Alberta Innovates support also benefits patients and the health-care system

Julia MacGregor, W21C Research and Innovation Centre

This story appeared in UToday on May 19, 2021.

The innovation pathway is complicated, and increasingly so within the life sciences industry. Companies are faced with challenges navigating product development, market fit, regulatory compliance and business readiness. Through the Health Innovation Platform Partnerships (HIPP), Alberta Innovates has supported four new University of Calgary initiatives focused on building digital health-related products and services to help clients across Alberta and beyond.

“At Alberta Innovates, we are working with the same clients as universities,” says Dr. Raja Mita, PhD, executive director for health innovation. “We need to bring our skills, expertise, and infrastructure together to create a co-ordinated health innovation ecosystem that will be a competitive advantage for innovation in Alberta.”

  • Photo above courtesy Colourbox.

Digital health focus

Raja Mita, executive director, health innovation at Alberta Innovates. Alberta Innovates is working with 11 platforms from across the province to support a coordinated health innovation ecosystem to create a competitive advantage for Alberta.
Alberta Innovates

Health-care expenditures are becoming increasingly unsustainable, and with a growing aging population, higher prevalence of chronic disease, and the need for multidisciplinary care, validated digital health technologies allow for the delivery of more effective and patient-centred care. This includes digital health products like connected devices, immersive and simulation technologies, and wearables.

“Patients want to be a part of their own care,” says Mita. “To enable this, we need connected digital health devices to provide better access to care.” With the accessibility and dependability of internet across the province, patients could use their smartphones, watches, and other consumer household devices to securely access their health data and manage their care together with their health-care providers.

These platforms are creating the infrastructure, tools or resources needed to enable evidence-based digital health technologies to accelerate health innovation and research.

The four Health Innovation Partnership Platforms at the University of Calgary are led by Chad Saunders, Tyler Williamson, Derek Exner, and Jordana Armstrong.

University of Calgary health innovation platform partnerships

W21C Digital Health Collaboratorium

For more than 17 years, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health’s W21C Research and Innovation Centre (W21C) has provided research and validation services designed to improve the efficiency and safety of health-care systems. They work with health innovators — academics, startup companies, industry, and public sector partners — to make sure new technologies address gaps and needs in the health system.

W21C is creating a full-service delivery platform to further enhance support for digital health innovators on their pathway to commercialization. This model will include data brokerage, research and concierge services, validation testing, and training. Led by Dr. Chad Saunders, PhD, associate professor, Haskayne School of Business, this enhanced delivery model will provide a one-stop shop to increase the success of digital health innovators with a comprehensive and adaptable approach.

Modernizing the primary care electronic medical record ecosystem in Alberta

Tom Stelfox, scientific director at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health believes integrating patient-centred digital health technologies into our health system could make care easier and better for our communities.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Currently, there are numerous health-related apps that are available and in development for patients and health-care providers, but challenges exist integrating these applications into electronic medical record (EMR) systems so they can be used. This platform, led by Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD, associate director, Centre for Health Informatics at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), is developing an application programming interface (API) tool and ‘app store’ environment that will allow various health software companies to plug seamlessly into existing and future EMR systems. This API will provide secure access to data and tools that patients and health-care providers can use to create an improved clinical workflow to enhance patient care.

“These platforms led by O’Brien Institute members are supporting digital health innovations to enhance health systems performance,” says Dr. Tom Stelfox, MD, PhD, scientific director of the O’Brien Institute, and professor in the CSM. “Integrating patient-centred digital health technologies into our health system could make care easier and better for our communities.”

Integrated management platform to accelerate clinical trials (IMPACT) expansion 

Innovate Calgary’s IMPACT program in the Life Sciences Innovation Hub (LSIH) supports startup companies with clinical trials and regulatory approvals as they prepare their product for marketing authorizations from Health Canada or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This process is complicated and requires immense documentation, as well as an established quality management system (QMS). QMS software is available on the market but is prohibitively expensive to a startup company. After listening to clients, the platform led by Dr. Derek Exner, MD, IMPACT executive director and associate dean, clinical trials in the CSM, is integrating a QMS module into their existing regulatory TRACr software.

IMPACT is the preferred vendor for the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) – Rockies and has been supporting CDL teams globally. The QMS functionality will provide a cost-effective solution for international health startups looking to commercialize in Canada.

Digital Compass

Academics use their research as the foundation for innovative digital technologies, but often are unaware of the steps required to translate that technology into a product to create sustainable impact. Jordana Armstrong, associate director, clinical and social innovation at Innovate Calgary, in partnership with 321 Growth Academy, is designing an accelerator program for UCalgary researchers who are developing digital health innovations.

The digital compass platform will provide educational content and workshops to support university researchers developing digital tools and technology. This will provide the fundamentals of how to nurture these technologies into a viable product that can be scaled up to create impact and meets users’ needs.

Nima Najand of the Life Sciences Innovation Hub believes the UCalgary Health Innovation Platform Partnerships will create an internal innovation pipeline for academics.
Innovate Calgary

“Digital Compass could become a feeder program for the other University of Calgary platforms, creating an internal innovation pipeline,” says Dr. Nima Najand, PhD, associate director, business development, LSIH. “When academics go through this program, they may then require regulatory support, which IMPACT can assist with, and any real-world evidence gathering will lead into the W21C Collaboratorium.”

The four university platforms, and seven additional platforms from across Alberta are rapidly iterating their proof-of-concepts with health innovators into a full proposal for August. Alberta Innovates is also working with each of the platforms to see how they can leverage each other’s capabilities to create a springboard to move each platform forward.


Canadian Innovation Week at UCalgary
As part of UCalgary’s partnership with the Rideau Hall Foundation, we are celebrating Canadian Innovation Week. Join UCalgary experts and researchers May 17-21, for a week of conversation, inspiration and ideas. Learn how you can get involved.

Chad Saunders, PhD’06, is an associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the Haskayne School of Business. He holds adjunct appointments in the departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences, at the CSM. He is a member of the CSM’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health and e-health services and strategy lead for W21C.

Tyler Williamson, BSc’05, PhD’11, is an associate professor of biostatistics in the Department of Community Health Sciences, and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM.

Tom Stelfox is a professor in the CSM’s departments of Critical Care Medicine, Medicine, Community Health Sciences and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the CSM.

Derek Exner is a professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences, Community Health Sciences and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM. He is a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) for cardiovascular clinical trials.