Standout pupils: These three eyecare stocks are schooling the healthcare small caps
Health & Biotech
Health & Biotech
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The ASX healthcare sector contains a huge array of companies tackling an even bigger range of issues, from treating common diseases such as cancer to improving efficiency in pharmacies and harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to improve patient outcomes.
One of the smaller themes, however, is something that most of the population of Australia would take for granted: eyes.
There are currently three small cap eyecare stocks aimed at treating eye-related diseases or improving quality of life for patients with such conditions — and all of them are making money.
One of them, in fact, more than tripled its annual revenue last financial year. That was Visioneering Technologies (ASX:VTI), which makes multifocal one-day contact lenses for people young and old suffering from presbyopia (long-sightedness), myopia (short-sightedness) and astigmatism.
Company chief Stephen Snowdy said the huge addressable market — a combined US$5 billion for contact lenses for the over-45 and nearsighted children populations — meant his company was selling plenty of its lenses.
“2018 was particularly transformational for us,” he told Stockhead.
He said he was so impressed with Visioneering’s technology he ditched a career in healthcare investing and mentoring to become CEO of VTI in 2013.
“I love anything that involves the brain and so when I came across Visioneering’s technology, which work with the brain and the eye to improve vision, I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” he said.
“It is really making a difference for people, for those over 45 who are suffering from presbyopia and children who are suffering from myopia, and the crossover in between.”
Opthea (ASX:OPT) is more of a traditional biotech company in that it is conducting clinical trials aimed at showing its OPT-302 drug can treat patients with diseases such as wet age-related macular degeneration.
Back in September, OPT-302, which is designed to block two proteins that cause blood vessels in the eye to grow and leak, passed important safety trials and the tick of approval to proceed to the next phase.
The company banked $1.1 million in revenue in 2018 and is well-placed as it enrols patients in a Phase IIb clinical trial for patients with wet AMD and a Phase Ib/IIa clinical trial in patients with diabetic macular edema (DME).
Shortly after those results, such was the interest, Opthea raised a whopping $45 million to support its clinical development. CEO Dr Megan Baldwin said that cap raise ensures the company is well-funded.
“We’re fully cashed-up and we will be cash positive through early 2020, which is when we expect to report primary data from the wet AMD study,” she said.
The company’s shares are up 40 per cent year-on-year.
Ellex Medical Lasers (ASX:ELX) is another company tackling issues of the eye and making money doing it — it made an eye-watering $79 million in revenue in 2018.
Ellex’s lasers and other devices help eye surgeons treat glaucoma, diabetes-related retinal disease, secondary cataracts, vitreous opacities and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — pretty much the A-to-Z chart of optical woes.
“There are four ways a person can go blind,” chief Tom Spurling explains. “Glaucoma, retinal diseases, cataracts and macular degeneration.
“At the moment treatments for these are mostly dominated by pharma therapy but we have a range of devices that aim to help treat them.”