I recently had the pleasure of attending Canada 2020 conference on health innovation, where some of Canada’s great innovative thinkers gather to tell their story and debate Canada’s path forward. There was many amazing presentations, topics and concepts shared, but it was one quote that really stood out for me in terms of both its brilliance and its simplicity. The quote was shared by Tyler Wish of Sequence Bio and went something like this:. “Research is the process of turning money into ideas. Innovation is turning research into companies, money, and outcomes.”
Sequence Bio is one of those companies that will turn research into outcomes. They made the unique discovery that residents of Newfoundland are much more genetically similar compared to the rest of Canada and the world. Sequence Bio seeks to leverage this unique population in order to probe the human genome with much less noise, in order to determine druggable targets for genetic disorders. It is called the 100k Genome Project and bold ideas like these are what are needed to move the needle in the Human and Health Sciences.
But it takes a little risk to move the needle. Innovation is intrinsically risky and rewards the bold. People say they want Canada, and specifically Toronto, to become “Silicon Valley North” or “Boston North” for the health sciences. These places have active angels and venture capitalists, deep talent pools, and embedded corporate scouts. These are all things that would be beneficial to growing Toronto’s emerging health science cluster. People in Silicon Valley and Boston recognize success begets success, and a few wins will generate momentum for the entire city.
In Ontario, this is starting to be realized. Recently, Ontario established the Office of the Chief Health Innovation Strategist (OCHIS); an example of forward, progressive thinking. OCHIS recognizes we need to grow the local market with adoption of innovative local products. In essence, we need to be our own reference customers. This will provide the world with confidence in our products as our companies turn to grow and scale through exports. OCHIS is pragmatic in their approach. “It’s really important to be demand driven and outcomes based” says Bill Charnetski, Chief Health Innovation Strategist. To this end OCHIS offers the Health Technologies Fund to support early evaluation, procurement and adoption of home-grown innovative technologies in Ontario’s health care system. Programs like this will provide Ontario’s innovation economy with the competitive edge it needs to compete on a global scale.
As many speakers noted, Canada has a culture of risk aversion that is unquestionably the number one barrier holding the innovation ecosystem back. Some examples state that Torontonians are too often afraid of ending up on the front page of the Toronto Star for the wrong reasons, or are afraid of wasting a dollar. It was questioned whether “Canada is willing to be a global competitor with bold ideas.”
However, two recent announcements have shown the rest world is willing to take a risk on Toronto. Two major investments have been placed in Toronto supporting innovative therapies. Northern Biologics recently merged with Mosaic Biomedicals to become an international leader in antibody technology. Also, the startup Bluerock Therapeutics was formed through a joint venture by Bayer and Versant Ventures, to be the first company to make patient-ready regenerative medicine solutions for truly game-changing therapies to treat the most difficult of diseases. This shows the world trusts innovative therapies coming out of Toronto. These innovative therapies are the future of medicine; Ontario and Toronto can become the leader in bringing them to patients.
Are you moving the needle, is the primary question. With the defining metric, as one patient asked Bill “In two years what will be different as a result of your work?” It is only bold ideas that can honestly say they will make a difference and change the world. Canada, Ontario, and Toronto need to not be afraid of leading the world and embrace their burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit.