Age-related blindness will be stopped and even reversed by world-leading medical lasers developed in Australia.

The innovative technology, which can also treat major eye diseases including cataracts and glaucomas – the top cause of blindness globally – has boosted an Adelaide-based company to be the international leader in the niche field. Ellex Medical Lasers launched its newest product targeting age-related blindness in Barcelona in September.

It is one example of a wave of modern medical advancements coming out of South Australia, as documented by Invest Adelaide. According to the 2015 Comprehensive Report on the Global Ophthalmic Laser Market (Market Scope), Ellex has 50% of the market share for glaucoma treatment lasers as of May 2015, up from 41% just 12 months earlier. It also places Ellex second for sales in the industry overall with 14.2% of the market share; just 0.3% behind the market leader, US company Lumenis.

Ellex chief executive Tom Spurling said the report reinforced the company’s ‘positive momentum’ as an industry front-runner.

“This demonstrates that Ellex’s investment in leading edge technology can successfully translate into increased sales and market share,” said Spurling. “And we intend to continue to build our pipeline of product innovation in the ophthalmic space.”

In the 2014-15 financial year, Ellex recorded its highest ever annual revenue of $62.5m, up by 15% on the year prior. This includes a $2.5m net profit before tax, double that of 2013-14.

Ellex was established in Adelaide in 1985, evolving from a manufacturing company of primarily OEM products, to the direct marketing of its own branded products through subsidiaries in the US, Japan, Germany, France and Australia. Ellex products are now distributed in more than 100 countries with 20,000 systems delivered to the market.

It is Ellex’s work around reversing the macular degeneration of cells that has attracted the most widespread attention. One in seven Australians aged over 50 suffer from Age-Related Macular Degeneration.

“Macular degeneration is becoming the biggest spend by governments and insurance companies around the world,” says Spurling.

Ellex’s latest product – the 2RT – is currently undergoing a clinical trial with 290 participants. If successful it is likely to become the company’s flagship product.

Although Ellex has a clear hold on the international market, the company continues to push the agenda and develop talent at home in Adelaide. Through the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) at Flinders University, Ellex and its joint ventures have provided industry-driven projects, mentorship and guidance to the development of new products in their infancy. The MDPP links research & development (R&D) with manufacturing companies and clinical representatives to support the delivery of revolutionary products to consumers. According to MDPP Innovations Manager Aisha Sirop, these connections are crucial to both researchers and industry.

“The medical device and assistive technology industry in South Australia is made up of lots of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),” says Sirop. “So given their size, they often don’t have in-house all the expertise, facilities and resources required to develop and commercialise technologies. To overcome this they can benefit from collaboration with universities.

“Traditionally that approach came with other barriers including different motivations, different timelines and other technical delays. However, the MDPP model has streamlined the process by offering a simple and efficient model to deal with the traditional legalities of research and development and intellectual property.”

Projects involved in the MDPP scheme undergo due diligence and commercial and technical brainstorming through confidential workshops to identify the true commercial potential of each product and reduce the risk to researchers and industry before investing resources into further development. Identified members from industry and the clinical community are invited to participate in the review and assessment of technology proposals to provide expert opinion.

Based on this review, a technical project is scoped, with each project founder receiving up to 250 hours of R&D assistance, including prototype development, proof of concept or clinical validation. This represents significant benefit to MDPP clients: not only do they receive access to R&D services from university research experts, but they are able to obtain direct feedback from a range of industry and clinical specialists.

Industry may be consulted further following adjustments and development or have the opportunity to engage with the client for longer-term partnerships. The MDPP also supports service providers to offer special rates to MDPP clients: in one case this led to a series of IP seminars hosted by leading Australian patent and trademark attorneys Madderns.

One device now in market that was developed with support from the MDPP is Austofix’s Ezy-Aim Electronic Digital Targeting System – a pair of eyes for orthopaedic surgeons inserting nails and screws to repair broken bones – that removes the need for multiple costly and time consuming x-rays.

“Adelaide has a wealth of skilled professionals across all stakeholder groups,” says Sirop. “It’s a great environment to make good connections and develop knowledge of local capabilities, such as manufacturing, while there is also a real willingness to collaborate among researchers, industry and clinical representatives.”