3i signs £175m eye laser buyout

The global investment firm is hoping the UK laser eye surgery will grow rapidly over the next five years, as buyout firms look to healthcare as a shelter from the storms brewing in the world economy.

3i has bought UK laser eye surgery company Ultralase for £174.5 million ($342.4 million; €233.2 million) from European medical business Corporación Dermoestética, according to a statement.

Ultralase operates 17 eye laser clinics across the UK with a head office in Leeds and other locations in UK cities including Nottingham, Edinburgh, Bristol and Cardiff.

3i’s investment will allow the clinic to open four further clinics in 2008 including in Southern cities Maidstone and Southampton. Ultralase is also planning to open a number of consultation rooms across the UK during the year.

3i expects the laser eye surgery industry to increase revenue at 12 percent per annum, with significant increases in the next five years. This would bring the UK in line with more developed markets for the treatment such as the US, Canada and Spain.

3i has previously invested in Spanish opthamology company Clínica Baviera, which had a €300 million ($440.3 million) initial public offering on the Spanish Stock Exchange in April last year.

The health sector has proved popular with buyout firms in search of a defensive sector as a shelter from turbulent markets in recent months. This month activity included 3i’s acquisition of pharmaceutical company Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients for $395 million (€269 million), and Asian buyout firm MBK Partners’ S$357.4 million ($252 milllion; €173 million) bid to delist Singapore pharmaceutical company AsiaPharm.

3i’s advisers included accountant PWC, consultancy McKinsey and Swiss bank UBS.