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Premier Laser to Sell Its Technology

Biomed: Bankrupt manufacturer's dental and ocular devices were considered breakthroughs but fizzled.

September 27, 2000|MARC BALLON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Premier Laser Systems Inc., which shut down operations in March and filed for bankruptcy reorganization, said Tuesday that it has agreed to sell the laser technology that once helped make the company the darling of Wall Street.

Chief Executive Michael J. Quinn also said he hoped to liquidate the remaining assets of the once-promising laser manufacturer within four months.

Irvine-based Premier is selling its Erbium YAG laser technology for $3.75 million to SurgiLight Inc., an Orlando, Fla., company that operates eye laser centers worldwide.

Premier said it was seeking regulatory approval to use the laser in treating glaucoma and cataracts, but the technology is perhaps best known for its dental applications. The company made headlines three years ago when the Food and Drug Administration approved the laser for use directly on teeth to treat tooth decay. The development was heralded as a breakthrough in dentistry because of the potential for eliminating many painful drilling procedures.

Premier's stock surged as high as $14 a share but spiraled downward when dentists failed to embrace the technology. The company's stock closed Tuesday at 65 cents a share, up 5 cents in over-the-counter trading. It has lost 95% of its value since the beginning of the year.

Premier's remaining assets include 40 patents, manufacturing and office equipment and its status as a public company, Quinn said. It also owns EyeSys Technologies Inc., an Irvine manufacturer and supplier of eye products, which Premier acquired in 1997 for $10.6 million in stock. All Premier assets are on the block.

In July, Premier sold its majority stake in Ophthalmic Imaging Systems, a Sacramento maker of digital and image enhancement systems, to Israel-based MediVision Medical Imaging Ltd. for $2.2 million in cash and $1 million in MediVision stock. In March, Premier sold the rights to ophthalmological diagnostic technology to LaserSight Inc. in Winter Park, Fla., for $4.2 million in cash, Quinn said.

Premier now has only six employees on its payroll. Quinn, 56, a respected health industry veteran who helped steer Irvine-based Imagyn Medical Technologies out of bankruptcy, said he plans to leave within two months. He said he is exploring "other executive opportunities" in Orange County.

Quinn, who joined Premier last November, said he is disappointed that he was unable to turn Premier around. He had hoped to shed the company's dental business and focus on the vision business but lacked the cash, he said.

"In my attempts to raise capital, nobody wanted to touch Premier with a 10-foot pole," Quinn said. "We went through $100 million in 10 years without ever making a nickel. I was handcuffed."

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