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Cooper Cos. to Sell Irvine Eye-Surgery Subsidiary to Alcon

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Cooper Cos. has agreed to sell its Irvine-based eye-surgery business for $325 million to a subsidiary of Swiss conglomerate Nestle SA, the company said Thursday.

Cooper signed a letter of intent with Alcon Laboratories Inc. for the sale of Cooper Surgical, which sells about $300 million in eye surgery equipment each year, said Gene Elsbree, vice president of industrial relations at Cooper Cos. headquarters in Palo Alto.

“We expect to sign a definitive agreement later this month and close the transaction before the calender year ends,” Elsbree said. He said the sale would not require the approval of the shareholders of either company.

Cooper Surgical is an operating unit of Cooper Cos. and formerly was part of Coopervision, Cooper’s Irvine-based eye-care subsidiary. Cooper Surgical employs about 2,500 workers, including 700 to 900 in Irvine.

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“Alcon is a major company in the vision industry, and Coopervision has had a long relationship with the company,” Elsbree said. He described Cooper Surgical as “the worldwide leader in ophthalmic surgical equipment” and said its revenues have been steadily increasing.

In 1984, Nestle attempted to buy Coopervision, but the Federal Trade Commission blocked the deal.

Cooper Cos., a health-care products concern with annual revenue of $900 million, has cut operations and intends to sell off all of its businesses. The company, which has about $700 million in debt, has been selling off businesses since it announced plans to liquidate last May.

Earlier this year, Cooper sold Coopervision’s U.S. contact lens solutions business to Wesley-Jessen, a Chicago subsidiary of Schering-Plough Corp., for $40 million. It also sold the international segment of that business to Ciba-Geigy, a Swiss drug company, for $50 million.

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Elsbree said Cooper is discussing the sale of its $500-million medical diagnostic subsidiary, Cooper Technicon, the Coopervision worldwide contact lens business, and a small plastic and reconstructive-surgery products unit.

Times staff writer Leslie Berkman contributed to this report.


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