In the first of a six-part,
fortnightly series sponsored by enterprise development
agency Spring Singapore, Francis Chan and Dhruv Velloor look at how
local firms can
become leaders in the fast-growing health-care sector
PIONEERING liver surgeon Tan Kai Chah is
tackling new frontiers –
this time by driving his newly listed medical company into untapped new
Dr Tan, executive chairman of the Asian
Centre for Liver
Diseases and Transplantation (ACLDT), has just opened the firm's first
satellite clinic outside Singapore in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The firm aims to confront the rising
incidence of liver disease
regionwide by taking its expertise to the rest of South-east Asia, and
farther afield to China, India and Sri Lanka.
But Dr Tan, 56, also plans to develop new
capabilities within ACLDT so it can venture into new areas in health
These include consolidating relevant tissue,
blood and serum
samples in a bank to support clinical research, and creating an
Internet-based consultancy platform he calls e-medicine.
"We feel that in the next 10 years, we have
a real first-mover advantage over anybody else," said Dr Tan.
The renowned liver transplant surgeon –
better known as KC among
peers and patients – operated on the liver of the world's first
heart-liver transplant patient in 1990.
The Malaysian-born surgeon also gained
celebrity status in 2002
when he performed a life-saving liver transplant on local TV
personality Andrea De Cruz.
He continues to break new ground, both as a
world-class physician and entrepreneur.
Since returning to the region after a long
stint at the liver
centre at King's College London, Dr Tan has managed to build up a
successful private practice.
Set up in 1994, ACLDT conducts about about
30 liver transplants
annually, with each operation costing an average of about $300,000.
The Singapore-based firm is now a
fast-growing regional medical
group that was listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in
September last year.
Net profit for the six months ending Feb 28
was just over $1
million, while revenue for the same period grew by 26 per cent to $9.5
million, mainly owing to an increase in its pool of overseas patients.
The move to go public, said Dr Tan, was to
help accelerate the
growth of ACLDT, which is now headquartered at Singapore's Gleneagles
"The reason we went public was because we
wanted to recruit
more talent, corporatise our company and expand regionally," said Dr
He said the prevalence of liver disease in
the region means the
number of patients in need of treatment will unfortunately increase.
More than 95 per cent of the 8,000 patients
ACLDT sees in a
year come from abroad. Of that, more than half are from Malaysia and
Despite the influx of patients from
overseas, Dr Tan said it
was important for ACLDT to have a presence, in the form of "satellite
clinics", in various markets.
"Once patients with liver disease or liver
cancer have seen
you, and put their trust in you, they will come down for their
treatment," said Dr Tan.
"But if they have not seen you, the human
face-to-face time is not there... So at this moment in time, our aim is
mainly to expand outreach to the capital cities in the region."
As proof that he walks the talk and is
serious about making the
connection with patients, ACLDT last Saturday launched its first
satellite clinic outside of Singapore in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Asian Liver Centre, Vietnam (ALCVN), as
the unit is called,
is a joint venture with Vietnamese firm Hoa Lam Investment Development
About $1 million has been injected into the
joint venture, with
ACLDT holding a 70 per cent stake in the clinic in Vietnam, with the
rest being held by Hoa Lam.
ALCVN will provide screening and
consultation services, but surgery and transplants will still be
The new centre, said Dr Tan, is the first of
many similar operations that ACLDT plans to set up in the region.
The firm's next stop is Jakarta, where its
clinic will be set up in March, followed by possible sites in Manila,
Johor's Iskandar Malaysia and even Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar.
Establishing a wide network of satellite
clinics is also
essential for ACLDT to move into tissue, serum and blood banking for
research and other clinical studies.
"For example, when we see a patient in Dhaka
or Ho Chi Minh
City with liver problems, we can take blood samples with their
permission, to store them for research work," said Dr Tan.
He said talks are under way with research
and drug firms about
the initiative, which could prove to be an added revenue stream for
ACLDT once its network of satellite clinics hits critical mass.
But what could be another real game-changer
for the firm in the
next five to 10 years, is e-medicine – an Internet-based network on
which Dr Tan is collaborating with an American institute.
"We are looking at long-distance real- time
consultation... although this all depends on broadband," he said.
"So once we have formed these satellite
clinics... it would put
us really in the forefront, where we can look at X-rays, test results
and even patients abroad in real-time, and even monitor these patients
when they are sick and warded."
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