Volpara Solutions is a leading provider of breast imaging analytics and analysis products that improve clinical decision-making and the early detection of breast cancer.
Ralph Highnam, CEO of Volpara Health Technologies Limited (Volpara), the research and development arm based in Wellington, recently talked to us about Volpara’s listing on the Australian Stock Exchange (VHT ASX) and how he has found working with Simmonds Stewart.
During the 80s and 90s, Ralph completed a BSc in Mathematics at Brunel University, a MSc in Computation at Oxford University, and a PhD in Engineering Science (Mammography Image Analysis) and further Post-Doctoral Research in Engineering (Model-based image processing systems), both again at Oxford University.
During this time, mammography was slowly beginning to go digital but was still underdeveloped. Ralph worked with Professor Sir Mike Brady, a leading authority in the field of medical image analysis, on the idea of personalising screening according to breast composition. They also co-authored the paper Mammographic Image Analysis (Kluwer 1999).
Ralph and Mike’s interest and academic expertise in this area led them to found a company focused on breast imaging. They eventually merged to form Mirada Solutions which became the number one provider of image registration and fusion tools, before being taken over by CTI Molecular Imaging Inc., who was then acquired by Siemens.
In 2009, Mike and Ralph attended an imaging trade show in Chicago and witnessed the US led revolution in breast screening technology, in particular the ability to personalise screening according to breast composition. This US development aligned with the ideas in their previous work and, together with some later innovative developments by Professor Nico Karssemeijer from the University of Nijmegen, provided the basis for Volpara’s products.
Volpara was then founded in 2009 by Mike, Ralph, Nico and Professor Martin Yaffe from the University of Toronto. Ralph set up the headquarters in Wellington, providing access to Government funding and resources from day one. They began to develop digital health solutions to enable highly personalised quality breast cancer screening, the key products being VolparaDensity, Volpara DPP and VolparaEnterprise.
Volpara’s products have now been used to analyse approximately 9 million women in 34 countries, with US$5 million worth of products ordered since launch – the majority of which have come from the US.
Breast cancer obviously presents the biggest challenge to Volpara, with 1 in 8 women in the developed world suffering from breast cancer in their lifetime, creating an annual economic cost estimated at US$88 billion.
Volpara’s medical and technological advancements have led the way in highlighting the importance of breast density – currently in 27 US states the law dictates that women should be informed of this at the time of mammographic screening. However, the expanding global scale of breast cancer, especially in under-developed countries, underpins the need for further global adoption of such technologies.
The medical industry in general is challenging with ever changing standards of care, and US FDA approvals are difficult to obtain but key to entering into the US market.
Introducing new research and products is equally as challenging. The market revolution in the US helped drive Volpara’s products there. However, despite Australia, New Zealand and Europe having easier product clearance processes, these regions have not had the same uptake of Volpara’s technology. Ralph continues to see this as an opportunity for Volpara.
Funding the company and satisfying investors can also be demanding, as are the administrative processes and requirements of being a public company. However, in 2014 Volpara secured NZ$5 million to accelerate their growth. Ralph also notes that Volpara have remained an open and transparent company from inception, allowing for a continued no surprises approach required of a public company.
Ralph has used several lawyers with various experiences before he began working with Simmonds Stewart, many of them being where he was charged a significant amount of money but did not receive the services expected.
When the Volpara board decided to list on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), due to Volpara’s biggest investors being in Sydney and comparable biotech companies already being ASX listed, Fiona MacKinnon, Lee Bagshaw and Sally West were Ralph’s key contacts, carrying out all the required due diligence and NZ legal advice for the listing.
Volpara closed its initial public offering (IPO) in April 2016, raising AUS$10 million. Ralph notes that going public was a long and complex process, Volpara certainly could not have listed without Simmonds Stewart’s advice and expertise.
Fiona also advised on a key distribution deal with GE Healthcare which has opened up the US market for Volpara. Ralph noted that her focus on fighting the stuff they could win meant they ended up with a better deal than the one they began with.
Fiona continues as the main Simmonds Stewart contact for all legal issues relating to Volpara, advising in-house style on a range of legal issues, from company admin to sales and supplier issues. Ralph says that he really values her pragmatic attitude and solutions-focused approach.
Post-IPO, Volpara continues to set an extremely high standard for biotech around the world. It is now looking to a subscription-based revenue model, delivering its software through the cloud and enabling further innovation to open up opportunities in big data predictive healthcare and industry-wide analytics.
Simmonds Stewart looks forward to seeing how Volpara continues to innovate with technology and science to solve global problems.
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