- Healthcare in Canada will increasingly implement more remote care monitoring in order to reduce the burden on the healthcare system.
- The medtech ecosystem in Canada needs to focus on the development of technologies that enable patients to manage their own care.
- Alberta is rapidly developing the infrastructure needed to support the growth of its local health tech sector.
Remote care and monitoring will be the next frontier for the Canadian healthcare industry as the country works to meet the demands of an ageing population. Support programs that bridge gaps between research and commercialization are going to be key in helping the industry move towards this goal.
Tell us about yourself and your company.
Sure, thank you so much for having me today. My name is Breanne and I am the CEO of Orpyx. I co-founded the company in 2010 after experiencing one of the largest problems plaguing people with diabetes: diabetic foot disease. I had acquired my Doctor of Medicine (MD) and started my residency in plastic surgery. In the course of that residency, I saw people every day who were losing their legs as a result of diabetes. The underlying issue is that most people with diabetes will lose feeling in their feet over time. Because they cannot feel their feet, they do not have protective sensation and may develop wounds from overpressures over time that can require surgical intervention including amputation.
The idea I had was to create a technology that would use sensors to help measure and manage these pressures with a sensor-based insole so that people with diabetes can prevent wounds from happening in the first place. Hopefully, this will prevent drastic events like amputation and loss of mobility from ever happening.
To give you a sense of what this means from a clinical perspective, we have done several studies using the technology and found that people who are compliant with the system are able to prevent 86% of wounds from happening in the first place.
How would you describe Alberta’s life sciences and medtech ecosystem?
We are at the beginning of a really exciting wave of growth in the numbers and size of health tech companies in Alberta.
Most of my experience is based out of Calgary and over the last three to five years, I have seen a very palpable increase in the number of health tech companies including digital health companies and medical technology companies.
Alberta is attracting leaders who have had success not just in health tech but in technology in general.
Alberta is attracting leaders who have had success not just in health tech but in technology in general. These experts can help us to really focus on growing that ecosystem and scale up the sector. Companies like Orpyx and Syantra are two of the larger companies that are really growing, gaining traction and attracting investment. Within the next two to five years, we are going to see a number of impressive growth stories and hopefully, some strong exit stories. This growth will pave a path for new technologies, entrances, and expertise in the area.
Alberta is currently developing infrastructure that is helping support the health tech companies that are growing. The BiohubX was established by a group of leaders in the community to incubate and help grow and support health tech companies.
We are at the start of something exciting and I am thrilled to be a part of it. It feels like we are starting to build the community and network of trust needed to form the foundation of any industry. Alberta has exceptional institutions that are interested in research and translating knowledge from within the institutional setting to outside of it. There is more and more programming to help us bridge the gap between industry and academia, such as Mitacs programming. All those things together put us in a great position for a strong health tech future in Alberta.
How much support is there in Alberta for the commercialization of research?
That is a great question. Particularly within medicine, there is a tension that must be resolved to allow for the movement of ideas into more of a business or entrepreneurial domain outside of the walls of medical institutions. There are frontline workers who see issues that could be addressed every day by improving tools and equipment as well as processes. This will improve the efficiency and outcomes that we can generate within the health system. The problem is, all of those frontline workers are so tasked with frontline work that it is difficult to get those ideas outside of that setting.
It is difficult to commercialize research in the medical field not because people are reluctant but because they lack time and resources. There is work being done on how to bring in offerings and programs that help and work with medical or surgical entrepreneurs, in order to bring those ideas from concept to solution and then to scale within the real world.
Idea generators and frontline innovators need to be paired with entrepreneurs to help them take the business torch all the way through. It will be key to having those supports and guidance by bringing in people who have done it before to carry these ideas across the line.
Idea generators and frontline innovators need to be paired with entrepreneurs to help them take the business torch all the way through.
Within institutions such as the University of Calgary, where we have worked extensively with the Human Performance Lab, provincial or federal programs that fund and support projects and allow for the bridging to commercialization are very key. Mitacs has been exceptional. Year over year, there has been continued funding of Mitacs to allow the private sector to develop relationships with academic institutions. This initiative brings the best of research to support the growth of a technology company. More of that is always very helpful. It not only provides funding but also provides an invitation for people to set up relationships.
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Why have you set prevention at a sustainable cost as the primary goal of your company?
Looking at Canada’s current state, we have an ageing population and more and more chronic diseases than ever before. There are more people with multiple comorbidities and medical complications. All this is being managed through a combination of at-home management plus in-institution management. There will be a point where way too much of our healthcare happens within the walls of an institution.
We have a finite number of institutions and people running those institutions. We need to start thinking about ways to measure health in the real world. We should enable patients to measure their physiologic or physical parameters of interest so issues can be addressed earlier either by the patient themselves or when needed, by a professional.
Orpyx is very much focused on the physical human that we are measuring and the movement footprint of that individual. Although our first application is very much focused on the management of somebody living with diabetes and diabetic foot disease, the system itself is capable of doing much more in terms of measuring activity, quantity, quality, the type of activity an individual is doing and how many steps they are taking per day.
So much can be done in that space and it is incumbent upon the people innovating in this space to come up with the best solutions. Medtech can help us do all the chronic disease monitoring that we want outside of a hospital setting in order to be as efficient as possible.
If care happens at home, it is more preventative and much more cost-effective.
If care happens at home, it is more preventative and much more cost-effective. This will help Canada run our health system with fewer resources and that is ultimately the goal.
What are the trends influencing the Albertan and Canadian medtech space?
This very much ties into what we just went through with remote care. One of the biggest shifts we will see over this period of time is that if there is any portion of care that can happen at home, it should be happening at home and that shift is imperative.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) introduced a series of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for remote patient monitoring. This means a device can be prescribed for the purposes of remote monitoring and the data that comes in from the device and the ongoing analysis, interpretation and engagement with the patient can be applied broadly.
With the work done by CMS and the early data we have on the usage of these technologies, it is clear that subspecialists and primary care physicians are very interested in shifting to the remote care model. The biggest challenge for us is going to be making sure that those interventions and monitoring devices being used are the best possible. We are going to see more guidelines around what type of devices are appropriate for different types of patients.