Biotech and Pharma

Johnson & Johnson is betting on vision care and expanding beyond contacts

Key Points
  • Johnson & Johnson has beefed up its vision portfolio over the past year, adding surgical products and a contact subscription service to its lineup of Acuvue contact lenses.
  • J&J has acquired Abbott Medical Optics, TearScience and Sightbox.
  • Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved Acuvue contact lenses that use technology from Transitions Optical and adjust based on brightness.
Source: Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson has beefed up its vision portfolio over the past few years, and the effort appears to be paying off.

Vision care sales reached $1.12 billion last quarter, up from $798 million in the year-earlier period, an increase of 34 percent when subtracting currency. When excluding that and an acquisition, revenue grew 9 percent, according to J.P. Morgan.

The company has invested in vision as it refines its medical device group, adding surgical products and a contact subscription service to its lineup of Acuvue contact lenses.

The result is one of the fastest-growing platforms for J&J, particularly in medical devices, said Ashley McEvoy, company group chair of consumer medical devices.

"I would say it really starts with the space of sight, and sight matters, we like to say. It's one of the largest and fastest growing segments in health care, and we think there's still a lot of unmet need," McEvoy said.

J&J entered the eye surgery space in 2016 when it announced it would acquire Abbott Medical Optics. The $4.33 billion deal was completed in early 2017 and gave J&J products for cataract surgery and laser refractive surgery, as well as consumer eye health.

Later in the year, J&J bought TearScience, which makes devices to treat dry eye, and Sightbox, a contact lens membership-based subscription start-up, for undisclosed amounts.

"What (the vision team is) doing is really evolving the business model to better serve more patients, quite frankly, and create a much better customer experience behind some really modern and differentiated technology and ways to service patients," McEvoy said.

The demographics in the vision market are compelling, said Tom Frinzi, worldwide president of surgical at J&J Vision. Eye health represents an $80 billion market, the third largest behind cardiology and oncology, he said. An estimated 253 million people live with vision impairment.

People are living longer and more active lives. They are also undergoing cataract surgery at younger ages. By adding surgical products, J&J says it can now service patients young and old.

"If you just think of the broad-based portfolio, we have everything from prevention to correction and enhancement, all the way through to treatment, and there are not many companies that can bring that to bear on behalf of patients around the world," Frinzi said.

Despite its moves, J&J's vision business still contains gaps. It's not in the retina or glaucoma space, McEvoy said. The latter has seen innovation with minimally invasive surgery.

Glaucoma has typically been treated with eyedrops, an imperfect solution. New surgical options essentially drain fluid from patients' eyes to reduce pressure associated with the disease. J&J is looking at creating its own products in the space, as well as pursuing different strategic partners or acquisitions, McEvoy said.

The contact business still has room to grow, too.

Last quarter, worldwide contact lens sales increased to $807 million from $683 million, or about 14 percent when stripping out currency. When also excluding an acquisition, revenue grew 11 percent, according to J.P. Morgan.

J&J sees opportunities to add new customers and upgrade existing customers to more expensive lenses.

Less than 10 percent of people around the world who could wear contacts do, J&J said. In the U.S., a developed market, that number increases to 28 percent. In emerging markets, such China and Russia, it decreases to 7 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Glasses being in fashion, misconceptions about who can use contacts and a general fear of putting something in one's eye are stunting new customer growth in developed markets, said Aldo Denti, vice president of global franchise development for J&J's eye health business.

But more people are switching from monthly reusable contacts to daily disposal lenses. Meanwhile, more people are choosing specialty lenses meant for people with astigmatism (a deviation from spherical curvature of the eye) or presbyopia (farsightedness).

Specialty contacts sales grew by double digits last year. They account for 30 to 35 percent of contact revenue, but that number should increase, J&J said.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved J&J's light adaptive contacts. They use technology from Transitions Optical, the company behind the glasses that adjust based on brightness.

Within five years, McEvoy expects J&J to offer contact lenses that contain medication.

Vision remains a hot growth platform that's still in it's early days.

"And we will take full advantage of not just what the medical device capabilities bring to us, but the consumer capabilities, the pharma capabilities, the surgical and market access capabilities," she said. "I think what you're seeing is a little bit of a learning lab of what J&J looks like on our best day."