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Canadian health tech can stimulate economic growth while positioning Canadian innovators on a global stage

Canadian health tech can stimulate economic growth while positioning Canadian innovators on a global stage

Posted by PanamericanWorld on March 15, 2016

On Jan. 13, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $20-million investment to create a Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine establishing a stem-cell therapy development facility in Toronto.

In his speech, the prime minister noted that “regenerative medicine is the future and not only is it the future, it’s a branch of medicine that Canada and the province of Ontario are actually quite good at.” And that “the medical advances and innovations happening right here in Toronto are world-class.”

I could not agree more with the prime minister’s sentiments. In 2013, I was asked to serve as the chair of the Ontario Health Innovation Council (OHIC), an advisory body that was created by the Ontario government to accelerate the adoption of new technologies in our healthcare system and support the growth and competitiveness of Ontario’s health technology sector. As chair, I led a team of experts to provide strategic advice on how Ontario could: facilitate technological innovations that promote health and well-being, improve access to health and health services, and deliver effective, efficient, and quality care; use the purchasing power of the province and broader public sector strategically to accelerate the growth of the health technology sector; and expand broader adoption of innovative new technologies across the health-care sector.

A year later, Dr. David Naylor was asked to chair the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation by then federal health minister Rona Ambrose. The panel was asked to identify the five most promising areas of innovation in Canada and internationally that have the potential to sustainably reduce growth in health spending while leading to improvements in the quality and accessibility of care. The panel was also asked to determine ways the federal government could support innovation in those five areas.

Both OHIC and the federal advisory panel released their reports in 2015. While both reports respected the constitutional division of powers regarding health care, they contained a number of shared themes. I believe the reports contain sufficient evidence-based analyses to serve as a baseline for FPT partners to establish a meaningful and sustained dialogue on the need for governments to invest in and create incentives for health care innovators, and knock down barriers that hamper access to those technologies when they are being developed and eventually brought to market.

While we must respect the approaches of various governmental stakeholders when it comes to their involvement in incubating health-care innovation, what is clear is that we no matter how small the actor, we all have a role to play. The newly-elected federal government can take a leading role in coordinating these efforts. 

As a former Canadian astronaut, aquanaut and former director of life sciences at NASA Johnson Space Centre, I have been fortunate to have worked with cutting-edge and innovative technologies. As president and CEO at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont., I am committed to working to help foster and incubate health-care innovation. In 2015, Southlake opened the doors of its centre of innovation, aptly named CreateIT Now. CreateIT Now is a launch-pad for great ideas and a landing site tailor-made for health care-focused innovators getting into North American markets.

In addition to the business advice one would expect from an incubator, CreateIT Now offers a unique working space at an early adopter hospital to provide access to in-market clinical expertise and advice. It is my hope that other hospitals across the country will create similar centres of innovation that will not only stimulate economic growth locally, but provide a fertile ground for potential federal and provincial investment in health care innovation.

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