Close to home:
How Brisbane’s Icon Group is delivering exceptional cancer care to the world

10 AUGUST 2023

From its head office in Brisbane, Icon Group has expanded globally into Singapore, Mainland China, Hong Kong and New Zealand – and it’s all been driven by the desire to solve one problem.

“Icon was born on a simple premise,” says Group CEO Mark Middleton. “How can we deliver the best cancer care possible, to as many people, as close to home as possible?”

The seeds of what would become the international Icon Group were planted in 2007, when Mark co-founded a radiation oncology facility in Toowoomba. The facility was intended to help patients from the Darling Downs region who were required to travel into Brisbane for treatment.

“The evidence suggests that the further away you live from world-class cancer treatment, the worse your outcome will be,” he says. “There was a lack of access to cancer care in Australia, particularly in regional areas, and we wanted to be able to solve that problem. That meant delivering care closer to where people live.”

That first radiation oncology facility in Toowoomba soon extended to more clinics throughout Queensland, and beyond. In 2015, the Brisbane-based Icon Group was established.

Icon Group now operates more than 50 cancer centres across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Mainland China and Hong Kong, and also encompasses chemotherapy compounding and pharmacy management services.

“Icon has invested $85 million in cancer care infrastructure over the last year alone,” Mark says, “including here in Brisbane, where we’ve recently opened a new radiation therapy centre at The Wesley Hospital.

“We’ve also grown our research capabilities significantly – we have more than 160 clinical trials running across the Icon Group network now, and that work is headquartered here in Brisbane. We’ve made significant progress towards providing more care for more people.”

Icon’s success puts the Group at the forefront of Brisbane’s thriving health sector, which is on a strong growth trajectory. Brisbane is home to more than 100 health and biotech facilities, and health care and social assistance is the city’s largest employer, generating 138,481 local jobs in 2021/22.

But while Icon Group remains based in Brisbane, its ambitions extend far beyond the city’s boundaries.

A local solution for a global problem 

“Cancer is not just an Australian problem,” Mark says. “It’s a problem everywhere around the world, and there are many, many countries where access to cancer care is just not good enough.”

Mark says Brisbane’s status as the closest eastern seaboard capital city to large Asian markets has been key to the Group’s expansion so far.

“That proximity has been absolutely critical, and it’s one of the reasons why Icon Group’s headquarters is in Brisbane,” he says.

“Our access into Asia from Brisbane has been exceptional. Our first international expansion was into Singapore, and that’s just a short sleep from Brisbane by plane. We currently operate six centres in Singapore, and we recently opened an integrated cancer care centre there that’s the first of its kind in the country.

“It’s actually modeled on our Icon Cancer Centre in North Lakes, here in Brisbane. We have a number of integrated cancer centres in our network which allows us to provide true end-to-end care for our patients.”

In addition to its presence in Singapore, Icon Group also operates two cancer centres and two specialists centres in Hong Kong and another six in Mainland China – and Mark says that’s just the start.

“We have a significant amount of growth still to come here in Queensland and Australia,” he says, “but we’re also going to focus on making Icon Group even stronger in international markets. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to take our expertise from Brisbane to the rest of the world.”

Partners in care

Icon has been able to establish a variety of partnerships from its base in Brisbane that help to keep the Group at the forefront of addressing the global cancer burden.

These include partnerships with peak international bodies such as the Union for International Cancer Control, and a research and professional services agreement with Palo Alto-based Varian Medical Systems that enables Icon Group to be first in market for new treatment technology and offer clinical expertise and patient-centric perspectives throughout Varian’s product development.

“Varian Medical Systems are the world’s largest manufacturer of radiation oncology equipment,” Mark says, “and we’ve been able to play a large role in what radiation therapy hardware and software looks like today because of our partnership with them.”

Icon Group has also forged partnerships in Brisbane and throughout Queensland that enable it to collaborate with globally renowned research and education institutes close to home.

“We’ve been embraced by the state of Queensland,” Mark says. “We work closely with Queensland Health, and we have several long-standing public-private partnerships with hospitals here. We’ve been running the radiation oncology facilities at Cairns Hospital and Gold Coast University Hospital since 2011 and 2013, respectively.

“Our relationships with universities in Brisbane and throughout Queensland are also absolutely critical. We partner with these universities to make sure Icon Group is playing our part in educating the professionals who are going to be so important to the future of cancer care, and these academic partnerships also allow our clinicians to be involved in world class research.

“We have our own world-class research capability, but it’s important to partner with these academic institutions as well, because of what each party brings to the table. We bring significant treatment capability, expertise and patient data, and our university partners bring academic expertise and real rigour and discipline to our research priorities.

“Health care is all about partnerships, and we’ve been very fortunate to have built some very strong partnerships in Brisbane.”

A rising tide

Ultimately, Mark says the remarkable growth of Icon Group parallels the trajectory of its home city.

“Brisbane’s rapidly growing population, and its increasing international recognition, makes it a special place to be right now,” he says. “It’s already considered a great place to live and work, which we know because every time we advertise for roles here in Brisbane, we’re overwhelmed with applicants.

“Brisbane is a great place to do business. There’s a lot of support here for entrepreneurs and for people who want to make things happen, and there’s a sense that things are possible in Brisbane. It’s a place that inspires and breeds innovation, and I think Icon Group is proof of that.

“The exciting thing about Brisbane’s future is that you can see the growth happening right in front of your eyes. The road to hosting the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games is going to be an incredibly exciting time for Brisbane, and it coincides with an incredibly exciting time for Icon.”

As Icon Group grows, Mark’s vision for the company remains the same.

“My vision for Icon is to be the preeminent global cancer care provider,” he says. “We’re in a very strong position to do that. And we’re very proud that our head office is going to remain here in Brisbane, as we grow around the world and deliver more care to more people.”

Looking up at Skyscrapers in Brisbane City