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DRAPER, Utah—1-800 Contacts announced this morning that it has agreed to acquire the vision testing company 6over6 Vision in a move the online contact lens retailer said “marks a critical turning point for both brands and the industry at-large.” The financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close early in 2020, were not disclosed. 1-800 Contacts chief executive officer John Graham told VMAIL the Utah-based company was acquiring 100 percent of the venture-capital backed 6over6 Vision, which is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, and that it will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of 1-800 Contacts upon closing of the deal.

“We are really excited, and I was just over in Tel Aviv last week meeting with the whole [6over6] team,” Graham told VMAIL. “There’s a lot of energy about what we can do together. There is a common DNA between the two companies and there’s not very much overlap in what we do, and there’s a lot of synergy.”

The company 6over6 has developed three different technologies for vision testing, two of which are currently available in the U.S., Graham said. Those two technologies–one that measures pupillary distance and a second that measures the prescription of existing eyewear–were deployed on the 1-800 Contacts’ online eyeglass site, Liingo Eyewear, earlier this year after the companies reached an integration arrangement. This also was the beginning of the initial discussions about a larger transaction, according to Graham.

(1-800 Contacts acquired Liingo Eyewear in October 2017, as VMAIL reported.)

The Liingo Eyewear site currently provides customers the two 6over6 technologies for measuring pupillary distance and current eyeglass prescription.

The third 6over6 technology–a subjective refraction–is in clinical trials internationally and will need to undergo FDA approval before it’s released in the U.S. market, Graham said. He estimated the FDA approval process would require a period of 12 to 24 months. The technology is expected to be suitable for both contact lens and eyeglass prescriptions, 1-800 Contacts said.

The startup firm 6over6 has created some of “the most advanced consumer vision technology available, enabling customers to perform the most accurate at-home vision tests using a mobile app or computer,” and also is working on the development of “future solutions that will transform the global vision care market,” according to the announcement.

Current 6over6 technology customers (in licensing arrangements that are expected to continue) include FramesDirect, GlassesUSA and Magic Leap in the U.S. market, Charlie Temple of Europe (a unit of GrandVision), Lenskart of India and NovaVision / Baodao of China and Taiwan, according to information 1-800 Contacts provided to VMAIL. More licensing deals with “key players [are] expected in the coming months,” according to the announcement.

At this time, 1-800 Contacts offers an online test, Express Exam, for contact lens renewals, and it has been in place for three to four years. (Express Exam enables consumers to confirm their prescriptions for contacts with a computer or smartphone.) The Express Exam test has been “very successful” with more than 400,000 Express Exams completed, Graham said. He noted that Express Exam is “quite different” than the 6over6 technology in that the objective primarily of Express Exam is to look at the front of the eye and to make sure the contact lenses are being worn correctly (but with no refraction test).

The 6over6 technology will enable a consumer to have a prescription written, he said. The company has taken a cautious approach, he added, “because we want to be very careful about something that involves eye health.”

He added, “From the very beginning, our customers have been pushing us to find ways to help them get access to a prescription in a more simple and affordable way.”

The acquisition marks “a critical turning point for both brands and the industry at-large, leveraging the technology of 6over6 and 1-800 Contacts’ proven heritage as a pioneer in the vision space,” the announcement stated.

Graham said 1-800 Contacts has not laid out a plan for integrating the 6over6 technology with the existing Express Exam once the Israeli firm’s test is approved for the U.S. market. “In general, the way that we work is that we are always looking at the customers’ needs and working our way backward from that, trying to make everything simple and affordable for them.”

Depending on the need of the customer, there might be different solutions that a customer needs whether they are looking for contact lenses or glasses, and whether they know their prescription details, Graham said.

Graham also noted that 1-800 Contacts “continues to have dialogue with the FDA” regarding an objection to the Express Exam online test that was raised by the American Optometric Association earlier this year. In a letter to the FDA, the association requested that the Express Exam online vision test be recalled from the market because it had not received regulatory approval, which would be in line with a “recent comparable action against a ‘strikingly similar’ online eye test,” AOA noted in its letter, as VMAIL reported

That other online eye test, offered by Chicago-based Visibly, has been withdrawn from the company’s website as Visibly works to provide the FDA with more data about the online test. (A previous partnership between 1-800 Contacts and Visibly has ended, Graham said.)