PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY KELVIN LI
With an aging population, chronic care gaps and ongoing labour shortages, Canada’s healthcare system needs an infusion of innovation. And while healthtech startups have seen massive growth and funding over the last two years, investment has slowed.
The stakes are high for many startups with promising solutions. To develop and commercialize technology that can help provide better care, entrepreneurs require access to capital, talent and sufficient lab space. “Without it, we are losing technology and IP to the U.S. when we could be growing our GDP as they grow and scale here at home,” says Andrew Shaker, who works in health business development at MaRS. “We need to commit to developing these companies at all stages.”
To that end, MaRS is working with two innovation hubs in Montreal — CTS and Concordia’s District 3 — to bring 25 high-potential companies to the HLTH Conference in Las Vegas next week. Banding together as Healthcare Innovation (from) Canada, the delegation aims to promote Canadian talent and expose them to U.S. and global markets. The event is new, and so is the collaboration. ”Each of us is too small to do something like this alone,” says Dr. Amol Deshpande, who heads up the health sciences team at MaRS. “The idea that we are now collaborating among organizations but also across borders showcases what the Canadian innovation ecosystem can do.”
From harnessing AI to accelerate drug developments to deploying robotics to help in patient transfers, meet 12 companies with game-changing innovations.
What it does: Moving an immobile patient in a hospital or nursing home is a high-contact process that requires two to eight staff members. The process can injure healthcare workers and cause indignity for the patient. Able Innovations CEO Jayiesh Singh volunteered in a long-term care home and CTO Phil Chang had a prolonged stay in a healthcare facility — they know first-hand the urgent need to improve how patients are transferred in and out of bed. The company has developed a robotic medical device that allows a single caregiver to move patients painlessly.
Its impact: So far, the Toronto-based company has raised $7.5 million to help scale its healthtech device, which could improve the quality of care in healthcare facilities and nursing homes facing acute staff shortages.
What it does: Dr. Stephen Graham and his team at Moncton-based Breathe Biomedical are working to make breath analysis the new standard for early disease detection. Its novel infrared breath analysis technology makes it possible to screen for diseases like lung and breast cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s long before symptoms appear. Patients provide a simple breath test in their doctor’s office, clinic or pharmacy. Within minutes, the device translates the sample into data, and AI identifies disease biomarkers at a molecular level.
Its impact: Early disease detection saves lives. Breathe Biomedical‘s technology could make routine screening fast, simple and accessible and affordable.
What it does: Cedience’s founders, Amin Osmani and Vamsidhar Rajula, are on a mission to speed up drug development by making it easier for all pharmaceutical companies to access the information they need. The Toronto-based company has developed an AI platform that reconstructs and reviews the current regulatory pathway of medications on the market, helping research teams learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating unnecessary experiments.
Its impact: By leveraging existing data to get to regulatory approvals more quickly, the platform could help reduce delays in bringing innovative drugs to market.
What it does: After watching his grandmother suffer from complications with pelvic organ prolapse, medical device engineer Derek Sham was inspired to develop a better solution. Using ultrasound, cloud software and AI, Cosm offers the world’s first personalized pelvic prosthetics, which are 3D-printed and filled with medical-grade silicone.
Its impact: Cosm promises a significant impact on an underserved and stigmatized women’s health issue. Clinical studies show that one in four adult women is affected with pelvic floor disorders (PFDs). Current prosthetics have a 30 percent failure rate, a drop rate of 50 percent within one year and complications in 56 percent of users.
What it does: Ditch Montreal’s team of entrepreneurs, engineers, psychologists and pharmacologists uses AI and a powerful app that acts as a behavioural assistant to tackle nicotine addiction. A medical vaporizer connects to a personalized app to deliver gradually decreasing doses seamlessly.
Its impact: In 2019, smoking killed nearly 8 million people. By addressing the biological, social and psychological factors of nicotine addiction, Ditch’s unique system has the potential to combat disease, save lives and significantly lower healthcare costs.
What it does: Divergence Neuro uses a combined wireless EEG headset and app to make mental healthcare more effective. Patients put on a wireless EEG headset that communicates stress levels to an app they access through their mobile phones. Therapists can easily monitor and track patient responses and can program the app with a customized treatment plan. Plus, the app features sound and animation designed to keep patients engaged and help to reinforce new habits and behaviours.
Its impact: Divergence Neuro is exploring deploying its technology as a scalable treatment system for therapists and an affordable solution for employee health and workplace wellness.
What it does: Homecare Hub connects seniors and developmentally disabled people and their families to resources in their community. Its online platform helps them find safe, reliable, accredited home caregivers matching their needs. The Toronto-based company also serves as a social connection for people to share services and activities or create co-living arrangements in their neighbourhood.
Its impact: The pandemic highlighted the urgent need to address challenges in long-term care and combat senior isolation. Homecare Hub’s easy-to-use platform could help reimagine and humanize long-term and home healthcare.
What it does: Linda Lifetech began in Brazil, where 37 percent of women had never had a mammogram. Luis Renato Lui and his team are determined to change that stat through technology. This social impact startup uses thermal contrast and AI to quickly detect malignant breast tumours less than 1 centimetre in diameter — without queues, contact or compression. Physicians take an in-office snapshot image of the breast with a mobile phone. Linda’s AI analyzes the image for lesions and suspicious patterns and alerts the clinician to the need for further tests.
Its impact: Easy to use and cost-effective, this screening technology has the potential to greatly expand access to early detection of breast cancer, the world’s most prevalent cancer.
What it does: Experts at eHealth Innovation and University Health Network (UHN) teamed up to help patients self-manage their heart health, receive faster, more focused care and optimize clinicians’ time. Toronto-based Medly enables heart failure patients to record their weight, blood pressure, heart rate and symptoms on a smartphone. The app provides instant feedback based on a pre-set treatment plan and alerts clinicians of any concerns. A web-based dashboard enables clinicians to assess and respond quickly.
Its impact: In patients aged 70 and up, Medly has an adherence rate of 80 percent. And in peer-reviewed publications, the app has shown a 50 percent reduction in heart failure–related hospitalizations. With additional applications for diabetes, COPD and hypertension, Medly is providing an effective way for people to manage chronic disease.
What it does: Montreal’s Paperplane mixes medicine with interactive entertainment, transporting young patients from pain to play. Its therapeutic video games reduces pain and anxiety in youth aged five to adolescent when undergoing medical care. Current games are being utilized with COVID vaccinations and for patients undergoing MRIs.
Its impact: Children’s medical procedures are stressful for kids, parents, caregivers and healthcare workers. In studies, the startup has found that 80 percent of patients are less anxious. Fifty percent feel less pain and 30 percent feel none.
What it does: Medication dosage errors are three times more common with children compared to adults. Nura has developed a life-saving arm bracelet that takes the guesswork out of determining a child’s weight to ensure healthcare practitioners administer the correct dose.
Its impact: Studies by this Montreal-based company indicate that its arm bracelet technology could provide a 50 percent reduction in pediatric IV medication errors.
What it does: Montreal-based Statera uses orthopedic technology to create smart prostheses for diseased and injured joints that are effective today, adjustable tomorrow. The implant comes equipped with technology that links doctor and patient both during and post-surgery and allows adjustment throughout the implant’s life. Its system reads the patient’s joint, provides objective data to form an accurate diagnosis and adapts surgery to the results.
Its impact: Surgical and follow-up scheduling, mobility loss and healthcare congestion make arthroplasty complicated. Statera can help rewrite the story of orthopedic surgery.
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