Every 5 seconds, someone in the world will lose the ability to see. According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 40 million people around the globe who are blind, with more than half in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa. People over 60 are in the highest risk category for age related eye disease.
Around 99% of all age related vision loss is due to five diseases: glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, secondary cataracts and vitreous opacities, or age-related macular degeneration. The treatment for these diseases has traditionally been to provide relief but there’s no cure. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world according to the World Health Organisation. In Australia, one in eight people over 80 years of age will develop glaucoma. The total annual cost of glaucoma in 2005 alone was $1.9 billion.
Ellex is an Australian-based company that aims to cure these diseases. It specialises in making equipment for and researching age-related eye diseases – and it’s a company we invest in. The company works off a belief that age-related vision diseases are curable.
If you’ve ever seen a loved one get diagnosed with an age related eye-disease you’ll know this thinking challenges the accepted norm. Most of the medical industry sees age-related eye diseases as something you treat, not cure.
Ellex doesn’t think that’s good enough. This means they’re investigating cures and solutions that others have written off as impossible. To put it blankly: Ellex want to cure the five major age-related eye diseases and are on the path to do so.
From downturn to powerhouse
In 2001, Ellex underwent an IPO and listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. It was an exciting time and the company was gearing up for great growth.
But it didn’t go well. Within 18 months of going public, the entire laser industry experienced a downturn. Ellex was valued far less than expected and its shareholders weren’t happy. Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly for a business experiencing downturn, Ellex took this as an opportunity.
For 3 years, as they battled a slumming laser market, they plunged into a research and development programme which is now one of the strongest in the industry. They’ve built up solutions for every major age-related eye disease, diversifying their product set and expanding their market to across the globe.
The results have been profound. Today, more than 30,000 Ellex ophthalmic laser and ultrasound systems are in use worldwide and over 80% of their sales are coming from international markets. This year they released the most promising laser solution technology to date called One Advanced Laser (great name).
One Advanced Laser provides a four-in-one treatment solution for glaucoma therapy, laser floater removal, capsulotomy (a surgery when an incision is made into the lens of the eye) and iridotomy (where only one eye is affected with glaucoma and surgery is done to the unaffected eye to prevent the condition from developing). That means this laser can help address the age-related vision diseases that 99% of people get. Woah.
We’ve been investing in Ellex since 2013 and have been supportive of the work they’ve done.
We did our first ethical review of Ellex in 2012 to see if it met the ethical charter. As with all medical companies we invest in the main ethical benefit that attracted us was Ellex’s ability to improve the health of society and allow people to live their lives more fully.
One of the most common reasons we don’t invest in a medical company is because of animal testing. Many medical companies do extensive animal testing and we find it hard to see the net benefit in some of these instances. Ellex does minimal animal testing and that which they do conduct is required and done within university settings. We see these conditions as ethical under our charter. On an environmental front, the company is certified by the international Quality Management System and the system has concluded Ellex’s activities as not causing unnecessarily pollution.
Financially, they are a strong and growing company. Over the past 4 years they achieved 14% growth (at the end of FY2015) and their focus on innovative solutions increases their potential and market share each year, which in turn benefits our members and shareholders.
We’re keen to see the impact Ellex can have on age-related eye diseases over the coming years. By investing in research and setting an ambitious goal to not only treat but actually cure disease we’re pretty sure they’re going to make a mark.