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Healthcare and Wellness : Innovation + Job News

135 Healthcare and Wellness Articles | Page: | Show All

Federal government announces $11.4M in job support for those with autism

"People with developmental disabilities have much to contribute in the Canadian labour market. Yet, existing research suggests that the rate of employment among this population is much lower than it needs to be."

That was the comment from Dr. David Nicholas, associate professor of social work at the University of Calgary, upon hearing the news that the federal government will be investing in new job support for youth with autism spectrum disorders.

Announced as part of the federal budget, the government is investing $11.4 million over four years in a program called CommunityWorks Canada.

The program is modelled on one that is currently available in Calgary. The funding will go to developing a national network of cities that offer similar services. Program participants, who range in age from 12 to 24, will work on developing key social, communications, and problem-solving skills that are essential in any employment environment. The program is delivered via one-on-one peer mentoring, and the ultimate goal is to equip participants with the capacity to pursue work successfully, and live more independent lives.

Some details are still in the works, but a representative from the Etobicoke-based
Autism Speaks Canada—which will be operating the program in partnership with the Calgary-based Sinneave Family Foundation—told us that the plan is to have two or three of the new centres open within the next two years, and a total of six centres (including the original Calgary location) open in four years. Organizers are hoping to ramp up to 1,200 participants per year, across all of the locations.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Carrie Habert, Marketing Director, Autism Speaks Canada

Medical accelerator signs major new strategic deal

Back in 2010 the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and MaRS Innovation came together to form a new cancer-focused accelerator. Called Triphase, in October, 2012 that accelerator quietly closed a collaboration deal with major biotech company Celgene—a deal that has just been publicly announced.

Triphase focuses on developing oncology therapies, taking them through the early phases of that process, including initial funding, industry advice, and clinical proof-of-concept work. Their goal is to help new therapies complete this process in under three years. Products that make it through the accelerator will then be sold or licensed, on their way to full commercialization. Some key terms of the deal—including the amount Celgene paid upfront to gain access to Triphase's products—haven't been disclosed, but we do know that Celgene has acquired the right of first refusal on Triphase's first three products, plus negotiation rights on three more cancer therapies.

"For the last year or so, we've basically been accumulating assets [i.e. potential new therapies], and running drug development processes around those products," explains Triphase CEO Frank Stonebanks, about the 15-month gap between when the deal with Celgene was signed and when it was announced.

Triphase has now acquired one product in particular that they are excited about, and has been working on trials, cleaning up the data from the company that originally developed the therapy, and generally doing some groundwork. Now that the Celgene deal has been announced, Triphase is focusing on expansion, including potentially expanding beyond oncology entirely.

With facilities in both Toronto and San Diego, and experience working on both sides of the border, Stonebanks has developed an appreciation for the differences between the two business cultures. A Canadian, he originally left here in 1995 "for basically all of the [usual] reasons: I could not find the intellectual, economic challenges that I wanted… Then the OICR recruited me and I came back in 2010. That's a good sign, the tide is starting to turn."

Now back in the States, Stonebanks says that we do "a great job on early science and technology, but translating that into actionable value—that's where Canada has frankly fallen short over the years." That may be something to work with rather than worry about, however: "I think we need to be a little honest with ourselves with what we don't do well… We live in a global economy, don't have to have all manufacturing here, all aspects of development here. It's not a flag-waving exercise; you need to do what's right for your business."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Frank Stonebanks, Founder and CEO, Triphase Accelerator Corporation

Medical startup lands $2 million in seed funding

It's one of those ideas that seems entirely obvious in retrospect: provide a forum for medical professionals to share clinical images, so they can have a large pool of resources to draw on when seeking to learn more about certain conditions, and a large pool of expertise to draw on for insight into particular cases.

Three Torontonians came up with just such a forum—a mobile app called Figure 1, the product of a startup of the same name. Figure 1 recently announced that it has raised $2 million in seed funding, to support its next stage of growth.

Figure 1 was started about a year ago by a practising physician, a senior developer, and a Ryerson communications professor. They launched at Ryerson's DMZ—"Ryerson's just really great with innovation and entrepreneurship and flexibility," says co-founder Gregory Levey (he's the communications prof)—and currently have nine full time staff. With the help of the seed funding they hope to double in size within the year.

The new financing will allow Figure 1 to grow in a variety of ways. Their first goal is to expand onto different platforms: they're planning to launch on Android within four or six weeks, and will then move onto a desktop version of Figure 1. They're also looking to expand into other countries; the app is available in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and the UK at the moment, and Australia and New Zealand are next. (Because the app is for licensed professionals, there are costs involved when they expand to each new country as they need to accommodate a new set of medical regulations.)

Levey's quick to admit they don't have a business model quite yet—Figure 1's focus right now is on building the service and user base. This isn't, right now, worrying anyone: their investors are on board with that strategy. Many of those investors are based in America, though there are some Canadians in the mix as well, and that's reflected in the approach a bit: "I do think there's something of a difference," Levey says of the investment culture in the two countries. "The American ones, especially on the west coast, are really swinging for the fences. The Canadian ones are a little more cautious, a little more risk averse—but that's changing."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Gregory Levey, co-founder, Figure 1

Ontario announces new Health Innovation Council

Ontario is a growing force in medical technology research, and now the provincial government wants to bolster the sector further. Last month Queen's Park launched the new Ontario Health Innovation Council to help support the commercialization of medical innovations and new technologies. The council's task: identify growth opportunities and strategies for market-oriented development.

The council is specifically focused on small- and medium-sized businesses, and has a mandate to create the conditions for job growth in this sector.

The provincial government estimates that Ontario's health technology sector generates $9.1 billion a year. In job terms, the medical devices sector employs more than 17,000—49 per cent of the total nationwide.

The 15 council members represent academic institutions, hospitals, private companies, and non-profits. (Toronto-based members include the heads of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, MaRS Innovation, UofT's Institute for Health Policy, and the University Health Network.)

Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, said via a written statement that, "Ontario’s capacity to provide the best care and get value for our precious health dollars depends on harnessing our strengths in health research and innovation. The Ontario Health Innovation Council will help us improve the quality of care while creating valuable new jobs."

Catherine Zahn, president of CAMH, echoed those sentiments in her own comments, writing that "OHIC is an opportunity to ‘think big’ and broadly about health innovation in Ontario and make it real for patients, people and communities.”

The council's members will be looking at a range of issues beyond commercialization, too. They'll be examining ways to lower health care costs in the province, and try to focus on new ways to improve patient care.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Photo: Courtesy of the University Health Network.

Ryerson and St. Michael's Hospital partner on new research centre

The development of medical science has always been driven by advances in technology, and modern innovations are bringing the two closer together than ever. To help make the most of that relationship, St. Michael's Hospital and Ryerson University have announced a new partnership: an initiative that will allow clinician scientists from the former and engineers from the latter to work together collaboratively.

The Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Science Technology (iBest) will be housed in the Keenan Research Centre at St. Michael's, and will include space for about 15 Ryerson faculty members and another 40 or so students—researchers whose work has health care applications. It will also include a new incubator, similar to Ryerson's well-known Digital Media Zone, specifically for the development of biomechanical products that can be commercialized and used in patient care.

"I think it's the increased reliance on technological developments in the delivery of medical treatment that has catalyzed collaborations" like iBest, says Dr. Ori Rotstein, director of the Keenan Research Centre. "In the era before computing to have a computer scientist to help you manage data wasn't really something that you did," he adds by way of example. "Before computers and advanced engineering it was kind of ad hoc."

These collaborations reflect an advancement that certainly is welcome, and perhaps overdue. Though there are many sectors that have been working in this interdisciplinary way for a long time, it has come more slowly in academic medical contexts. Rotstein goes on: "Industry has been doing this for a long time. There are lot of companies that make medical devices that have been doing this for a long time. Academic institutions have been siloed…but the need is really an imperative."

In addition to advances in patient care, iBest will provide new opportunities for student training. "The idea will be that we're going to collaborate in student supervision," Rotstein explains. "That means it's possible if there's a medical student or a resident who wants to do his or her research training in an area that's relevant to science and engineering…they could be co-supervised."

iBest is slated to open in the spring of 2015.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ori Rotstein, Director, Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science
Photo: Yuri Markarov, Medical Media, St. Michael's Hospital

Brain waves at Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche, the international sunset-to-sunrise arts festival that first came to Toronto a few years ago, celebrates art and the ways it can interact with a city's streets, buildings, and public spaces. At its best moments, it transforms the way we experience the world around us. This year, one installation in particular aimed to do something a bit different: change the way we experience the world within.

That exhibit was called My Virtual Dream, and its primary creators weren't traditional artists but rather scientists from Baycrest Health Science and the University of Toronto's faculty of medicine. Their aim: gather data for an ongoing research project, while simultaneously giving participants the chance to engage in a dialogue with their own brains, by monitoring and displaying own brain wave activity, and then helping them play around with the visualizations that resulted.

If you walked by Queen's Park Crescent and College during Nuit Blanche on October 5, you might have seen a large geodesic dome that had been put up on the street, emitting a changing array of pastel lights. Inside: a semicircle of 20 participants, each with a wireless brain-computer interface on their heads. That interface allowed participants to watch their own brain wave activity on monitors in front of them, and see how it changed over time.

Participants were asked to alternately relax or concentrate, and as they did they could see how that affected the visualizations on the screen. It also affected what was happening in the entire dome: an animated projection light up the interior of the dome, and changed based on whether the group of participants tended to relax more or concentrate more. At the same time, a band played improvised music based on how those visuals changed.

The entire thing was beautiful, but it also served a purpose: the team of researchers gathered 550 data sets that night to help them refine the computer software that drove this whole process, called The Virtual Brain. Still in development, the Virtual Brain is a system for modelling the human brain. It can be used to simulate either an individual person's brain, if a researcher has readings from a specific subject, or create a generalized model based on a population.

Dr. Randy McIntosh is VP of research at Baycrest Health Sciences and the project lead for the Virtual Brain. He explains one way the simulator will be able to help in clinical settings, by providing individualized health care: "If you have someone who, for instance, has a stroke and you're considering various therapies, you can test the therapies in the virtual brain first to see which is likely to be most effective."

The data his team gathered at Nuit Blanche was especially significant, McIntosh says, in part because it was collected in such an unusual setting: "The idea is to make [the Virtual Brain] adaptable to any environment. it was really trying to push the technology in directions it can't currently go…If it works in that environment, it can work anywhere."

But it wasn't all about the data, McIntosh added. "This intersection of art and science is really cool because it really does capture the heart of what it is to be a scientist and what it is to be an artist," he went on. "The artists really needed to understand the science and the scientists really needed to understand the art" in order to make the project work. It was a deep collaboration that those who passed through the dome this past weekend certainly appreciated.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Dr. Randy McIntosh, VP of research, Baycrest Health Sciences

Who's Hiring in Toronto? The Ontario Brain Institute, TechSoup Canada, the ROM, and more

The most interesting of the opportunities we've seen this week:

The Ontario Brain Institute, a major hub for research and medical commercialization, has two key positions open. They are looking for a knowledge translation lead and a communications lead; both for their outreach program.

Also looking for communications help is TechSoup Canada, which helps organizations with a social mission--non-profits, charities, social enterprises, and the like--make better use of technology. It's an entry level position, and those with compentence in French are particularly encouraged to apply.

In the environmental sector, the University of Toronto's sustainability office, which is charged with improving that institution's sustainability, is hiring a campaign coordinator to support and supervise a team of 10 students. It's a five month contract, but there may be opportunities to extend.

In senior hires, the Royal Ontario Museum is looking for a new managing director of ROM Contemporary Culture (formerly known as the Institute for Contemporary Culture) to take charge of positioning the centre as it evolves.

And in city-building organizations, non-profit 8-80 Cities, which works to make streets, transportation, and public space vibrant and available to all a city's residents, has two positions open: a director to lead some specific projects, and a more junior project coordinator, to support the organization's work.

Do you know of an innovative job opportunity? Let us know!

MaRS EXCITE reveals first set of participants

Among the many projects coming out of the the innovators at MaRS Discovery District is a new set of three health technologies: an at-home tool for diagnosing sleep apnea, which is correlated with strokes and heart attacks (from ApneaDx Inc.); a new treatment for hypertension (from Medtronic of Canada Ltd.), and a tool to help determine the efficacy of breast cancer treatments (from Rna Diagnostics Inc.).

What those three companies have in common: they are the first set of participants to pass through MaRS's EXCITE program, which is aimed specifically at helping medical innovations succeed in the marketplace.

EXCITE (Excellence in Clinical Innovation and Technology Evaluation) was born out of a recognition that often the path to licensing a new medical technology isn't clearly correlated with marketplace success. Just because Heath Canada approves something, in other words, doesn't mean hospitals or clinics will find it useful--or buy it.  

Monique Albert, EXCITE's manager, says that companies are often surprised at the level of evidence they need to present in order to land sales of their products. Health Canada, she explains, explores the basic questions of product safety and efficacy, but doesn't consider other questions like the comparative cost or efficacy of a new treatment relative to others that are already available. Health Canada also doesn't examine the real-world implementation questions for new products--the precise questions that can determine whether a new product will be accepted clinically.

EXCITE works to bridge this gap by building those market-based questions into the process earlier on: it helps companies with medical devices in development collect the evidence they need on those matters while they are going through the basic licensing process, rather than only thinking of them after the fact.

"Innovators are often so focused on licensing," Albert says, "that they neglect this side of it."

MaRS is expected to do another "Call for Innovation" later this year. 

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Monique Albert, Manager, MaRS Excellence in Clinical Innovation and Technology Evaluation

Ontario Brain Institute secures five years of stable funding

"One in three people in their lifetime will develop a brain disorder," says Jordan Antflick, outreach lead for the Ontario Brain Institute. And right now, we don't do nearly a good enough job of helping many of them.

The Liberal government included a funding announcement for the OBI in the Speech from the Throne that was delivered last week, a sign of how important it is that we make progress on this front.

Created in 2010, the OBI is a non-profit, government funded project whose mission is to bring researchers, government, and the private sector together to help make Ontario a centre for commercialization and a leader in patient care when it comes to treating brain disorders. It began with a three-year funding commitment. After spending some time getting organized and off the ground, OBI pursued work in three areas: neurodevelopment, epilepsy, and cerebral palsy.

This new announcement, says Antflick, covers five years of funding, and will allow OBI to "move out of start-up mode." OBI will continue its work in those initial three research areas, and also be expanding to cover two new ones. Details of the precise funding amount or the brain disorders involved aren't public yet, but Antflick told us those two new areas will have to do with treating the elderly. The first tranche of funding was for $5 million a year.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Jordan Antflick, Outreach Lead, Ontario Brain Institute

MaRS Innovation receives $15 million in funding

Toronto is known for its cutting edge academic and medical research facilities, but the path from the lab to the marketplace isn't always short or direct.

In 2008, with the goal of making the most of the findings coming out of those facilities, 16 leading institutions including Ryerson University, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and OCAD University joined forces to create MaRS Innovation, a collective commercialization agent. (The MaRS Discovery District, the innovation centre for entrepreneurs, is also a member, though they are often confused, MaRS DD and MaRS Innovation are two separate organizations.)

MaRS Innovation was started with the help of a five year, $15 million federal investment, and this month they were glad to announce they've been awarded a new $15 million grant. The new round of funding comes from the federally run Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program.

MaRS Innovation was created, says president and CEO Raphael Hofstein, "to address a very interesting challenge for Canada, which is 'how do you turn outstanding research into something that directly helps the economy?'"

The initial five year period of support, he goes on, was to establish a foundation for the organization. "Now in the next three or four years, we will build the tower on top of the foundation." The first five years gave them a good start, he explains, but it's "a bit of a challenge" as far as the timeline for development with still-emerging technologies. By the end of this second five year period, MaRS will have "meaningful operations"--businesses that have emerged from the research innovations coming out of the member institutions. This funding program, he concludes, "is a game-changer."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Raphael Hofstein, President and CEO, MaRS Innovation

Princess Margaret Hospital receives $50 million donation

It's the single largest ever private donation to cancer research in Canada: $50 million to Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital. The gift comes from Canadian philanthropists Emmanuelle Gattuso and Allan Slaight, who will be making their donation over the next ten years.

It's a personal commitment for them: Gattuso was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and treated at Princess Margaret.

Paul Alofs, president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, announced the donation earlier this month at a press conference. He was joined by Gattuso and Dr. Bob Bell, president of the University Health Network, who said that, "This donation is going to add significant momentum to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre's global leadership in advancing personalized cancer medicine."

The money will go to creating a "superfund" for recruiting researchers in, and accelerating the development of, personalized cancer medicine. Personalized cancer medicine is based on genetic analysis of individual tumours in order to allow for the development of customized treatment plans that target the specificities of any given patient's disease.

The hospital's work in this area includes precision genomics, advanced tumour biology, immune therapy, and molecular imaging, explained research director Benjamin Neel. "We've probably learned more about the basic biology of cancer in the last year than in all of human history before that," he says. Researchers are now learning how to treat cancer far more precisely. Current therapies like chemotherapy provide only blunt tools by comparison.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Princess Margaret Hospital

ScarX Therapeutics receives $250,000 investment

It's not the most pressing medical issue, but it's one that affects almost all of us at some point in our lives: post-surgical scarring. It's not just an aesthetic concern -- though in cases like the treatment of burns, the disfiguring effects of scarring can be life-altering -- since scarring can be painful and, depending on its location on the body, also inhibit movement. A local startup called ScarX Therapeutics is working on commercializing a new treatment for post-surgical scarring, and it's just received a $250,000 cash infusion to help things along.

The investment comes courtesy of the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a non-profit research accelerator funded by the provincial government. It's the first award distributed through Ontario's recently expanded market readiness program. It will allow ScarX to begin clinical trials later this year.

The topical treatment, a cream patients would apply themselves, emerged from research done by Hospital for Sick Children scientist Dr. Benjamin Alman. His work (which has also been supported by MaRS Innovation) actually focused on a rare type of tumour originally, until he realized that a pain-relief treatment he'd come across in the course of that research had the effect of diminishing scar formation. He's still hoping that after the scar treatment, which could serve a much wider group of patients, is finished, the molecule in question can be developed into a treatment for that tumour as well.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ontario Centres of Excellence

OCAD issues report on the future of mobile in Ontario

The presence and capacity of mobile devices have outstripped the services available on them, according to a new report from OCAD University, but dealing with this problem could provide ample opportunity for Ontario, including job creation. 

The Taking Ontario Mobile report examines, "how to engage mobility in order to better realize the full potential of all of Ontario's residents, bring significant increases in productivity, create and retain jobs in the knowledge industries, allow inclusion and engagement, and build on Ontario's extant leadership in the broadcast of mobile industries."

The goal is to lay out some courses Ontario should be charting in order to become more productive, create more jobs, and and increase engagement with the development of new mobile strategies.

In general terms, the report argues that "public services can be delivered in a more cost-effective and efficient manner" with the help of mobile technology -- important at a time where deficit-fighting is the government's prevailing concern. More specifically, the report considers mobile opportunities in five key sectors (some governmental and some commercial).

1) Education, including applications in primary and secondary classrooms, at the post-secondary level, and in retraining to create a more flexible workforce. 

2) Health, for instance providing more efficient care to seniors with remote monitoring.

3) Government services, where a large range of efficiencies may be found by managing data more effectively and making it available more quickly, and where mobile may be an invaluable tool for offering necessary services to rural and remote populations.

4) Cultural industries, where we already have a strong talent pool, can be made even stronger by using mobile to create larger audiences for the work we produce.

5) Commerce, especially significant given that Ontario is home to most of Canada's banks and financial institutions. "The face of m-commerce is still undeveloped," the report finds, "and the area is ripe for design, creating opportunities for the traditional finance sector and for new players."

"Failing to act now," the report warns, "will disadvantage Ontario in numerous ways."

The full text of the report is available online [PDF].

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: "Taking Ontario Mobile" (OCAD)

Federal government invests in 2 seniors health research projects

As Canada's population ages and baby boomers make increasing demands for healthcare support that allows them to live vibrantly and independently, research into technologies and therapies that can provide better quality of life for seniors is ramping up.

The lastest announcement: the federal government is investing nearly $1 million in five research projects aiming to improve seniors' activity levels, including two based in Toronto, at York and the University of Toronto. The projects are funded via the European Research Area on Ageing (ERA-AGE), a Europe-based research program; Canadian participants will be working with colleagues from several European nations, as well as Israel. The overall funding envelope for the projects is approximately $5 million.

The projects tackle a range of issues in seniors' day-to-day lives, ranging from assistive technologies to navigating the complexities of urban life. Toronto researchers will be working on two projects—each of which will receive about $225,000—Healthy Ageing in Residential Places (York University), and Hearing, Remembering and Living Well: Paying Attention to Challenges of Older Adults in Noisy Environments (University of Toronto).

The York University project is exploring ways to use technological supports in the home to allow seniors to maintain both physical and mental activity. The University of Toronto initiative is looking at methods of helping seniors communicate effectively in noisy environments, when it can be harder to make sense of a great deal of incoming auditory information.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Alice Wong, Minister of State  for Seniors

Sick Kids & MaRS Innovation collaborate on new commercialization venture

The Hospital for Sick Children and MaRS Innovation have partnered to create a new vehicle for commercializing new medical technologies.

Bedside Clinical Systems
was formed in March of 2011, with a focus on developing tools that help with clinical care for children. After some pilot studies they are now launching their first tool: Bedside Paediatric Early Warning System (BedsidePEWS).

BedsidePEWS is based on research conducted by a Sick Kids scientist, Dr. Christopher Parshuram, who has a particular interest in patient safety. For several years, says Bedside Clinical Systems CEO Rajesh Sharma, he had been "developing a tool to be an early indicator for kids who might be in danger of cadiac arrest."

That tool is deceptively simple: provide a way for nurses and clinicians to input a patient's vital signs and key health indicators into a monitoring system whenever they are checked, and use those inputs to create a single numerical score to assess the severity of the patient's condition. The advantage, however is that  "it takes the subjectivity out of it," Sharma says. Clinicians no longer need to make tricky judgement calls about, say, whether to wake up an attending physician at 3am if they're not sure whether a patient needs urgent attention. They have an objective measure to rely on.

BCS currently has two full-time staff, and plans to grow to a team of between four to six next year, as they hire for both technical and marketing positions to help find and support customers for this new tool. MaRS Innovation works with member institutions to commercialize "market-disruptive intellectual property."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Rajesh Sharma, CEO, Bedside Clinical Systems
135 Healthcare and Wellness Articles | Page: | Show All
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