APBN speaks to Stuart Giles to learn about the involvement of Icon Group in Asia, partnerships made, and what he thinks about the future of cancer care.
A pharmacist by background, Stuart Giles is the founding chairman and driving force behind the establishment of Icon Group, a provider of cancer care in Australia. Expanding the boundaries of healthcare, he has led the Group’s development throughout South-East Asia, including the Icon SOC (previously Singapore Oncology Consultants) clinics in Singapore, as well as the Group’s growth into China. Singapore Oncology Consultants (SOC) was incorporated into Icon Group and became Icon SOC in April 2016. Thereafter, Icon Asia, the Group's regional headquarters was established in Singapore with Stuart assuming the role of Chairman.
Icon SOC adopts a patient-centred approach to care by walking the journey with patients – beyond just medical treatment to pain management, patient education, health care provider-to-provider communication, patient safety and cultural sensitivity – together with partners who make the journey lighter. In December 2017, Icon SOC signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) together with the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS), to commit to supporting patients and families affected by cancer.
Stuart and his wife, Cathie Reid, own and operate a network of Epic pharmacies around Australia, to which Icon Group provides management services.
1) Can you share more about Icon SOC’s partnership with SCS?
In December 2017, Icon SOC inked a MoU with SCS, a community-based voluntary welfare organisation dedicated to minimising the impact of cancer in Singapore. In a bid to better support patients and families affected by the disease, the three-year partnership will see Icon SOC committing S$255,000 and active staff participation to SCS’s fundraising and beneficiary outreach efforts, including SCS Festive Cheer with a Heart programme aimed at bringing cheer and hope to patients during key festive seasons in Singapore.
At Icon SOC we believe cancer care goes beyond treatment to supporting the person and their family throughout the entire patient journey. This has been the core of our approach here in Singapore, and Australia, and underscored in our collaboration with SCS. Every day, our dedicated doctors and team deliver the best possible cancer care to as many people as they possibly can; to take this a step further via our partnership with SCS is an exciting evolution of who Icon SOC is and a reflection of how we care for our patients.
2) What was your motivation and journey like, bringing a different model of cancer care to Asia?
Over the last 30 years, Icon has built a strong and deep network of cancer specialists across Australia. This network has enabled people from regional and metropolitan areas to access some of the latest cancer care techniques and technologies. Harnessing the knowledge, experience and capability in that group posed a significant opportunity to meet the cancer burden globally.
According to recent statistics, Asian countries contribute to 44 percent of all cancer cases and 51 percent of all cancer deaths globally. The region’s burden of cancer is further projected to rise by 41 percent for incidence and 44 percent for mortality by 2025. In light of this worrying trend, there was no question we believed we had the capability to make a difference, but finding a partner who understood the cultural differences and healthcare market was essential. In Singapore we found a partner that aligned with the Icon values and our approach to patient care. The depth of experience in Singapore Oncology Consultants (SOC) and their esteemed clinicians was the foundation we needed to begin understanding how we could really make a difference in the Asian cancer landscape.
When entering new markets, the challenges are many, from language barriers to cultural expectations, all while trying to establish new and robust relationships. However, there is always one objective that remains unchanged – our commitment to delivering the best possible cancer care. It is this commonality that overrides all obstacles and drives us to keep moving forward.
3) With the incorporation of Singapore Oncology Consultants (SOC) into Icon Group, and the establishment of Icon Asia in Singapore, how has this impacted the Group’s growth on a global scale thus far, and moving forward?
Icon SOC is truly the cornerstone of our expansion into Asia and has played a key role in establishing ourselves in the ASEAN region. Through Icon SOC and its clinical excellence, we have broadened our knowledge of the region and relationships with regional healthcare partners.
At present, Icon SOC is finalising projects in Vietnam which will see our footprint expand beyond Singapore. Like other ASEAN nations, Vietnam faces the growing burden of cancer without the treatment capacity to match demand. These projects will see Icon Group support large scale cancer centres in Vietnam via both direct services and the use of innovative technologies to deliver remote care. Icon’s Australian and Singaporean cohort of experts will provide input to help health providers meet this demand, while supporting them to build local capacity for the future. Similar projects are in progress across the ASEAN region.
Singapore and the Chinese markets are markedly different, so much so that in 2016, we established a regional office in Guangzhou to focus on the Chinese cancer care market. As we speak, our first centre in Guangzhou is coming up out of the ground – a seven bunker radiation oncology service – the first of many.
With the introduction of Goldman Sachs Principle Investment Area, QIC, and Pagoda Investments to our shareholder profile, there has been a substantial increase in our ability to engage and participate in the Chinese market from the Icon Board down. This has seen a growing demand for Icon Group services in the region, as providers seek assistance to meet the demand for cancer care services.
4) The cancer care landscape is becoming increasingly more complex. Where are we headed in terms of the future of cancer treatment?
The global cancer burden is one that cannot be tackled in isolation or by sheer people power. Innovation and knowledge sharing across borders is vital to ensure more people are able to receive better care closer to where they live.
This was one of the primary drivers behind our development of a remote radiation planning function. The ability to tell the machine how to precisely target a tumour without exposing healthy tissue to radiation is a highly-developed skill. While the depth of planning talent is rich in Australia, this experience is much harder to find in emerging countries with rapidly urbanising populations, such as China and Vietnam, where the need for treatment in that country is far greater. Being able to share this knowledge across borders for the benefit of cancer patients globally is essential as we seek to meet the growing burden.
We have also seen first-hand how technology will play an important role in the future of cancer care. Varian’s new Halcyon system was recently installed in one of our regional centres in Australia, the first installation in Australasia. Our experience has shown us that the system has the capability to simplify and speed up the radiation treatment process, reducing number of steps required from the existing 30 to just nine. Such technology is especially beneficial to hospitals and health systems facing intense resource and workforce pressures.
Without doubt, healthcare technology is indispensable to healthcare providers in reducing complexities, improving efficiencies, and ensuring that they deliver the best care possible to their patients. Not only do those with the capability and knowledge have to step up to the challenge, but everyone has to be upskilled in using the latest technologies and willing to work collaboratively, across borders and industries to truly tackle the growing cancer prevalence.
5) You are passionate about serving the community. Can you share about the work of Epic Good Foundation that you established with your wife?
As healthcare professionals and service providers, Cathie and I understand the need to support and nurture the community we serve. Since the very early days in our original Epic Pharmacy business, we have always recognised this and sought to establish a culture of giving back.
It was a logical progression as our business footprint grew to formalise our community work. We founded the Epic Good Foundation as a vehicle to contribute to causes that make a difference in peoples’ lives. We are delighted via our Epic Good endeavours to be playing a part in meeting challenges ranging from improving indigenous health and literacy outcomes to reducing domestic violence and providing early intervention and learning for children with autism.
To see this core value of giving back continuing as Icon expands into Singapore is wonderful, especially our partnership with Singapore Cancer Society and support of Breast Cancer Foundation. If we carry that spirit of giving everywhere we go, I believe we will do a lot of good for this world.
This interview was conducted by Lim Guan Yu.