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Utah's 1-800 Contacts which sells popular brands of contacts through its Internet Web site and toll-free telephone number, wants to manufacture its own lenses for sale in the U.S.
The company, through its wholly owned Clearlab subsidiary based in Singapore, has unveiled a packaging concept for the disposable lenses it hopes to market. It maintains that packaging will simplify the use of contacts for consumers.
"Most of the innovation that we've seen from manufacturers have centered around the contact lenses," said Allen Hwang, vice president of strategic marketing for Clearlab. "What we're doing is addressing the experience of wearing contact lenses."
Those who wear contact lenses constantly deal with the hassle of using wetting solutions and often have to wrestle with their lenses. They risk infection if they are improperly handled, a threat that surfaced in a big way in May when Bausch and Lomb removed its ReNu with MoistureLoc product after some users reported serious eye infections.
"Traveling with solutions also has become difficult, and at $12 a bottle it is expensive," said Dan Garland, 41, of Holladay, who started wearing contact lenses when he was in the sixth grade. He said he would try any new product that promises to cut down on the inconvenience.
Clearlab's new product, which it hopes to have on the market within the next year or two, is called AquaSoft Singles.
The single-use lenses are packaged in a container approximately the thickness of a dime, or about eight times thinner that the typical blister packs now used for disposable lenses. The user peals off the top and the lens pops up so it can be easily placed on a finger for insertion.
Whang said the packaging will offer several benefits.
* It reduces the steps needed to insert a lens into the eye.
* It eliminates the need to ever touch the inside of the lens, which reduces risk of infections.
* It eliminates the hassle and irritation caused by cleaning chemicals.
Clearlab's new packaging and lenses are in the late design stages and the 1-800 Contacts subsidiary is hoping to gain clearance to begin marketing them in this country within the next two years, Hwang said.
The one- to two-year time frame will depend on whether 1-800 Contacts wants to introduce the product or follow what could be a quicker path through the the FDA approval process.
"There are a number of options we're looking at - teaming up with investors or partners, possibly spinning off Clearlab through an initial public offering or just licensing the technology," Hwang said.
Majid Moshirfar, director of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Division at the Moran Eye Center in Salt Lake City, said using a contact lens such as Aqua Soft and disposing of it daily could help reduce eye infections.
One of the most common infections associated with contract lens use is caused by the fungus Fusarium, but that is much more prevalent in warm, humid climates.
In dry Utah, a parasite called Acanthamoeba is more common, he said. It invades the cornea, causing a condition known as Acanthamoeba keratitis that occurs almost exclusively in contact lens wearers.
People contract it by washing their contact lenses in tap or well water, swimming in pools, lakes or sea water while wearing contact lenses or by having poor contact lens hygiene.
"I'm thinking it [Aqua Soft] holds great promise," Moshirfar said. "There would be less direct contact and less possibility of contamination."
Most disposable contact lens are soaked in a solutions inside a so-called blister pack. The drawback is that users typically put their finger inside the solution to extract the lens, increasing the chance they might contaminate the inside of the lens.
Hwang said the company believes it will be able to offer AquaSoft Singles at a price competitive with other disposable contact lenses - about $1 a day.
And Moshirfar said at $30 a month, that would be reasonable. And he warned users to avoid wearing disposable contacts for more than two to four weeks or while sleeping.