How ground-break­ing Aus­tralian IVF re­search nur­tured a listed com­pany

Monash IVF Group has nur­tured a pub­lic com­pany from ground­break­ing Aus­tralian re­search

The Australian - The Deal - - News - Story by: Glenda Kor­po­raal

JAMES Thiede­man has worked in the health­care busi­ness since he was an 18-year-old nurs­ing as­sis­tant in a pri­vate hospi­tal in Bris­bane.

Five years ago he took over as chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Mel­bourne-based Monash IVF group which fo­cuses on the busi­ness of help­ing to cre­ate life. He ex­changed a ca­reer in the pri­vate hospi­tal busi­ness to a job fo­cus­ing on med­i­cal clin­ics and so­phis­ti­cated lab­o­ra­to­ries which store frozen em­bryos in cry­op­reser­va­tion tanks. Monash has just be­come one of the new­est com­pa­nies to list on the Aus­tralian Se­cu­ri­ties Ex­change.

“I’m a refugee from the pri­vate hospi­tal sec­tor,” he says. “The health­care sec­tor has ap­pealed to me from very early on in my ca­reer. Af­ter work­ing for al­most 20 years in the hospi­tal sec­tor, there was an op­por­tu­nity for me to move up­stream in the life con­tin­uum. Know­ing the his­tory of Monash, and the pedigree of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, I jumped at the chance to work with its doc­tors, sci­en­tists and nurses.”

In 1973, sci­en­tists at Monash Univer­sity achieved the world’s IVF fer­til­i­sa­tion preg­nancy. Last month, the pri­vately owned Monash IVF group be­came the sec­ond IVF busi­ness to list on the ASX, rais­ing some $316 mil­lion. The Monash IVF group has helped to pro­duce more than 35,000 Aus­tralian ba­bies over the past 40 years. Some 10,000 cou­ples a year visit its 25 IVF clin­ics around the coun­try and 10,000 women a year use its ul­tra­sound ser­vices.

Thiede­man in­sists the list­ing will not change the group’s fo­cus. “We will con­tinue to fo­cus on get­ting the best out­comes for our pa­tients and grow­ing our net­work of clin­ics,” he says. “We have a great rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing some of the best preg­nancy suc­cess rates in the busi­ness and, as a re­sult of that, pa­tients come to us.”

Monash Univer­sity sold its ma­jor­ity stake in the IVF busi­ness founded by its sci­en­tists to ABN Amro in 2007. The stake was bought in 2009 by pri­vate eq­uity firm, Iron­bridge. Aus­tralia’s largest IVF busi­ness, Vir­tus Health, listed in June last year and its suc­cess prompted Iron­bridge to con­sider fol­low­ing suit. Monash earned $22m last year and its prospec­tus es­ti­mates it will re­port a net profit of $26m this year as it ex­pands in Aus­tralia and Asia. About 40 doc­tors work­ing with the group re­main as share­hold­ers.

Thiede­man says, the de­ci­sion by many women to de­lay hav­ing chil­dren to pur­sue ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers has led to an in­crease in de­mand for IVF ser­vices. “Women are not tak­ing the de­ci­sion to have chil­dren un­til they are into their 30s and they are find­ing hav­ing a child is a lit­tle bit more dif­fi­cult.”

Monash ex­panded into South­east Asia about 18 months ago, in­vest­ing in a clinic busi­ness in Kuala Lumpur. “In Malaysia the fer­til­ity care sec­tor looks like it did in Aus­tralia 20 years ago,” he says. “They are very much at the early stages of start­ing to re­quire ac­cess to these ser­vices as women are stay­ing in the work­force longer.”

He says the group plans to ex­pand its busi­ness in Asia. “We see an in­creas­ingly wealthy mid­dle class who have the ca­pac­ity to pay for high qual­ity health­care close to home. That is what is driv­ing the de­mand for our ser­vices. Monash IVF has a strong brand recog­ni­tion and brand cred­i­bil­ity in the South­east Asian re­gion which has worked very well for us.”

Thiede­man says the stock­mar­ket list­ing will pro­vide more “fi­nan­cial head room” to ex­pand the busi­ness and its re­search into the lat­est IVF tech­nolo­gies. He says Monash has “led the charge” in de­vel­op­ments such as sin­gle em­bryo trans­fer (as op­posed to trans­fer­ring sev­eral em­bryos which leads to mul­ti­ple births) and in em­bryo screen­ing. “Aus­tralian IVF clin­ics have some of the best out­comes in terms of preg­nancy rates out of all the de­vel­oped world,” he says.

Pho­to­graph by: Ju­lian Kingma

James Thiede­man in one of the com­pany’s so­phis­ti­cated lab­o­ra­to­ries which store frozen em­bryos in cry­op­reser­va­tion tanks

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