Archive for the ‘Biotechnology and Life Sciences’ Category

Health Innovation Week Showcases Canadian Medical Technology Advancements

This year marked the 6th annual MaRS Health Innovation Week (HIW), Canada’s largest gathering of health startups, investors and the health ecosystem, as over 4,000 attendees collected to network, secure funding, and learn from industry experts.  HIW events were focused around three key conferences this year including HealthKick Adopt, HealthKick Investment, and HealthKick Focus.

Health Innovation Week 2019, Healthkick Invest

HIW kicked off with HealthKick Adopt, where health institutions, decision-makers and entrepreneurs came together to drive the adoption of the latest health solutions in local and foreign markets. The HIW Healthkick Focus events explored “How AI Will Transform the Pharma Industry” and “The Intersection of Innovation and Aging.”  

Next came HealthKick Invest, which is the largest early-stage health investment conference in Canada.  It provided a platform for attendees to connect with global venture capital funds, family offices, angel investors and other capital partners through a series of investment panels, networking events, one-on-one meetings and the HealthKick Challenge pitch competition.

Medical technology startups pitched to Canadian and U.S VCs, other investors, c-suite leaders and industry partners for a chance win up to $25000 in cash prizes as well as in-kind services valued up to $10000 at the Healthkick Pitch competition. The competition showcased 16 Medical devices, pharma & biotech, and digital health companies, and three finalists were then chosen from each industry category.  The pitch competition prize was awarded to Nanology Labs, a pharmaceutical company that harnesses advanced nanotechnology to detect and treat cancers at the early stages. In kind services were awarded to the runners up, Managing Life, an industry-leading digital pain management solution, and ImmunoBiochem Corporation an oncology biotechnology company that is innovating the targeting of heterogeneous solid tumors.  

Healthkick Pitch Competition Finalists (Top left: Christopher Jones, Partner at Blakes. Top right: Mohammad Ali Amini, CEO at Nanology Labs. Bottom left: Tahir Janmohamed, CEO at Managing Pain. Bottom right: Anton Neschadim, CEO at ImmunoBiochem)

Fundraising panel discussions provided attendees with the opportunity to gain investor insights on deal making, raising capital, expectations following investment, and the effects of public markets on private health investing. The panel emphasised the importance of startups having alignment with the investor, understanding what value the investor brings to the table other than just money, and maintaining trust and transparency with investors after the close.   

Investing panel discussions ran in parallel with the Fundraising panels and addressed digital health, medical device and therapeutics investing, multinational partnering and corporate venture capital investing, as well as Angels and family offices investing in Health. The investing panels wrapped up with a discussion on “Why Invest in Canada,” which identified Canada’s medical technology infrastructure and talent arbitrage as major advantages amidst current political and economic volatility. But the panel also highlighted a lack of Canadian aspiration, emphasizing the need for a change in mindset to dream bigger in order to create anchor companies and advance medical technology commercialization.  

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Elevate TechFest Sets the Stage for Canadian AI – Powered Medicine

For the second year in a row, Elevate TechFest, Canada’s largest technology and innovation festival, took over downtown Toronto in September as over 10,000 members of the tech community, including investors, government, media, start-ups, talent and next generation innovators all gathered to “disrupt together, celebrate diversity and inclusiveness, and proudly showcase the best of Canadian innovation.”

As a community driven festival, Elevate provides a shared stage for Canada’s booming high tech startup ecosystem to showcase their work, and to learn and network through numerous events, educational presentations, award ceremonies, and social gatherings. The result is an exceptionally inclusive and collaborative entrepreneurial platform which highlights Canada’s greatest competitive advantage to attract talent and investment for the next generation of innovation.

This is particularly relevant in the fields of AI and health/medical technology, with Canada being uniquely poised to drive AI innovation in the healthcare field as a global leader in AI technology with its universal healthcare system. Canada’s strength in AI and medical technology was emphasized throughout the various Elevate events and tracks by the prevalence of growing companies developing machine learning and digital health solutions with the goal of democratizing AI powered medicine.

Industry leaders such as Al Gore, Eric Schmidt, Tobias Lutke, Minister Navdeep Bains, Whitney Wolfe Herd and Wyclef Jean, shared the main stage on September 25 to discuss the role of technology and collaboration in shaping the future.

Keynote: How Technology Drives Global Change with Al Gore

Keynote: How Technology Drives Global Change with Al Gore

In a fireside chat moderated by co-founder and CEO of Canada Learning Code, Melissa Sariffodeen, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains discussed the federal Economic Strategy Table interim report and ‘How Canada Wins’ with Tobias Lutke, Shopify CEO and the Chair of the Digital Industries group (that is advising the government on improving the digital economy). The Economic Strategy Tables are a new model for industry-government collaboration that were announced as part of the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan to support economic growth in six key sectors: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, digital industries, health/bio-sciences and resources of the future. According to Lutke, Canada needs more “anchor” or “freight train” companies which have “an outsized impact on the ecosystem.”

Top Canadian AI startups were invited to pitch their ideas for a chance to win $1,000,000 and the attention of international media, investors and global tech leaders at the ElevateR pitch competition taking place as part of the Main Stage events. Finalists Elucid labs and Aifred Health pitched live before Al Gore’s keynote address. Elucid Labs, a Waterloo based company that is developing a non-invasive digital biopsy device for detecting and diagnosing dermatological disease, was named the people’s choice winner. Aifred Health, the runner-up in the competition, is a Montreal based company using machine learning to increase treatment efficacy in mental health by creating a deep-learning based clinical decision tool for physicians to bring personalized medicine to psychiatry.

ElevateR 7

2018 ElevateR Pitch Competition – AI Edition

During the event, Toronto based Daisy Intelligence, an AI software-as-a-service company targeting the retail and insurance industries, announced that they had secured a $5M investment from Espresso Capital. Daisy Intelligence CEO, Gary Saarenvirta, acknowledged government funding programs such as SR&ED in supporting the company.

Aifred’s CEO, David Benrimoh spoke about ‘A new hope for personalized Mental Health’ as part of the Elevate Educate Health track on September 26, which provided a platform for discussions emphasizing the growth and impact of technology solutions in mental health. The track featured keynote discussions on topics such as ‘Democratizing access to mental health using technology’ by Sam Duboc, Chair and CEO of Beacon, and ‘Chat Bot solution for mental health’ by Lexi Kaplin and Alexandra Reeves of Conversation Health.

Using innovation for better access to mental healthcare with Alisa Simon, Hemai Parthasarathy, Sam Duboc, and Sean Kidd.

Adjoining the Health track at Elevate Educate, the Cannabis track featured keynote speakers from federal, academic and industry policy experts, thereby providing a shared stage for an open dialogue for patients, growers, innovators, and healthcare providers on pain management, cannabis legislature, and technology solutions.

Opioid Crisis and the Cannabis Opportunity with Kelly Narine of Aurora, Ed Sellers of the University of Toronto, Dr. Bernard Le Foll, Dr. Michel Verbora from Aleafia and moderator Ying Tam Managing Director, Health Ventures at MaRS

The strength of Canadian Medtech companies was particularly emphasized at the Elevate Educate AI track by several growing startups that are pushing the boundaries of AI powered medical technology. Various companies attended, such as Phenomic AI, which is developing deep learning solutions to automate and accelerate drug discovery; BenchSci, a reagent intelligence platform; Swift Medical, which is developing  the world’s most advanced and comprehensive wound care management software; tealbook, a platform providing centralized supplier  knowledge and discovery, and Cloud DX, a medically accurate, consumer/clinical vital sign platform.

AI Spotlight: Automating Drug Discovery with Oren Kraus of Phenomic AI

AI Spotlight: Automating Drug Discovery with Oren Kraus of Phenomic AI


AI Spotlight: How AI Will Transform B2B with Stephany Lapierre of tealbook

AI Spotlight: How AI Will Transform B2B  with Stephany Lapierre of tealbook

The rapid growth of AI and  availability of data in the age of information also raised important ethical discussions on the Elevate AI stage in regards to ownership, trust, use of information, data breaches, questionable data practices, and privacy debates. And there could not be a better time or place for these discussions to occur than in the country that has produced some of the most well known experts in AI, such as deep Learning pioneers Geoffrey Hinton and Joshua Bengio. When discussing the role of Canada in the AI revolution at the 2017 Elevate AI track, Bengio noted that “we had the foresight to invest in something risky…and we built something in terms of critical mass.” As a global leader in disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, FinTech and Blockchain, which will radically transform how we live, work and interact, Canada is emerging as a lucrative and inclusive epicenter of the advanced technology revolution which is drawing global talent, ideas, and investment. In particular, the startup community in the Waterloo-Toronto tech Corridor has exploded over the past few years, especially in areas such as AI and Medtech, thereby attracting private and public investment. Speaking at the 2018 Elevate TechFest,  Layer 6 AI co-founder and chief AI office for TD Bank, noted that “We are at a unique moment time when this industry around artificial intelligence is first starting to grow and we need to jump on this opportunity… we have an opportunity to transform the world.”

The New Normal? Institutionalizing Ethics in the Age of Algorithm with Hessie Jones, Carolina Bessega,  Ann Cavoukian,and Carol Piovesan,

The New Normal? Institutionalizing Ethics in the Age of Algorithm with Hessie Jones, Carolina Bessega, Ann Cavoukian, and Carol Piovesan.

Trust as a Value Creator: The Georgian Impact Model with Jason Brenier of Georgian Partners
Trust as a Value Creator: The Georgian Impact Model with Jason Brenier of Georgian Partners

Elevate Main Stage, Co-founder and CEO Razor Suleman announced the festival’s 2019 theme, Moonshots, following the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Next year’s festival will welcome acclaimed Canadian astronaut and bestselling author Chris Hadfield as a keynote speaker on the Main Stage. Chris and Helene Hadfield will serve as 2019 Co-chairs of the Elevate Founders Board. “We couldn’t think of anyone better than Chris Hadfield to help us explore far-reaching ideas and the future of tech and innovation at Elevate,” said Suleman.


Elevate: Moonshots will run from September 23-27, 2019.

Get your tickets today!

EVERY DROP COUNTS: Green Week Conference 2012 – Conserving water through innovation.

Water is essential for sustaining life, as well as our economy. With less than one percent of the world’s fresh water currently accessible for direct human use, water supplies are now a major global concern impacting not only our daily lives but also our business strategies.

Throughout last week, thousands of individuals had gathered for the 2012 Green Week conference in Brussels and around Europe with the goal of addressing resource efficiency and a focus on the conservation of water, one of our most precious yet scarce resources.

Over the years, Green Week has flourished into the biggest annual conference on European environment policy, and is dedicated its focus this year on assessing the facts and opportunities that water consuming sectors present in order to develop a “coherent approach to maximize the benefits of current policy framework and minimize conflicts between water policy and other policy objectives” as stated by Janez Potočnik, European commissioner for the environment in his welcoming message.

According to a water scarcity fact sheet provided by the European commission, approximately 247,000 million cubic meters of water are annually extracted from ground and surface sources such as lakes and rivers just in the EU. 44% of abstracted water is used by the energy production sector for cooling processes, although most of the water is returned to the source at a slightly higher temperature. An additional 24% of the abstracted water is consumed by the agriculture and food production sectors, 17% for public water supply and 15% percent for industry and manufacturing.

In comparison, Canadian usage of water is more than nine times greater than that of the U.K., and more than double that of a 16-country average, surpassed only by the United States. Canada’s high usage of water can be at least partially attributed to the low cost of water in such a water rich country. In fact, Canada provides 7% of the world’s renewable supply of freshwater and is therefore, under global hydropolitical pressure to export water, while avoiding negative impacts to the ecosystem and reducing domestic water consumption.

Industry is Canada’s largest water user, employing over half of all water used in Canada for cooling machinery, producing energy, cleaning goods, and as a solvent. Thermal electric power producers account for almost 77% of water usage, followed by the manufacturing industry that accounts for 15% of the water used in Canada mainly for the production of pulp and paper, metals and chemical products. The mining, oil and gas industries make use of just 2% of the total water consumed, while the agricultural industry utilizes approximately 6% of all water used in Canada mainly for the purposes of irrigation; however, when accounting for the fact that agricultural use of water is highly inefficient, returning only 30% of water consumed, agriculture represents the largest Canadian consumer of water (National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, 2011).

The development of processes with increased conservation of water is now more critical than ever for the Canadian industry, and requires a dedication of corporate resources to conduct research and development of more efficient and sustainable methods of production for reduced water and energy consumption. To mediate the costs of research and development of energy efficient industrial production methods, Canada offers one of the most lucrative Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentives around the world allocating over $3 billion to companies in Canada who are creating new or improving existing products and processes.

As one of the highest producers and consumers of water per capita in the world and fueled by generous tax incentives, Canada is optimally positioned to develop the most innovative, efficient and sustainable methods for the conservation of water.

Read more about the SR&ED in various industries

Reactions to The U.S. Bioeconomy Blueprint: Innovation and concerns loom on the horizon.

The 2012 U.S. National Bioeconomy Blueprint was announced on April 26th with the purpose of assessing strategic objectives to maximise on the U.S. bioeconomy potential and to highlight ongoing efforts to meet those objectives.

However, many are concerned that the blueprint predominantly focuses on economic development while insufficiently addressing regulations to minimise social and environmental impact.

The blueprint attributes growth in the current U.S. bioeconomy sector to the development of three foundational technologies including genetic engineering, DNA sequencing, and automated high-throughput manipulations of biomolecules. It goes on to emphasise the reliance of tomorrow’s bioeconomy on the development of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology (engineering of microbes and plants), proteomics (study and manipulation of proteins in an organism), and bioinformatics (application of computational techniques to biological and related data).

The National Bioeconomy Blueprint describes five strategic objectives with the potential to generate economic growth and address societal needs.

1. Support R&D investments that will provide the foundation for the future U.S. bioeconomy in order to overcome market failures that occur when private investors are unable to collect on the full benefits of their investments and provide smaller investments in technology than the socially optimal level. This is dependent on the expansion and development of essential technologies, integration of approaches across fields and the implementation of improved funding mechanisms.

2.  Facilitate the transition of bioinventions from research lab to market, including an increased focus on translational and regulatory sciences. This relies on acceleration of progress to market to move innovation beyond the laboratory, enhancement of entrepreneurship at universities to facilitate the path from research to commercialization, and the utilization of Federal Procurement Authority to drive the creation and growth of new bioeconomy markets.

3. Develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health. This involves improved regulatory processes and regulations to enhance predictability and reduce uncertainty in regulatory processes and requirements as well as collaboration with stakeholders to inform efforts, stream­line processes, reduce costs and response times while simultaneously maintaining  safety and benefit to public health.

4.  Update training programs and align academic institution incentives with student training for national workforce needs at the K-12 and undergraduate levels. This will result from employer-educator partnerships and redeveloped training programs.

5. Identify and support opportunities for the development of public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations where competitors pool resources, knowledge, and expertise to learn from successes and failures.

In introducing the bioeconomy blueprint panel discussion that followed the blueprint announcement, panel moderator and microbiologist Dr. Bonnie Bassler describes the Obama administration as “committed to investing in biological research with the overarching goal of strengthening America’s bioeconomy”.

While the blueprint recognises that biotechnological experimentation carries inherent potential risks if applied improperly, it contends that that ethical and safety issues raised by major advances are top administrative priorities that “go beyond the scope of this [blueprint].”  Rather, the blueprint is “a guide for departments and agencies to ensure that the investments they make in the sector will be well coordinated and highly likely to generate real economic impact,” according to the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Director John P. Holdren in his announcement of the blueprint.

Panel member Dr. Rina Singh, spoke on behalf of Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents many of the largest oil and petrochemical producers, and discussed innovation in industrial biotechnology, or the application of life sciences to conventional manufacturing and synthetic processes, through the use of wild type or genetically enhanced microbes.  Dr. Singh paints a picture of vast manufacturing application possibilities to revolutionize the way we make and use energy, where she envisions biorefineries replacing petroleum refineries, the same way that petroleum once replaced whale oil.

However, many are concerned that the reallocation of efforts to harvest above ground sources of fuel “ignores the lessons to be learned from experiences” and that the reliance on biomass for fuel and raw materials ”will inevitably place an extremely heavy toll on food security, and further escalate forest and biodiversity destruction, land grabbing, and climate change,” according to the Global Forest Coalition 2012 report titled “Bioeconomy versus Biodiversity.”

These concerns were shared by Eric Hoffman, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth who commented that the bioeconomy blueprint “largely seems to be an endorsement for the biotechnology industry to rush ahead without any real oversight.”

A more welcomed blueprint emphasis was placed on efforts to incite collaboration among many various federal and private research agencies alongside the creation of a newly trained workforce in order to achieve novel products, processes and applications.

An example of collaborative potential for innovation was provided by panel member and cellular and molecular pharmacology expert  Dr. Keith Yamamoto who discussed the applicability of precision medicine, which builds on the collaboration of non-traditional fields in the biomedical arena such as engineering and mathematics as well as patient data to generate medical solutions for diagnoses and treatments of diseases that are tailored to individual patients rather than decisions based on statistical risk factors across large populations.

Dr Yamamoto emphasizes that the evolution of such highly specified methodologies heavily relies on a reassessment of academic process in graduate education and non Ph.D. level in order to rapidly create a much needed new work force and a collaborative continuum among discovery researchers, academia, industry entrepreneurs, foundations, government funding and regulatory agents and patients.

The reassessment of academia incentives was also discussed by the 2001 World Food Prize winner and panel member Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen who noted that biological science applications have contributed to yearly increases in food sources, provided food security in many parts of the world; however, he remarks that “the job is not done yet” and further research is needed to achieve what he calls “sustainable amplification” of food to ensure people eat enough and yet not too much to avoid burdening the health care system.

Dr. Per Pinstrup-Andersen believes that for progress to occur, there is a strong need to eliminate what he calls “disciplinary silos” which limit research teams by incentivizing research in narrow areas to produce publications and receive funding. He argues that collaboration requires incentives that stretch beyond money, incentives such as promotions, publication and conferences to support collaboration of interdisciplinary teams.

Similar collaborative efforts are at the forefront of Canadian innovation, with federal government incentives supporting the commercialisation of innovation from the lab by increasing its contribution to the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program by an additional $110 million each year.  Furthermore, the Canadian federal Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program is central in supporting R&D in Canada. As a world leader in health and life sciences, Canada is home to some of the top biotechnology research facilities in the world, which rely on government funding to alleviate the costs of research. In 2010, $768 million was spent on R&D by pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers, and another $414 million on R&D relating to navigational, measuring, medical and control instruments. Such research was supported by the Canadian government who had contributed $3.47 billion between 2010 and 2011 to support innovative companies through the SR&ED program.

With so much potential innovation on the horizon, global competition is increasing the need to continue investing in research. As such, biotechnology companies conducting R&D in Canada are strongly encouraged to leverage federal and municipal incentives like the SR&ED tax credit to reinvest funds back into research and commercialization which otherwise may not be affordable, allowing them to get ahead of the competition.   

Read more about SR&ED in the biotechnology sector.

U.S. Announces National Bioeconomy Blueprint

The biotechnology sector has been eagerly awaiting the announcement of a national bioeconomy plan by the Obama administration that is expected to be released today.  The White House blueprint intends to spur development of renewable resources such as crops and biofuels as well as biological manufacturing processes.

Since President Obama’s announcement last September that a bioeconomy blueprint was in development, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has sought and received public commentary regarding potential blueprint contents and challenges from 135 individuals and organizations.

The compiled blueprint discusses improvements to education and work force training, increased collaboration among the private and public sectors, commercialization of discoveries through corporate involvement with academia, and awarding of prizes for innovation to support research and development.  The report also outlines a strategy to provide faster and more predictable regulation, which may help mediate stringent and opaque F.D.A. regulations that hinder potential investments, while keeping unsafe products off the market.

According to an article by Andrew Pollack of the New York Times, a significant portion of the report details programs are already being implemented.  It is therefore unclear whether the blueprint will insight any changes, which builds anticipation for potential game-changers in the administrative blueprint announcement, especially when   global competition in biotechnology is exceedingly palpable.

On the home turf , the Canadian biotech sector was pleased to see that the recent 2012 Canadian federal budget maintained the Scientific Research and Experimental Development  (SR&ED) program largely intact, continuing to support more than basic labour costs (which is crucial is crucial for capital- intensive biotechnology companies using state of the art equipment), and keeping the enhanced investment tax credit (ITC) refundability rate at 35 percent to support growth of small- and medium-sized CCPCs.

The release of the bioeconomy blueprint could not have come at a better time as biotech industry leaders are preparing to gather for the BIO 9th  annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing, on April 29- May 2 in Orlando, FL.,  to exhibit, discuss and invest in current technological trends and advancements with the aim of delivering innovative technological solutions to the global market.

In a statement released on October 13 2011, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President and CEO Jim Greenwood applauded president Obama’s decision to focus efforts in the biotechnology sector, “the National Bioeconomy Blueprint can leverage investments across the country in biotechnology research and development to create jobs and spur biological innovation on a grand scale.”

But not everyone agrees. Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, believes that a biomass economy threatens the ecosystem and paves the way for increased land grabs, hunger, and control of land and food production by large agri-business. In his article, “Beware the Biomass Economy,” Thomas warns that “the production of liquid fuels (so-called Biofuels or agrofuels) from biomass is the poster child of the new bio-based economy and also the most controversial part. World Bank figures reveal that up to 75% of the global rise in food prices in 2008 that led to massive hunger and unrest worldwide was due to the biofuels policies of the US and Europe that were directing corn, soy and other foodstuffs towards fuel production.”

With these considerations in mind, it is a crucial time for the global biotechnology industry, including biotechnology companies, government administration and academia, to take charge of leveraging potential profitability towards research and development with an increased focus on sustainability.

Read more about SR&ED in the biotechnology sector.

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