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Alcon Sees Huge Potential in Indian Eye Care Segment

Alcon, the soon to be spun-off eye care unit of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, said it sees huge growth potential in India led by surge in number of cataract surgeries as people live longer. India is home to around 30 percent of the world’s blind people, about half of whom are blind from cataracts. Cataract causes the eye’s natural lens to become cloudy, leading to blindness. However this can be prevented by surgically replacing the natural lens with an artificial one. “India is the largest market by volume, seven million plus people in India undergoes cataract surgery every year,” says Sandeep Bothra, Country Business Head (Surgical) at Alcon. Bothra expects the numbers to grow further in coming years due to improving life expectancy, chronic diseases, changing lifestyle and food habits.

Research firm Market Scope forecasts that India’s USD 1.3 billion ophthalmic market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8 percent a year to USD 1.8 billion by 2022. The research estimates that India’s cataract market will total USD 533.7 million by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 9.3 percent. Small-incision cataract surgery (SICS) is the dominant surgical procedure used to remove cataracts, accounting for over half of all cataract surgeries, but ultrasonic and laser-assisted cataract surgeries are just beginning to have a presence in the market. Alcon sells broad portfolio of products ranging from surgical tools, implants, consumables and lenses. Alcon contributed about 12 percent of Novartis revenues of USD 49.1 billion globally in 2017.

While Alcon global sales grew at 4 percent, in India it reported “healthy double digit” mostly fueled by cataract surgeries. Alcon doesn’t provide the break-up of India sales, but it is said to be around USD 100 million. The challenge for Alcon is the fragmented nature of Indian market. Alcon and MNCs such as Johnson & Johnson Vision, Carl Zeiss Meditec and Bausch and Lomb, compete with Indian manufacturers Appasamy, Biotech Visioncare, Aurolab and Santen Pharmaceutical for market share. Cataract surgery is highly commoditised healthcare service in India, with surgeries performed at prices as low as ₹2000-3000 and for free in charitable institutions and government hospitals, close to about 75 percent of all cataract surgeries are performed using  implants and lenses of local manufacturers, Bothra says.

But it is in the private specialty eye care clinics and hospitals Alcon derives better margins. In private eye care specialty hospitals – cataract surgery will range anywhere between ₹15,000 and ₹120,000 depending on the technology, and implants used along with the reputation of eye surgeon and hospital. “We cater to both mass market and high value segment,” Bothra says. In addition to cataract – the company is focusing on vitreo-retinal and refractive surgery segment. Bothra says Alcon recently launched first of its kind trifocal intraocular lens that allows people to see near, intermediate and far, without having to wear any spectacles. Currently Alcon imports its entire product into India. We keep differentiating by bringing the latest and widest product range of our global portfolio, in addition to investing on training and capacity building of ophthalmologists, Bothra says. – Money Control

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