Response to Questions on Sourcing Chondroitin Sulfate from Sharks


As a global corporate citizen, Alcon takes very seriously its responsibility to act appropriately in caretaking (sic) our planet for current and future generations . Alcon uses chondroitin sulfate from shark cartilage in its ophthalmic viscosurgical devices (OVDs) because of its many benefits. Alcon's use of this source in no way contributes to declining shark populations.


It is generally accepted that the growing popularity of shark as a delicacy, for steaks and for shark fin soup, has caused a dramatic increase in the shark harvest over the past decade. Alcon's chondroitin sulfate supplier, however, does not engage in “shark finning”- a practice we thoroughly condemn- and only uses cartilage selectively harvested as a byproduct from non-endangered* blue sharks being processed for human consumption. Therefore, not a single shark is fished for the purpose of providing Alcon with chondroitin sulfate. In addition, the amount of chondroitin sulfate used in Alcon's Viscoat and DisCoVisc OVD products is vanishingly small (about 0.04 grams/ml). Nevertheless, as good stewards of our planet, we do look for alternative sources that do not involved wild species for all of our biological compounds and chondroitin sulfate is no exception.


Bovine trachea has been suggested in the past as a logical alternative source of chondroitin sulfate but global concerns related to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) and its human form, TSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease, must be considered. Risk analysis clearly indicate that Alcon's current source of chondroitin sulfate is far superior in the margin of safety to the patient over bovine-sourced material.


Alcon continues to monitor the availability of chondroitin sulfate from non-animal sources. This strategy is in line with our commitment to obtain all raw materials from non-animal sources when possible. For instance, since the inception of our viscoelastic product line over 15 years ago, all of Alcon's sodium hyaluronate has been derived from microbial fermentation rather than from animal sources-sources used by many other manufacturers. The combination of this microbially derived hyaluronate with chondroitin sulfate gives Viscoat and DisCoVisc OVDs their unique properties and an unparalleled ability to protect the patient's corneal endothelial cells during surgery.


Alcon prides itself on being ecologically responsible, and will continue its commitment to providing products with unique benefits to both patient and surgeon, while remaining focused on minimizing the impact of our actions on our natural environment.


Sabri Markabi, MD


Senior Vice President



Alcon research and Development


*According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (C.I.T.E.S.)




Viscoat, and why we care!

Viscoat is a drug used in Ophthalmic (eye) surgery. It is made by Alcon surgical from Chondroitin Sulfate. So what?

Well, the Chondroitin Sulfate in Viscoat and Duovisc comes from SHARK CARTILAGE! As divers, I know that got your attention.


The following is a letter from  Alcon regarding the use of Shark Cartilage.

My response


10-20 MILLION Blue sharks are caught and killed each year largely for their fins. The practice of shark finning is

barbaric. Sharks are caught on long lines, their fins removed and the sharks tossed back in to the ocean to slowly skink to the bottom and be eaten alive.

Experts say that this rate of harvesting cannot be sustained, and that within 10 years  most of shark species will disappear.  They simply cannot reproduce fast enough.

Their meat is not very popular because it tastes like mercury.

There are numerous  viscoelastics made from alternate substances.  And there are many good alterrnate sources for the chondroitin sulfate needed to manufacture Viscoat.  One of the best is beef cartilage.  Each DAY tons of beef cartilege is discarded.

 There is a concern that using beef cartilage could transmit Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Since the prion is not heat labile, the use of beef cartiledge as a source of chondroitin sulfate is not any more likely to produce BSE than eating beef!

The use of shark fins has been banned in California, Oregon,  Washington and Illinois.

Please join me in urging Alcon to find a different source for chondtroitin sulfate and Ophthalmologists to quit using Viscoat and Duovisc.


Daniel O. Benson M.D.