our Acuvue Advance with Hydraclear advertisements are driving new wearers."

Mr. McLean offers insight those trends that will continue into the future. "Today, the demographic target is anywhere from 13 to 55 and older." He says that because of new technology, patients can now stay in lens correction later in life before they have to switch to eyeglasses. "On top of this," he adds, "add the rising incidence of myopia, computer vision syndrome and overall visually demanding lifestyles and we have a market that's positioned to generate attractive growth."

Says Dr. Weisbarth, "The advent of silicone hydrogels and daily disposables are making a major impact in the way that practitioners approach contact lenses (they can now fit products to patients and thus enjoy more flexibility and versatility) and are giving patients more convenient choices that are right for their lifestyles."

A look at numbers

According to Mr. McLean, CooperVision's Proclear brand "grew in excess of 40% last year and posted a 45% increase in the first quarter this year." The company's toric line of products, says Mr. McLean, continues to grow in excess of the market posting an overall increase of 8% last year and its Balance Progress Technology multifocal lens, offered in both Frequency and Proclear brands, grew nearly 60% last year.

Speaking for B&L, Jeff Nardoci, vice president of Marketing, U.S. Vision Care, references Health Products Research data. According to said data, "both our SofLens Multi-Focal and SofLens66 Toric contact lenses continue to be the number-one prescribed lenses for their categories by eyecare professionals both domestically and globally." He says that ReNu with MoistureLoc Multi-Purpose Solution also continues to do well and to gain market share.

As for Vistakon, Ms. Kelman reports that Acuvue 2 Brand Contact Lenses remain the number-one prescribed lens in the category. "Acuvue Advance Brand Contact Lenses with Hydraclear is the number-one prescribed silicone hydrogel lens and is number-two overall to Acuvue 2," she says. Also, market share of Acuvue Advance with Hydraclear is growing quickly, particularly among new wearers.

Ms. McKnight reports that the C-VUE Disposable Multifocal is Unilens's number-one-selling product and is "enjoying an aggressive growth rate over last year."

And Dr. Weisbarth says that the response by practitioners regarding O2Optix contact lenses has been overwhelmingly positive. Patient response also appears positive for this product. Says Dr. Weisbarth, "According to a recent CIBA Vision study of more than 750 daily wear, two-week replacement soft contact lens wearers in North America, three out of five patients who indicated a preference preferred O2Optix over all other major two-week soft contact lens brands combined, with the number-one reason for the preference being comfort."

The GP point of view

At companies involved in GP lenses, executives spoke of a number of trends including an upswing in the demand for multifocals, corneal reshaping and advanced manufacturing capabilities. In addition, Sandy Kossack, manager of Meeting and Education Services for Paragon Vision Sciences, cites attracting a greater proportion of people who wear contact lenses as one challenge; contact lens dropouts is another.

To reduce dropouts, Martin Dalsing, president of Contamac USA, says that optometrists should consider lens care regimens. He recommends a cleaning system with a full strength cleaner that includes a rinse. He says, "A clean lens is a healthy lens is a happy patient."

Contex, Inc. General Manager Steven Ernst, N.C.L.C., comments that, "Because of all of the consumer-direct marketing by contact lens companies, consumers are well-educated as to what's available, but not to their specific needs."

But O.D.s could turn this into a good thing: according to Ms. Kossack, the aging population still desires youthful, lifestyle-supporting medical devices, and this has helped to stimulate the growth of presbyopic lenses.

Keith Parker, president of Key Distributed Products International (KDPI), says that multifocals have had a positive affect on sales because "they meet a specific need in the rapidly growing presbyopic patient base." He also adds that corneal reshaping has been a positive answer to post-surgical correction needs.

Lee Buffalo, director of Sales and Marketing at Blanchard Contact Lens, Inc., comments that, "The advanced manufacturing capability available with the lathing technology that we [Blanchard] have now has affected it positively; the lathes can do any design we want." From a soft lens standpoint, he says that some of the new silicone hydrogels seem to affect contact lens sales positively.

Hopefully these comments give you some insight into contact lens trends specific to GPs. And if you're curious about the companies' products, then consider the following:

ABBA Opticals' President, Lee Dickerson says, "The presbyopic segment of our business outpaced the others by a significant margin for 2004 compared with 2003, with an increase of roughly 35%. Within our nine-member family of lenses for presbyopia, the MVP Progressive Multifocal was our top seller." He says that simplicity of fit, good initial comfort, great lens performance and an affordable dispensing system have made the MVP a winner for many of ABBA's customers.

So much more to say

To find out how these companies have responded to patients' needs for comfort and visual acuity, as well as a review of what products they've recently introduced and plan to introduce, check out our Online Exclusive, "Contact Lens Review" at optometricmanagement.com.

 

Comfort: The Ultimate Goal

One challenge that both manufacturers and optometrists face, according to Dave Noon, president of Sales and Marketing for Advanced Medical Optics (AMO), is to provide contact lens-related products that ensure patient comfort, eye health and convenience.

Sandy Harrison, market manager for Opti-Free Express at Alcon Laboratories, says solution formulations can affect a patient's satisfaction with their contact lenses. "Not all solutions are the same, they're all formulated differently and the solution can have a direct affect on patient lens-wearing comfort," she says. Ms. Harrison adds that factors such as lens surface wettability, ocular irritation from poor lens design or fit, lens incompatibility and maintenance of a good lens cleanliness can all impact patient comfort and their lens-wearing experience.

Ms. Harrison points to new contact lens materials such as silicone hydrogels as making a positive impact on the market. She says that the key is that "not all lens materials are compatible with lens solutions." That's where research and new technology come in. And Mr. Noon notes that "the advent of many technologically-advanced contact lenses and contact lens solutions has enhanced sales in the industry."

Robert M. Lohr, O.D., RP.h., president of Lobob Laboratories, Inc., said his company has responded to the GP patient's need for comfort and better lens performance by utilizing newer technology as well. For example, Optimum solutions (Lobob) are preserved with benzyl alcohol, which "has no recorded history and sensitization (allergic reaction) and rinses from the lenses easily," says Dr. Lohr. 

 



Optometric Management, Issue: April 2005