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Healthcare and Wellness : Innovation + Job News

135 Healthcare and Wellness Articles | Page: | Show All

Sunnybrook opens new $160M lab

Last week Canada's Governor General came to town, to offically open the Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics at Sunnybrook.

The new $160 million lab—official acronym: CeRIGT, pronounced "see right" (since they focus on imaging technologies)—was built with the help of $75 million from the federal government's Canada Foundation for Innovation.

About 80 per cent of health-related research happens in hospital-based enterprises, says Dr. Michael Julius, vice president of the Sunnybrook Research Institute, but because a hospital's first and primary focus is providing care to its patients, that research "often gets lost." The new lab's goal is to bring the clinical and research worlds closer together, and foster opportunities to use research to have a more immediate impact on the care that's provided.

"This infrastructure is novel," he says, "in that it is a physical plant that brings our science and their teams, and our clinicians and their teams, all working together shoulder to shoulder."

Julius gives a few examples of the kinds of collaborations that are already in progress, calling them harbingers of what's to come. One such instance: researchers who are monitoring cancer therapies as they are administered in real time, enabling clinicians to decide whether a particular course of treatment is working within a week rather than by running tests on patients three or four months later.

The lab includes 30 private sector partners, and will create opportunities for about 10 or 15 new principal researchers, each of whom may have a team of up to 10 trainees and assistants.

Author: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Dr. Michael Julius, Vice President, Sunnybrook Research Institute

New grant will help medical technologies businesses expand into foreign markets

The federal government is investing in a new support program for small- and medium-sized medical technology companies hoping to expand their reach.

MP Ted Opitz (Etobicoke Centre) made the announcement earlier this month: $990,000 is being granted to Etobicoke-based MEDEC, a medical technology association, to disburse to southern Ontario businesses in increments of up to $30,000 each. Those grants, says MEDEC-CMMA executive director Mary Palmer, will enable the recipients to grow by helping them increase their presence in foreign markets.

The program is officially called New Horizon; recipients will each receive cost-sharing grants for eligible expenses in export development. Those grants will be geared to small companies who have never exported their products before, or to those who have but wish to pursue new markets. Among the kind of costs this grant might cover Palmer lists: "hiring a foreign consultant to do a feasibility assessment... it could be use to help get their product registered, do marketing materials for the foreign markets." In short, everything from technical and operational elements to promotion may be included. The key, Palmer says, is to add "incrementality" to the companies' business plans—to add capacity and help them do more rather than to defray the costs of their current operations.

The grants are expected to lead to the creation of up to 30 new jobs, encompassing everyone from scientific and technological experts to operations support and marketing staff. Eligibility and selection criteria are online; an online application process is expected to launch by early November.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Mary Palmer, Executive Director, MEDEC-CMMA

$5.4M invested in new Alzheimer's technologies

As the country's demographic profile shifts, more and more attention is being paid to the diseases of old age—diseases which, as life spans increase, will correspondingly increase in frequency. Recently, the federal government announced a $5.4-million investment into bringing new Alzheimer's treatments to market.

The investment, announced by Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology (also responsible for Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario), will facilitate the creation of the Centre of Innovation Excellence for Alzheimer's Care with the new B'nai Brith Alzheimer's Home. That new centre will host what's being described as an "innovation laboratory" to test new Alzheimer's-related technologies, ranging from diagnostic tests to monitoring tools. The Centre of Innovation Excellence for Alzheimer's Care (based at the University of Western Ontario) is a partner in the new project, as are several local health care companies. 

Among the tools whose efficacy and marketability they will be testing are technologies that facilitate communication between Alzheimer's patients and family members or friends (an attempt to mitigate the isolation many patients experience), and monitoring tools which allow health care providers to check on a patient's vital signs and status remotely. 

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Gary Goodyear

Feds work with York U, NexJ & McMaster to launch cloud computing system for medical care

Though it can take decades and be fraught with peril—witness any number of eHealth controversies in Ontario—Canadian jurisdictions are gradually making headway in their quest to modernize the delivery of healthcare in this country. The latest initiative: storing medical records via cloud-based tools, to allow both patients and healthcare providers to access them easily, quickly and from anywhere.

Last week the federal government announced what it is calling the Connected Health and Wellness Project, which will aim to drastically simplify our ability to access our own medical files. The project is spearheaded by a partnership between York University, North York-based NexJ Systems (which specializes in cloud software) and McMaster University. It will see the creation of a set of online tools which will allow patients, their health care providers and supporting parties (such as family members involved in medical care) the capacity to access and share information, and also to work collaboratively on ongoing health management issues. For example, a diabetic patient could automatically update her file with the latest information about her diet, exercise and insulin levels, while a nurse or physician could moniter that patient's status remotely by accessing that information in real time.

The Federal Economic Development Agency will be contributing $15.5 million to the project; private investment partners have contributed more than $23 million. In total, there are 16 public, private, not-for-profit and academic partners involved, also including George Brown and Seneca colleges, the University Health Network and Research in Motion.

One potential growth area opened up by projects like this is the relatively new field of health coaching, which governments are hoping will help lower healthcare costs through ongoing management of and support for patients between doctors' appointments.

The technologies being developed under the auspices of the Connected Health and Wellness Projected are expected to be commercialized and reach the market in about two years.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario

New organization lures more clinical trials back to Ontario

Several years ago the Ontario government began noticing a trend: major clinical trials were being conducted here less frequently. Pharmaceutical companies, it turned out, were increasingly choosing to run trials in developing nations, where costs are lower.

Clinical Trials Ontario is a new organization that hopes to combat that trend and attract major clinical trials back to Ontario. The nonprofit, which is right now fully funded by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, wants to make us more competitive again, by making the most of our key advantage: the quality of our research and clinical practices.

"We are not going to compete with emerging economies on an absolute cost levels," says CTO executive director Ronald Heslegrave, "but we do have the support clinically… Quality is as important or more important than cost itself. If you fail on the quality side, the regulators will never approve your product anyways."

CTO's first step will be to streamline the regulatory hurdles that can make it onerous for pharmaceutical companies who need to conduct large-scale trials. Currently, if you want to run a trial with a large population distributed across multiple sites, for instance, you need to get separate sign-off for your trial procedures according to the approval process of each of those sites. Twenty sites? Twenty approval processes. This, says Heslegrave, is unnecessary. "We can devise a centralized approval process which maintains the highest standards in trial protocols, but make the process more efficient and easier to navigate." (Ontario instituted a centralized review system for cancer trials several years ago; CTO hopes to expand that centralized approach to cover other disease areas.)

If Ontario does see an increase in clinical trials, Heslegrave says, there are two key benefits that follow. One is that "we need clinical trials for the health of Ontarians—this provides access to investigational drugs prior to them being approved on the market." The other is a job creation spin-off. "If the trials are conducted here... they are more likely to be analyzed here as well." In other words, our biomedical research sector would grow to provide support for the trials.

CTO's board includes pharmaceutical industry representatives as well as academics and business experts. Collectively, they hope, they can make the case that cost shouldn't be the determining factor in where clinical trials are conducted.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ronald Heslegrave, Executive Director, Clinical Trials Ontario

Sick Kids opens Centre for Genetic Medicine, announces new genome sequencing program

The Hospital for Sick Children opened its new Centre for Genetic Medicine six months ago—quietly, and without much fanfare.

They had a good reason to wait: Sick Kids has just announced that it will be the first hospital in Canada to install cutting-edge genome sequencers, ones that will allow them to sequence a patient's full genome "in a couple of hours, for a thousand dollars."

It's the kind of advancement in medical technology we last saw when MRIs became common, and researchers hope it will usher in a new era in pediatric medicine.

One feature that's distinctive of pediatric patients: a much higher proportion of them are being treated for chronic illnesses compared to the adult hospital populations.

"70 per cent of the patients at Sick Kids come in with chronic disorders that have some kind of genetic component to them," says centre co-director Dr. Steve Scherer. Because such a high percentage of Sick Kids' patients are ill at least in part due to genetic factors, genomic sequencing has the potential to be especially beneficial in a pediatric setting—it is there that genetic research may have its greatest impact.

The long-term goal, Scherer says, is "to sequence the genomes of all of the children who come in the hospital."

That's up to 10,000 genomes a year, once things are fully up to speed. For the first year, the sequencers, supplied by Life Technologies Corporation, will be used in clinical research testing, covering maybe 1,000 patients. The hospital will then incrementally cover more and more of its patients. They are also hiring clinical geneticists, counsellors and other support staff (such as computer scientists with a background in biology or medicine) to manage the large influx of new information they will be processing.

"In a way it's a big experiment," Scherer says. The hospital will inevitably learn as it goes—as, hopefully, will the researchers who have a massive new influx of information to help them provide individualized medical care.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Dr. Steve Scherer, Co-Director, Centre for Genetic Medicine

Ontario Brain Institute receives $11M investment

The Ontario Brain Institute was founded in 2010 to foster collaboration among brain researchers, and develop relationships between those researchers and industry partners who can bring innovations to market.

Helping the institute make good on that goal is the federal government, which recently announced an $11-million investment in OBI. The money will aid the commercialization of 14 separate projects, devices and therapies, and is bolstered by an additional $11 million in private investments OBI has already raised.

A sampling of the projects that will supported by the funding:

- A study of the potential benefits of deep brain stimulation in the treatment of Alzheimer's, led by Dr. Andres Lozano of Toronto Western Hospital
-  A clinical trial of a "site-specific and sustained release-microparticle technology platform" that can deliver drugs directly to the brain, a collaboration between Dr. Robert and Edge Therapeutics Inc.
- Bringing Smarter Kids, a learning tool for pre-school children, online through a variety of virtual platforms, a project coordinated by Dr. Sylvain Moreno (Baycrest Centre for Brain Fitness) and Cookie Jar Entertainment

A total of 28 partners are involved in the projects supported by this funding, including both nonprofits, local private companies and five multi-national corporations.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Michele-Jamali Paquette, FedDev Ontario

Actium Research partners with McMaster to develop stem cell therapies

While stem cell research garners a lot of buzz, the science of taking developing effective therapies from research is still very new.

Hoping to make contributions in this area is Bay Street-based biotech company Actium Research Inc., which has just entered into an agreement with McMaster University to take some of the research being conducted there and use to it bring new cancer drugs to market. While we're used to thinking of stem cells as they pertain to healthy cells in humans and other animals, it turns out the stem cells in this case are cancer stem cells.

A tumour is not made up of just one kind of cell, says Actium president Helen Findlay. In addition to the rapidly multiplying normal tumour cells are cancer stem cells, which "can escape from many forms of treatment and they are the ones that are responsible for cancer recurring or spreading."

Dr. Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, has found a way to grow cancer stem cells and also to do research with normal, adult human stem cells (rather than working, as many researchers do, with embryo or animal stem cell sources). Bhatia's work involves screening both kinds of stem cells against a library of drugs and therapies, to see which target the cancer stem cells, and which might help repair damaged tissue.

For its part, Actium will be working on the development process that will allow drugs—both newly developed ones and existing therapies which have not previously been used in cancer treatment but are found to be effective with this research—to pass through the regulatory process and come to market. Actium will be hiring in a number of areas. Findlay says they "need people with skill sets that do things like look at drug manufacturing, clinical research, designing studies" as it works to raise initial funding.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Helen Findlay, President and Chief Operating Officer, Actium

Mihealth Global Systems Inc. strikes partnership to provide remote patient monitoring

At the intersection of increasing health care costs and growing public comfort with medical information lies Mihealth Global Systems Inc., a company founded on the idea that if patients had quicker, easier ways to communicate with their physicians everyone would benefit. Mihealth provides a secure web portal through which patients can access their medical records, and a smartphone app which lets patients take that information with them wherever they go.

Last week Mihealth announced a new partnership with American company Preventice to expand those digital services. The technology the companies will be implementing falls into the category of body telemetry, a growing category of medical service which allows physicians to keep watch on patients from a distance.

Typically, body telemetry mechanisms have tended to be cumbersome (keeping users from bathing, for instance), but this new one will make the process vastly less burdensome, says Mihealth founder Dr. Wendy Graham.

Graham says it will consist of a "disposable patch the size of a Band-Aid, and a tiny sensor," which will transit information via Bluetooth. Physicians will be able to monitor blood pressure, heart rate and respiration; a later iteration of the device will provide for motion sensors as well, to check sleep patterns and ensure patients are appropriately active.

Like any new medical device, this one will need to make its way through the standard regulatory and approvals processes; Graham hopes that Ontario residents will have access to it within a year. It's a way of saving the health care system money, she points out, by allowing faster, easier patient monitoring, in addition to providing patients with greater freedom.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Wendy Graham, Founder and CEO, Mihealth

Sunnybrook awarded $6.91M to accelerate new heart disease & cancer therapies

Sunnybrook Research Institute, along with Western University and 19 private sector partners, is the beneficiary of nearly $7 million in funding awarded recently by the federal government's Economic Development Agency (known as FedDev). The money will go to developing four imaging technologies Sunnybrook has been working on, and will help accelerate plans to bring those technologies to market.

The medical imaging tools in question have a range of diagnostic and therapeutic applications in the treatment of cancer, strokes and heart disease, and specifically will help facilitate the use of non-invasive treatment methods. These include ultrasound surgery to target and destroy tumours, early monitoring of the effectiveness of chemotherapy, and using magnetic resonance imaging to guide surgeons as they unblock arteries.

In awarding the grant, local MP John Carmichael says the government hopes to help "develop new technologies that will increase the competitiveness of the medical imaging industry in Canada, help diversify our economy, and create high-value jobs."

These tools will also help provide more efficient and in many cases more comfortable health care, increasing the number of procedures that can be done on an out-patient basis and speeding up recovery times. The funding will provide both research and business support as the partners work towards the commercialization of these technologies.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: John Carmichael, MP, Don Valley West

New research & manufacturing facility in Mississauga will double Therapure Biopharma staff to 200

Two years ago, Yonge Street reported on a $27.9-million expansion planned by Therapure Biopharma of its biomanufacturing facility in Mississauga. Late last month, that facility officially opened to pursue research and manufacturing of protein-based bioproducts to meet global demand to treat infectious diseases.

The facility was completed with the help of a $4.2-million grant from the provincial ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. "Ontario's support for Therapure has built upon our strengths in research and manufacturing to help its global clients bring new, innovative medical treatments to patients," said Minister Brad Duguid in a statement.

The company expects the new capacity will double its staff over the next two years to about 200. The company has long been on a growth trajectory: from 13 employees in 2007 to 100 today. "Therapure is thrilled to officially celebrate the opening of its additional Custom Biologics Manufacturing Wing, which will enhance the company's ability to be an international leader in biomanufacturing and meet the needs of a growing market," said company president and CEO Nick Green in the announcement.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Office of the Minister of Economic Development and Innovation Brad Duguid; Thomas Wellner, former president and CEO, Therapure Biopharma Inc.

Toronto-based rapid medical diagnostics company ZBx grows to 11 staff, recognized for innovation

Toronto's ZBx Corporation, based in Don Mills, has grown rapidly after developing the ZAP rapid diagnostic test, which can help identify various ailments on the spot in 10 to 15 minutes, using a single drop of blood drawn from a finger. Founded in 2002 with two employees, the company has now grown to employ 11 staff as it prepares to bring its product to market around the world.

In a speech delivered at ZBx headquarters last week, federal Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear said the company was "a perfect example of what our government wants to achieve with our innovation agenda." He noted that over a period of years, ZBx was a recipient of several grants through the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program.

ZBx president and CEO Doug Ball recently told the National Post that the granting program is "the unsung hero in the Canadian bio-medical sector. They do an excellent job of picking projects to support, assisting entrepreneurs to go where Canadians have never gone."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Michèle-Jamali Paquette, Office of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology); ZBx Corporation, Financial Post

Toronto health tech startup Infonaut lands test contract with UHN

North York-based health technology startup Infonaut's innovative disease surveillance system, Hospital Watch Live, has been generating buzz for a while now—it's been about 18 months since the product was featured in Popular Science magazine, as Yonge Street reported in November 2010. But the system will now be tested in real hospital conditions after Infonaut signed a contract with the University Health Network last month.

After two years of live tests at various hospitals and a full-time simulation at George Brown College, Infonaut CEO Niall Wallace says this 18-month trial will be the "final-stage commercialization test" for the company.

"Innovation is a tough game," he says. "There's invention and then there's innovation. Innovation is when people start paying you for your invention." The system will be tested at Toronto General Hospital in the multi-organ transplant unit. Wallace says Infonaut is very focussed on selling to the US market; hospitals south of the border will be watching results from Toronto General very closely. "It's a very well respected academic and teaching hospital," he says.

The technology is designed to prevent the spread of infectious organisms in hospitals by automating disease surveillance and infection control functions. "Infonaut is the only system that automates and applies these techniques inside the hospital to save money, save lives and create a new gold standard for safety and quality that is driven by evidence and analytics," Wallace said in an announcement. The system tracks the movements of and interactions between patients and staff, while preserving patient privacy, in order to identify chains of transmission and prevent the spread of infections.

In preparation for its final commercialization, the company has been staffing up. Wallace says they've hired five employees in the past 10 weeks, bringing their staff to 12; they continue to hire developers, as well as sales and marketing staff.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Niall Wallace, CEO, Infonaut

Six new Family Health Teams in Toronto create 66 new healthcare jobs

Over the past year, the Ontario Ministry of Health has launch six new Family Health Teams in the city of Toronto, bringing the total number of the innovative, prevention-focused healthcare outlets in the city to 21. Ministry of Health communications officer David Jensen says the new offices will create 66 new positions—46 for health professionals and 20 for administrators—bringing the number of new jobs created by Family Health Teams in Toronto to 331.

Family Health Teams, Jensen describes by email, "are locally driven family healthcare delivery organizations that include family physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, dieticians and a range of other interdisciplinary healthcare providers working collaboratively to provide comprehensive, accessible, coordinated family healthcare. As a collaborative team practice, FHTs emphasize health promotion, disease prevention and chronic disease management. FHTs use information technology as the backbone of system integration, linking patient records across different healthcare settings giving providers timely access to test results and other important data."

According to the Ministry of Health, the 21 branches in Toronto will serve 316,000 patients, including 86,000 who previously did not have a family doctor.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: David Jensen, Communications Branch, Ontario Ministry of Health

Social gardening enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA wins $10K in ClimateSpark Challenge

When the winners of the ClimateSpark Venture Challenge were announced early this month, local "mini-farming" social enterprise Young Urban Farmers CSA (YUFCSA) got a $10,000 shot in the arm. More than that, says the organization's sales manager and board president Chris Wong, they got valuable community feedback and advice during the process of working through the competition.

"It was very helpful for us, as I'd guess it was for most or all of the participants." Through rounds in which feedback was offered by members of the public and by industry experts, the organization was able to hone its message and model. "One example is, we had the chance to focus, hone and quantify our measuring of the greenhouse gas reductions that result from our gardens." The amount of reductions, it turns out, in 2011, was 2091 kg of C02, or 84 kg per participant in the program.

Those reductions come from YUFCSA's efforts to convert residential backyards and front yards into community gardens. Shareholders receive produce farmed by volunteers from neighbourhood mini-farms. In 2010, the organization's first year, they established seven gardens; last year the number grew to 14. This year, with the help of the funding from ClimateSpark, Wong expects to have between 20 and 25 gardens operating.

Wong notes too, that as one round of the competition, participants pitched their ideas directly to potential investors. Many of the companies and organizations who participated hope to gain investment as a result.

The other big winner at the ClimateSpark challenge was Zooshare Biogas, winners of $40,000 for their plan to create energy from the Toronto Zoo's animal waste. 

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Chris Wong, YUFCSA; Toronto Community Foundation
135 Healthcare and Wellness Articles | Page: | Show All
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