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Staar's Stock Climbs After Lens Study

May 16, 2003|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Shares of Staar Surgical Co. hit a two-year high Thursday after a medical study showed the small Monrovia firm's implanted contact lenses can be safer and more effective than laser surgery in correcting vision problems.

Staar's stock reached an intra-day high of $12.22 on Nasdaq before closing at $11.93, up $1.78, or 18%, for the day.

Wall Street hopes the company will win U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to sell its implanted lenses for the American market within two years.

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Cornea and External Disease and compared patients who had Lasik laser eye surgery with those who had Staar's permanent contact lenses surgically implanted. The Staar procedure was found to be a credible alternative to laser surgery to correct nearsightedness, according to the study.

The journal's editor in chief, Dr. R. Doyle Stulting, said that the implant procedure "may potentially have risks that Lasik does not have," such as inner eye infections and corneal damage.

"People are excited. There's a large potential market, the data is solid and it's real in Wall Street's eyes," said Ryan Rauch, an analyst at Adams, Harkness & Hill in San Francisco.

"Patients went from legally blind to 20/40 vision and the patient satisfaction rate was 99.4%."

In Europe and Asia, Staar's implanted lenses are already on the market.

Staar President and Chief Executive David Bailey said the surgical procedure takes about 10 to 12 minutes and has an immediate effect on vision.

"When you get off the table, you can see very well. It's got a real 'wow' factor for the patients," Bailey said.

In 2002, Staar posted a net loss of $17.2 million on sales of $48.2 million, in part because of higher research and development costs.

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