Canadian health industry competitive but doesn’t stand out, report says

The Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization launched its East Region Report this week at Spartan Bioscience, giving the Ottawa firm an opportunity to showcase its newest device, the Spartan Cube.

OBIO is a not-for-profit organization committed to the development of an integrated health innovation economy for the province. Its report, How Canada Should be Engaging in a $9 Trillion Dollar Health Economy, was based on surveys and interviews with 125 CEOs of health science companies around the country. It makes recommendations aimed to ensure Canadians get the economic and patient benefits from being competitive in the global health market.

OBIO president and CEO Gail Garland called the industrial policy to build Canada’s health technology industry “complex” but said the federal government’s innovation agenda launched last week is a good start.

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“We need a specific industrial policy to support the building of the health industry in Canada,” she said. “If we don’t capture that, there will be a decline in Canada. If we don’t have an industry here, we won’t be able to contribute to society, and there is a risk we won’t be able to afford important technologies down the road.”

In addition to the need for an industrial policy, the report also found that the potential to offset growing demand and rising costs through commercial enterprise and exports is a good reason for a strong health-care industry.

It found Canadian companies are relatively competitive but don’t necessarily stand out on the global stage. It also warned that the Canadian health industry is falling behind in areas such as cost of research and doing business, speed and agility, health data infrastructure, innovative market access processes, experienced labour force and access to capital for commercial purposes.

The report recommends creating an environment where health science innovations can thrive through market access and procurement policies and access to capital, supportive tax policies and experienced industry talent.

Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience is an example of how Canadian companies can reshape the way medicine is practised through innovation.

The OBIO partner firm introduced the Spartan Cube at the report launch. The size of a coffee cup, the Spartan Cube can test for infectious diseases such as strep throat or water contamination such as the bacteria E. coli.

The device costs about the same as a personal computer, and the company said its goal is to eventually have a Spartan Cube in homes and doctors’ offices everywhere.

The Spartan Cube tests DNA samples on a device attached to a tablet or laptop. Spartan CEO Paul Lem said results are available in 25-30 minutes as opposed to the traditional two- or three-day wait with traditional lab-based testing.  

“This is going to be most effective in developed companies, because right now, even though we have the most money in health care, doctors are still guessing their diagnoses in patients and what medication to give,” he said. “This cube is going to tell doctors the right diagnoses and the right drug to give.”

Spartan Bioscience will exhibit the Spartan Cube at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo on July 29 in Philadelphia.

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