Bio.Diaspora: Preventing the next pandemic

Note: This post (and an earlier introductory piece) originally appeared on It is reposted here with permission from the author.

Bio.Diaspora is scientifically validated, operational, web-based technology based at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. It was created to address the growing global threat of infectious diseases, and has attracted interest from public health, biodefense and industry groups worldwide, all of which are looking for real-time, global epidemic intelligence to protect their interests.

However, an important challenge remains:  How do the founders of Bio.Diaspora continue to deliver its social value in the world but also generate the financial returns needed to sustain and expand its global impact? This post explains how MaRS Innovation is helping to maximize the potential of this project.

In 2008, the federal government provided $15 million to help accelerate the commercialization of scientific breakthroughs developed within Ontario’s leading academic and health institutions through the formation of MaRS Innovation.

In June 2011, St. Michael’s Hospital brought Bio.Diaspora to MaRS Innovation for market potential evaluation. Their key findings:

  • Bio.Diaspora’s academic pursuits were successful in anticipating patterns of infectious disease spread, and also in being able to operationalize new anticipatory avenues in global health initiatives.
  • To maximize Bio.Diaspora’s potential, the academic approach followed to date required rescaling.

How could this academic initiative be transformed into a commercial entity capable of meeting the needs of clients while also producing a positive social impact?

Research contracts secured from governments, health agencies and other groups (total ~ $1.5 million to date) have helped in the development and testing of Bio.Diaspora’s proprietary intellectual property. However, the deliverables for each contract restrict R&D directives and are often too focused to establish scale.

Bio.Diaspora needs an infusion of initial capital to develop and test IT infrastructure scenarios with projected high future user volumes, including a number of cloud computing scenarios and training technical trouble-shooting personnel. While these activities fall outside traditional academic grant proposals, they are essential for scaling up Bio.Diaspora–private investors are looking for robustness in these very areas to reduce perceived risk.

Business modeling with the intent for sustainability and profit to further future initiatives is critical to the success of bringing Bio.Diaspora’s initial and future product offerings to market.

Initial market entry will take place in the health sector, where Bio.Diaspora has inherent strengths (clinical/academic) and also where resources are deployed for standards of practice in pandemic response and resolution.

Bio.Diaspora will work closely with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to design an optimal user interface to serve their specific needs for risk analysis and management. The goal is to translate Bio.Diaspora’s accumulated foundational knowledge into a real-time web-based software application for future independent use and integration into current CDC protocols.

In working with this initial client, Bio.Diaspora will gain a wealth of commercial experience in integrating and implementing target market software. Bio.Diaspora will, for example, learn how to work with a client on a continuing, rather than contract-specific, basis. Academically and economically, this will fuel Bio.Diaspora’s future research development by generating more hypotheses for investigation and supporting other health projects within the Canadian and international landscape.

MaRS Innovation is creating a mechanism to commercially scale an academic offering with inherent social impact. The product is scientifically validated and market pull exists. Nevertheless, there are challenges in bridging the gap between academic research and the creation of a financially sustainable entity.

There should be incentives for entrepreneurs who are bringing products and services to market that provide both economic and social benefits. Bio.Diaspora has the potential to significantly impact the way infectious diseases are analyzed for risk management, optimizing global health and minimizing the economic burden to health care systems in a sustainable and ultimately profitable way.