Off-the-planet ideas are hugely attractive
Maxine Simmons describes herself as semi-retired, living north of Auckland, and doing a bit of lifestyle farming. In reality, she’s continuing her lifelong involvement in the biotech and medical sectors.
Maxine has over 30 years’ commercial experience in start-up and expansion stage private company development, ranging from goats and child health to stroke recovery. She founded ICPbio, one of New Zealand’s first biotech companies and subsequently Biocatalyst which has advised many early stage biotech ventures. She has been involved with a range of government and industry organisations. She was also involved with the company behind the ableX stroke recovery system which featured in Issue 26 of this newsletter.
She sits on boards for the MedTech and Maurice Wilkins Centre for BioDiscovery Centres of Research Excellence. Since 2007, Maxine has headed up early-stage healthcare investment fund Cure Kid Ventures Limited.
“The business of science is a passion for me,” she says. “I’m intrigued by science. I like working with scientists, and the more off-the-planet the idea, the more I’m attracted.”
This might explain the lure of goat embryos in 1983. “There was the big goat industry boom. New Zealand’s veterinarians were tasked with super-ovulating goats, IVF for goats if you like.”
ICPbio responded to that market opportunity by suppling the products the vets needed to create New Zealand’s national herd of Cashgora and Angora goats and then to a very sophisticated global market involving vets across the world. Working with AgResearch, they began exporting what Maxine describes as “container loads of 99 per cent water.”
It is the business rather than the consumer end that drives Maxine’s passion for medical science. “It can be highly regulated, such as requiring approvals from America’s Food and Drug Administration or from the European Union.”
This links neatly to her work as Executive Director of Cure Kids Ventures.
“I’m like a translator, identifying what’s important in the product or service offered by these early stage healthcare companies. We’re offering seed funding, advice and access to our networks to help them get off the ground with possible new drug therapies or medical devices that might especially benefit children.
“Then, I start joining up the dots. I take an intriguing idea and make it better understood by investors. That’s the challenge and that’s also the satisfaction element. I value creativity in people and see all ideas as good. Some may never have their day in the sun, but that’s the nature of an idea – you need to see where it can go.”
What’s coming next? When we spoke to Maxine, she talked about the need to change the way we manage health, from diagnosis through to treatment. “We’ve got the digital capability to deliver telehealth, but we need to shift the resistance to this new way of working.”
Since then, we’ve had Covid which has forced huge change in terms of the delivery of medical care.
Just think of the huge productivity gains through adoption of for example, on-line health consultations.
She says these challenging times will also be could be a huge opportunity to move healthcare away from what we’ve had to something new that benefits the provider and the patient. And there’s no doubt, she’ll be involved, even though she claims to be semi-retired.