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AMO & VISX: Number one in Refractive Surgery

Executive Summary

Advanced Medical Optics, a specialist in ophthalmic surgery, has acquired Visx , the largest manufacture of lasers for vision correction surgery, for a combination of cash and stock worth $1.27 billion. Analysts were surprised by the magnitude of the deal, following so soon on the heels of AMO's $450 million purchase of the ophthalmic surgical business of Pfizer in April, which brought it products for the cataract and glaucoma markets. However, this is not simply the merger of two major ophthalmic companies for the purpose of achieving critical mass; the two companies operate in distinct, largely non-overlapping markets, and to all appearances fit together like hand in glove.

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Abbott buys AMO, Gets Double-Digit Growth Segment

The ophthalmic industry has traditionally stood alone, with its own device and pharmaceutical companies selling products marketed to specialists. So the announcement on January 12 that diversified giant Abbott Laboratories would acquire Advanced Medical Optics was initially astonishing, as was the hefty premium that Abbott offered. Perhaps Abbott was willing to pay more than it otherwise would have because of the recent divestiture of its Abbott Spine business. In AMO, Abbott is getting a business that almost can't fail to grow by double digits (despite recent economic stresses on the laser vision correction market) because of the demographics of the ophthalmology industry and improving margins on products like intraocular lenses, which serve the burgeoning elderly cataract patient population.

Ophthalmology's Next Frontier

Millions of middle-aged and soon-to-be elderly people worldwide are running headlong into vision problems, and this looming patient pool is already beginning to steer the future course of physician practice and research and development dollars. The potential for huge rewards is certainly present for developers of safe, effective new therapies for disorders of the aging eye.

The Farsightedness of Refractec

Presbyopia is causing a rapprochement between two distinct types of ophthalmic surgeons--the cataract surgeon implanting intraocular lenses in the elderly, and the refractive surgeon offering private-pay laser vision correction procedures to young adults. Bridging the gap is Refractec, the first company to ever get FDA approval for an ophthalmic surgery technology specifically for presbyopia. Refractec offers a non-cutting treatment that surgeons regard as a "starter treatment" that gets new kinds of patients into refractive surgery practices.

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