Novartis Finalizes Alcon Acquisition
On December 15, Novartis finalized the acquisition of Alcon by purchasing all of its remaining publicly traded shares for $12.9 billion.

Novartis had initially purchased 25% of Alcon’s shares from Nestle in April 2008, then another 52% of the remaining shares in August 2010.

The merger is expected to gain regulatory approval during the first half of 2011.

Following final approval, Novartis will be the world’s leading eye care company, with a total estimated value of $51.6 billion.

“The growth synergies here are significant, as Alcon will be the eye care development engine for our best-in-class research organization, and will leverage the Novartis market access capabilities outside the U.S.,” said Joseph Jimenez, Novartis’ chief executive.

Kevin Buehler, the current president and chief executive of Alcon, will lead the new eye care division.

“This merger will create a strong eye care business with broader commercial reach and enhanced capabilities to develop innovative eye care products that fulfill unmet clinical needs in eye care,” said Mr. Buehler. “The combination of Alcon’s deep understanding of the eye care specialty and the broad expertise and scale of Novartis will address virtually all key areas of eye care and position the Alcon business unit for faster growth.”

VSP Looks Into Online Optical
VSP Global has launched an internal task force to explore “solutions that best support private practice eyecare providers in the emerging online optical market,” the company says. This comes in light of “a growing shift in the eyewear purchasing behaviors of consumers” toward online shopping.

VSP Global appointed Dave Plevyak, vice president of business development, to lead the new online optical initiative. Mr. Plevyak will be leading the task force as the internal working group moves into the next phase of its focus.

The company says the task force  has three key goals: To direct revenue lost to online purchases back into private practice; to capture patients inclined to shop online and bring them back to private practice; and to reach new patients shopping online and refer them to private-practice offices.

Online optical purchases continue to increase each year. VSP cited statistics from The Vision Council VisionWatch Internet Influence Report that show a 300% increase in online eyeglass purchases from 2007 to 2009, bringing the number sold to one million. This includes 3.2 million non-prescription sunglasses purchased online. In addition, 5.5 million U.S. adults purchased contact lenses online.

“The reality is that consumers are turning online to purchase everything,” Mr. Plevyak says. “From small purchases such as household supplies to big ticket items like major household appliances and home theater sound systems, consumers can buy just about anything with a click of a mouse. Eyewear is no exception.”

AMD on the Decline in U.S.
The percentage of people with age-related macular degeneration has dropped more than 30% in 15 years, according study published in the January issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

One possible reason: Fewer people are smoking cigarettes, a known cause of eye disease.

Specifically, the rate of people age 40 and older with the disease has dropped from 9.4% in the late 1980s to 6.5% in the late 2000s—a decline of 30.8%.

“The decrease in the estimated prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in the U.S. population is consistent with similar trends found in the Beaver Dam Eye Study,” says lead author Dr. Ronald Klein, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“The decreasing prevalence of AMD may reflect recent changes in the frequency of smoking and other exposures such as diet, physical activity and blood pressure associated with AMD,” the researchers wrote

Still, AMD remains a leading cause of vision loss and affects about 1.75 million Americans, according to the NEI.

The last national estimates of prevalence of age-related macular degeneration were based on the 1988 to 1994 Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). To update those numbers, Dr. Klein and his colleagues analyzed data from the NHANES 2005 to 2008 survey.

The study involved 7,081 people age 40 and older. Researchers took retina photographs and assessed them for signs of AMD, including drusen, pigment changes and atrophy in the retina and surrounding tissue.

AMD lesions increased with age for all racial and ethnic groups, but prevalence varied by ethnicity. Signs of AMD were significantly less common among non-Hispanic blacks ages 60 years and older than non-Hispanic whites in the same age range.

Indeed, these results “have important public health implications,” the authors concluded. “It remains to be seen whether public health programs designed to increase awareness of the relationships of these exposures to AMD in patients at risk and their physicians and eye care providers will continue to result in further decline of the prevalence of AMD in the population.”

Klein R, Chiu-Fang C, Klein BE, et al. Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in the US population. Arch Ophthalmol. 2011 Jan;129(1):75-80.