[ Original Article posted at BiotechnologyFocus ]
Over the last several years Ontario has made extensive investments into the healthcare system, education, and research programs.(1,2,3,4,5) In order to capitalize on these investments, Ontario’s life sciences sector is following global trends and undergoing a rapid transformation, especially in the field of medical technology. There has been a re-alignment of federal and provincial funding priorities. Translational research and industry-academia partnerships in life sciences are at the forefront of the funding strategy, as exemplified by the $161 million Ontario Life Sciences Commercialization Strategy. This trend has led to the inception of new translational projects.
Simultaneously, there is an emergence of innovative spirit, a cultural shift towards the development of end-products supported by entrepreneurs and innovators. Universities, hospitals, and other organizations such as the MaRS Discovery District, MaRS Innovation, and Health Technology Exchange are participating in this shift, and in many cases are able to find supportive private Canadian and international co-investors. Collectively, the industry-academia-government Triple Helix is nurturing the birth of the medical technology industry in Ontario.
The task at hand now is to mature this growing sector. Maturing and ensuring the sustainability of the Ontario medical technology sector will require dedication to translation and creation of partnerships. A critical mass of innovators has to share the mindset that the metric to measure the success of a project is seeing its outcome implemented into a clinical practice. In order to become self-sustainable, the Ontario medical technology sector will need to continue to steadily diminish its reliance on public funding and move towards partnerships with local and multinational companies, angel- and venture-funded start-ups, profitable SMEs, and increasing Ontario’s presence of multinational corporations’ research and development centers, as opposed to purely sales, marketing, and distributions offices.
Enter the Techna Institute for the Advancement of Technology for Health.
‘Techna,’ the medical technology analog of pharma, is a new research and development institute of University Health Network (UHN) in partnership with the University of Toronto (UofT), Techna is focused on the accelerated development and exploitation of technology for improved health. A longer term vision for Techna is that it would expand its scope to include other Toronto partners. It is lead by Dr. David Jaffray, the UHN Head of Radiation Physics, and a Professor of Radiation Oncology, Medical Biophysics, and IBBME at UofT who holds the Orey and Mary Fidani Family Chair in Radiation Physics at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Start-up funding for the Institute of $10 million was initiated by a $5 million “challenge” donation to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Foundation from Toronto-area philanthropist Carlo Fidani.
The Techna Institute was conceived to help innovators to shorten the time interval from technology discovery and development to application for the benefit of patients and the health care system. “It stimulates and facilitates the innovation cycle through a continuum of clinically-driven initiatives to promote innovation, technology and process development, translational research and commercial outcomes,” says Dr. Jaffray. “Techna represents a paradigm shift towards demand-driven activities, and the organizational alignment of the needs of the research hospital and the research enterprise.”
Techna is the first UHN-wide institute – it builds on the medical technology, clinical strengths, and commercialization successes of the largest Canadian research hospital. Techna’s leadership is assembled from a diverse group of accomplished clinicians, scientists, engineers, and business development personnel, all devoted enthusiasts of the Techna mandate. The role of Techna core leaders is to assemble existing expertise and assets, and identify required resources and talent to bridge the gap from clinically-driven technology needs to solutions.
Techna brings together the technologies of its five cores: Informatics and Communication Technologies (ICT), Photonics, Guided Therapeutics (GTx), Nanotechnology and Radiochemistry, and Design and Engineering for Health. Each core is championed under dual clinical and scientific/engineering leadership, representing the needs of the research hospital.
The ICT Core focuses on integrating hardware and software solutions for the storage, retrieval, sharing and manipulation, management, analysis, visualization, interpretation, and use of information for health service delivery and translational research. Solutions developed in this core utilize internet and mobile technologies to provide health care providers and patients with systems to visualize, analyze, communicate, and transfer information.
The focus of the Photonics Core is the development and application of new therapeutic and diagnostic techniques based on the use of lasers and other optical technologies, including using photodynamic therapy to treat cancerous tissue, imaging using tissue fluorescence and contrast agents, and optical dosimetry for radiation medicine.
The GTx Core is dedicated to the development and testing of new technologies in imaging merged with developing and applying new physical therapies including surgery, radiation therapy, and radiofrequency ablation. The integration of imaging and repair treatment technologies combine to provide a “GPS” for surgeons – where surgical tools, the surgical target, and the surrounding anatomy are visualized and manipulated precisely in real-time three-dimensional images.
The Nanotechnology and Radiochemistry Core is focused on the development and implementation of novel nanoparticles and radiopharmaceuticals for both therapeutic and diagnostic applications, including multimodality imaging agents and cancer treatments. This novel biotechnology has not only demonstrated the ability to improve drug efficacy by mimicking nature’s own nanoparticles but has also enabled a powerful and versatile biophotonic tool.
Often new medical technology is used incorrectly or its sophisticated features are never employed due to the poor design of the device. The investigators in the Design and Engineering for Health Core perform tests on medical devices and work with the device designers to ensure a medical device is optimally designed for the end user without sacrificing functionality. This core’s state of the art facility not only provides realistic settings and scenarios but also utilizes actual users when testing devices. Issues related to human error due to weak design are addressed before the product is released. This leads to a faster integration of the device into routine practice since the device intuitively makes sense and shorter training sessions are required.
Modus Operandi and Resources
The management of projects at Techna builds on the best global practices for medical technology innovation, adapted to the local ecosystem. It is directed towards enhancing and facilitating existing initiatives in Toronto for the translation and commercialization of medical technology products. Techna projects are incorporated into a centralized project management and operations support stream. It is built for business-to-business and operates in a stage-gated fashion.
Throughout its lifetime, each project is periodically evaluated according to its technical development timeline, funding pathway, pre-clinical and clinical evidence, and legal and regulatory standing and strategy. Techna’s projects are supported by the Institute’s personnel in the areas of communications and knowledge transfer, process redesign, and commercialization. Dedicated officers from UHN’s Technology Development and Commercialization (TDC) office secure licensing deals, complete gap analyses, aid in raising seed funding, and connect with incubators and other commercialization institutions. Through tradeshows, conferences, and its distribution lists and website (www.Technainstitute.com), Techna helps in marketing projects to the global community.Techna investigators are actively collaborating with over 40 local and global industrial partners. These partner companies include startups, medium-size entities, and multinationals. Techna links its members with industry and helps to secure joint development funding ensuring that there is a path to commercial outcome. Techna works with both ‘spin-in’ and ‘spin-out’ strategies. Currently Techna develops technology from internal projects, however, it is also interested in assisting and supporting external industry and other institutional partners with the maturation and implementation of ideas and projects. In the end, the source of the original IP is not a bias, so long as it is aligned with Techna’s mission and objectives.
The multi-dimensional relationships Techna has with industry is one of the strengths of Techna. Relationships which extend from early translational activities to clinical implementation drive the results. At the same time, every relationship, every deal, every project is different. The ability to tailor to the strengths of the research hospital, the needs of the private sector partner, and the demand from global healthcare markets provides an industry-friendly atmosphere.
Co-development and licensing deals are already enriching Techna’s track record. Since its launch in November 2011, Techna has been actively commercializing products through the UHN TDC, four of which are generating revenue. Revenues are reinvested into the projects for further development, creating a self-sustaining model that is rare amongst public and academic institutions. Almost all these products have a close industry partner to help manufacture, sell, and distribute the technology.
As an institute of UHN, Techna has access to over 500 hospital researchers, 13,000 clinical staff, and 1,300 technical staff. Through its partnership with UofT, Techna has access to thousands of faculty and researchers in the fields of medicine, applied sciences and engineering, business, and the physical sciences. Techna is the gateway for industry and private inventors to utilize these human resources. Techna helps with evaluating the clinical need of new technologies developed internally and externally. It can advise on the value proposition, and commercial viability prior to further development of the product.The Techna Network research infrastructure is integrated throughout the campuses of UHN, MaRS Discovery District, UofT, and through other affiliated partner facilities. The infrastructure includes hardware and software laboratories, MR scanners, x-ray CT suites, multimodality PET-CT suite, pre-clinical laboratories at the STTARR facility (http://www.sttarr.com/), Healthcare Human Factors laboratory (http://humanfactors.ca/), and machine shops. Additional infrastructure will become operational in 2012 and 2013 – MR-PET, MR-guided radiotherapy (MRgRT) suite, cyclotron and radiochemistry laboratory, magnetoencephalography (MEG) facility, NanoMedFab facility, Guided Therapeutics (GTx) laboratory, and TRIGOR-A x-ray and optically guided operating room. Techna also helps its investigators and partner institutions secure lab and office space.
Techna is expanding and is hiring fully funded faculty and accepting applications for cross-faculty appointments. Techna management works with UHN and UofT leadership to offer an exciting environment that will attract the best talent and scientific, clinical, and engineering trainees.
For more information regarding Techna, please visit the website or email at Techna@rmp.uhn.on.ca.
- Advanced Medical Devices in Ontario – Healthcare Solutions for Global Markets (08/2008)
- Clinical Trial in Ontario (05/2009)
- Oncology (05/2009)
- Research and Development in Ontario – Incentives for Innovation (11/2010)
- eROI – Report on Ontario Investment, Spring 2012
Luke Brzozowski Ph.D. is a Director of Operations and Engineering at the Techna Institute for the advancement of Technology for Health, University Health Network, University of Toronto.