Ottawa startup eyes breakthrough with AI-powered patient monitoring tech

Andrew Seely
Andrew Seely

After 13 years, millions of dollars in funding and thousands of hours of R&D, Dr. Andrew Seely feels like the prognosis is looking good for an Ottawa health-tech enterprise he hopes will improve outcomes for patients with critical breathing issues.

Seely, a thoracic surgeon and scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, is the founder and CEO of Therapeutic Monitoring Systems. Since the company’s founding in 2007, Seely and his team of researchers have painstakingly developed the AI technology that monitors a patient’s vital signs to the point where it’s finally ready to be put through its paces in a real-world hospital setting.   

TMS is one of eight companies that are set to start trials this fall with the support of the non-profit Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization. Its system will be installed in intensive care units at the Ottawa Hospital and the Hamilton Health Sciences Centre, where it will be evaluated for the next six months.

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“It’s a real challenge for companies in Canada to actually get their products into hospitals,” Seely says. “It’s going to be an exciting next phase for the company.”

A giant leap forward

TMS’s system, called the Extubation Advisor, constantly tracks vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood-oxygen levels. Its machine-learning technology then analyzes that data to give doctors a more precise read on when to take patients with serious breathing difficulties due to illnesses such as COVID-19 off of ventilators.

Seely says the technology, which cost more than $6 million to develop, will ultimately improve the quality of patient care while saving the health-care system time and money by reducing the number of adverse events that occur in hospitals.

If the trials prove successful, TMS’s technology could represent a giant leap forward for patient-monitoring equipment, which has remained stuck in a time warp for years while other aspects of health-care technology have continued to advance, he explains.

“For the last three to four decades, there has been no fundamental change in the way monitoring is performed,” Seely says.

With the help of TMS, he believes that’s all about to change. The company is close to gaining Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval to sell the Extubation Advisor to health-care facilities in the two countries, he says, adding he hopes it gets the green light before the end of the year.

But the company’s path to commercialization has been fraught with fits and starts as it struggled for years to secure funding from investors who were skittish about pouring money into a pre-revenue startup with unproven medical technology.

Thankfully, Seely himself was fortunate enough to land about $3 million in government grants to help carry him through. In addition, a group of private and government investors that was led by Toronto VC Genesys Capital and also included several local angels has kicked in another $3.5 million.

Last year, the company inked a partnership with OBS Medical, a U.K.-based firm that’s also developing predictive algorithms to help doctors better treat critically ill patients, that helped keep it on the path to commercialization.

“It has been challenging in the past to find individuals that will invest in our company, but we’ve been fortunate to have a number of investors in Therapeutic Monitoring Systems that believe in our technology,” he says.

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