Note: This article originally appeared in the Canadian Business Journal.

Why are emerging health technologies so important to the future of Canada’s healthcare system?

First, they provide solutions to major problems faced by patients, clinicians and healthcare systems. For example, better ways to diagnose and treat illness, and solutions that help healthcare systems use their existing assets in smarter ways. Second, is their economic impact as we transition from the industrial age to the innovation age. When our own health systems buy Canadian health technologies, we help validate the company, enabling it to begin exporting to global markets that also need these solutions. The result? A boost to the economy through export revenues and an increased income tax base garnered from the local, high-paying knowledge economy jobs that are generated as health tech companies scale internationally.

What kind of support is critical for the success of health startups?

The journey from idea to global adoption is fraught with challenges and risks. It takes an entire ecosystem to grow a health startup from initial concept through to international sales. First, there is scientific and clinical risk, and the challenge of securing enough capital to fuel the technology’s development. Then, there is market risk as fiscally constrained health systems struggle to pay for new technologies that might not deliver benefits until months or years after their purchase. To succeed, a startup needs many kinds of support — ranging from business strategy and clinical expertise to regulatory expertise and risk capital.

Which area could see the biggest gains from innovative health technologies?

Cancer control has great potential for breakthrough changes because there is still so much unmet need and it is one of only a few diseases in Canada that is organized into a contiguous system. That is, resources are allocated holistically, spanning prevention through to palliative care. Because these elements are already connected, the transformation of any aspect of cancer could ripple into upstream and downstream benefits in the patient pathway. Ontario’s Alpha Cancer Technologies is one of many emerging Canadian health startups that are translating our public and private research investments into useful products and services to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage cancer. Within cancer, two areas with high promise are personalized medicine and advanced predictive algorithms that exploit big data to prevent people from getting cancer in the first place.

Zayna Khayat

Zayna Khayat was the Senior Advisor of Health System Innovation at MaRS and Director of MaRS EXCITE. See more…