ViaLase Inc., a local glaucoma-focused medtech startup whose executives helped create the LASIK innovation that revolutionized refractive surgery, and which has the backing of well-known local investor Bill Link, is expanding operations.
The company, founded in 2019 and reported to have about 30 employees, recently signed a lease to take nearly 15,000 square feet of space at the 95 Enterprise office building in Aliso Viejo.
It’s relocating from a much smaller footprint elsewhere in the city.
ViaLase says it is focused on disrupting the conventional glaucoma treatment with the introduction of a noninvasive, image-guided femtosecond, laser treatment.
The company’s ViaLase Laser System creates microscopic drainage channels that allow excess fluid to leave the eye, reducing pressure within the eye, or intraocular pressure.
“The company is developing a high-resolution image-guided laser treatment for glaucoma,” Chief Executive Tibor Juhasz told the Business Journal. “It’s completely noninvasive and has very high precision.”
The company’s technology has its roots in decades of research, officials say.
“Thirty years ago, we had only an inkling of what our discoveries could lead to,” Juhasz said.
“At the very beginning, we were aiming for glaucoma. At that time, the technology wasn’t developed well enough to do glaucoma. So many years later, we now have the technology.”
The traditional way to treat glaucoma is with medication and eye drops; the problem is that surveys show 30% of patients don’t comply with these guidelines, said Juhasz, who added that eye drops lose efficacy over time. Current surgery techniques are minimally invasive that require cutting open the eye, he added.
ViaLase is in the middle of a clinical trial that if successful, could make its procedures commercially available in about a year, he said.
Juhasz, a laser physicist, has a long history of success in Orange County’s ophthalmology industry.
When he was 28 years old, Juhasz immigrated in 1987 from his native Hungary to the U.S. for postdoctoral training at the University of California, Irvine. He is still a professor at UCI where he teaches biomedical engineering and conducts research on ophthalmology.
On Sept. 28, the American Association for the Advancement of Science gave the “Golden Goose Award” to Juhasz, who was one of five researchers credited for scientific breakthroughs leading to the development of bladeless LASIK.
The award honors scientists whose federally funded research has unexpectedly benefited society.
Alongside his fellow researchers including Ron Kurtz, Juhasz discovered the femtosecond laser’s capacity to create ocular tissue incisions with micron-level precision without damaging adjacent tissue.
This discovery eventually led Juhasz and Kurtz in 1997 to create what would become Irvine’s IntraLase, a company “that forever changed the refractive surgery landscape for ophthalmic surgeons and patients alike,” ViaLase said in a statement.
Femtosecond laser’s precision and safety profile has led to more than 30 million people benefitting from the technology to date, the company added.
“Tibor has one of the great minds in this area. He has a very successful track record,” Jim Mazzo, the former CEO of Santa Ana’s Advanced Medical Optics Inc. (AMO), and OC’s best-known ophthalmology executive, told the Business Journal.
IntraLase was sold for $808 million to AMO in 2007.
Kurtz now helms Aliso Viejo’s RxSight Inc. (Nasdaq: RXST), which has commercialized the world’s first adjustable intraocular lens (IOL) that is customized after cataract surgery.
RxSight went public last year and has a market value approaching $300 million.
“The femtosecond laser completely revolutionized the field of vision correction and has played an important role in advanced cataract surgery, as well,” said ViaLase Executive Director Tom Frinzi.
“With Tibor and ViaLase’s incredibly talented and experienced team, we intend to transform the glaucoma space by incorporating femtosecond laser into routine glaucoma surgery.”
ViaLase’s new base is a short drive from the headquarters campus of the most prominent glaucoma-treating medtech in OC, Glaukos Corp. (NYSE: GKOS), which makes eye stents and drugs and has a valuation approaching $3 billion.
ViaLase isn’t in a direct competition with Glaukos because the latter also offers a treatment performed in conjunction with cataract surgery, Juhasz said.
Bill Link, who also serves on the board of RxSight, has bought into ViaLase’s promise. Link—a Newport Beach investor known locally for founding ophthalmology companies that were later successfully sold, for investments in Tarsus Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq: TARS) and Inari Medical Inc. (Nasdaq: NARI), and for prior membership on the boards of Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (NYSE: EW), the most valuable publicly traded company headquartered in OC, and Glaukos—became ViaLase chairman from 2019 until last December; the company’s first round in 2019 raised $8.1 million.
Last year, ViaLase raised another $27.3 million in a Series A that included Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Arboretum Ventures, which manages $700 million in early-stage venture capital firm that invests in innovations “that deliver meaningful improvements to patient outcomes and reduce health system costs.”
The other investors include Venture Investors, which has ties to Juhasz dating to the late 1990s when it invested in IntraLase, and KKR & Co. Inc’s Falcon fund, which is the lead investor.
Juhasz anticipates his company will need to raise more in another round of funding.
“It looks very good, but it’s not out yet.”