European Stock Story of the Month - IBA

By Rory Hammerson

Visible sustainability – Ion Beam Applications (IBA) – innovation plus impact can help our failing health system.

“There's no trust, No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers.”

Romeo and Juliet.

It’s hard to read anything in the media these days without adopting a sceptical, often cynical perspective of that which we are presented – trust is gone. There is no greater example of this than the internecine battle ensuing between the government and the healthcare sector.

Nurses and carers collectively struggle against a system where those in charge of oversight seem to have plainly failed in their duty of care. In the wake of government scandal after scandal, who can we trust? How can trust be built back into the system? My idea about improving trust is based on narrowing the gap between ‘do and say’. If we say we will do something we need to do it. Iterate this process again and again and trust can be rebuilt.

This month’s stock story is an example of a company which, after losing its way for a while as the victim of its own growth success, has restored trust amongst clients and shareholders. Belgian listed Ion Beam Applications ( is an extraordinary company involved in cancer treatment for extremely sensitive areas such as the brain and other vital organs. IBA’s innovation and technology lies in the methodology of delivery of its therapy.

Using protons, energy from the laser beam is not released until the proton particle arrives at the tumour. This way, the surrounding healthy tissue is unaffected by the treatment and the total cost of care (post operative care, recovery time in hospital and convalescence) is greatly diminished.

Very few of us will have heard of IBA, but many of us may remember the case of little Ashya King, the young lad with a brain tumour, whose parents took him from a palliative care regime in Southampton hospital in 2014 to Prague to receive lifesaving treatment using proton therapy. The case received huge media coverage because the UK government sanctioned an international manhunt, arresting Ashya’s parents in Spain.

Only after a massive public outcry did the government change its tune, allowing Ashya’s parents the freedom to seek treatment for their son. In 2018, MRI scans carried out in Southampton concluded that Ashya was cancer free.

I love this story. The individual standing up against a ‘nanny knows best’ state, AKA speaking truth to power. The family were fighting for a better way of treating Ashya and refused to compromise in the face of an overwhelming system, which failed to act in the best interests of the patient.

Proton therapy is still very much the laggard in terms of radiation therapy provision, despite being more advanced and precise than its more successful sibling, Photon. Why? Very simply, because it is more expensive to provide. The UK now has proton therapy centres, but they are few and far between, despite the increasing number of scientific papers extolling proton therapy efficacy.

Proton therapy is still very much the laggard in terms of radiation therapy provision

Ion Beam Applications has had its own struggles over the past decade. Like many companies in the sector, IBA was born of a university research arm, and its growth in the early part of last decade was hampered by the mismatch of demand and the ability to construct buildings to house these complex systems.

IBA went far in removing complexity in terms of the machinery itself, scaling down the machine size to cater for smaller treatment centres. However, construction projects caused timing issues and the company struggled to deliver in line with the budgeted requirements of customers.

We saw a big change in the processes with the advent of a new Finance Director who reworked the balance sheet, shifting the emphasis towards managing working capital and restructuring the debt. Her message to the market has been simple, along the lines of ‘Here is my plan. I will update you on how it is going.’ this is exactly what she did.

Regular reports on progress and challenges have been met with increasing warmth by shareholders. The real shift in gear was when IBA partnered with a French construction company, who provide ongoing expertise in terms of the construction of ancillary buildings (radiation is a risk factor), and now the business is thriving with an ever-increasing backlog of demand.

For a few years IBA’s share price found itself in the doldrums as the business model was re-engineered to accommodate a more sustainable growth path. Now IBA’s therapy solutions can be found all over the world and even, thankfully, in the UK.

Our health system is creaking beyond any ability to cope as we all know, but there is hope. The front-line staff are incredible, dedicated, unsung heroes of our age, fighting within an environment which must verge on the intolerable.

IBA’s story over the past five years demonstrates what can be done by effort and application and the recovery of the share price is testament to increased shareholder trust.

We may not be able to trust our politicians to make sensible decisions on how to spend their budgets, but we can be in no doubt about what the actual system can provide in terms of outcomes if there was less wastage and more accountability for the ‘higher ups’.

Advances in innovation do mean that we should be sanguine. Ashya’s story gives us hope and hope is a good cornerstone from which to start to repair trust, but this requires hard work repeated again and again. The ‘say do' gap must disappear. IBA’s story over the past five years demonstrates what can be done by effort and application and the recovery of the share price is testament to increased shareholder trust.

Meanwhile, we need to give much less air-time to disgraced politicians trying to salvage their reputations through celebrity dancing and bush tucker trials. Our hard-working healthcare professionals don’t have the time to learn the quickstep and would know better than to eat what was apparently served up to an erstwhile UK health minister.

Written by Rory Hammerson


Information is accurate as at 31.01.2023. Opinions constitute the fund manager’s judgement as of this date and are subject to change without warning. The officers, employees and agents of CIP may have positions in any securities mentioned herein. This material may not be distributed, published or reproduced in whole or in part. With investment capital is at risk.


Image credit: Adobe Stock Images - Thomas