Collaboration, Investment and Innovation for Canadian Global Leadership in Nuclear Medicine
- Since Canada is a small market, its long-term success in the global healthcare market comes down to effective collaboration between academia, business, innovation and government.
- Healthcare innovation requires large and long-term investments to reach the commercialization stage, so Canada needs to be able to pick and focus on areas in which we have strengths and the potential to succeed.
- It is very important for scientists to have a basic understanding of commercialization and entrepreneurship, even if they are not necessarily “business scientists”.
Canada definitely has the potential to be a world leader in nuclear medicine, so we must keep the momentum going when it comes to collaboration, investment and innovation.
How competitive is Canada when it comes to the application and commercialization of our new technologies?
World class research happens in Canada and one of the things that attracted me to TRIUMF was the opportunity to be a part of an organization doing globally important, globally recognized, world-class science. Although Canada is a small country, there are a few areas where we punch above our weight. Nuclear technology is one of Canada’s strengths and we have the opportunity to be a world leader in this area.
“Nuclear technology is one of Canada’s strengths and we have the opportunity to be a world leader in this area.”
The challenge of commercialization is real when you have great technologies that need a lot of time and investments to develop. Since Canada is a smaller market, it is even more difficult for individual players to commercialize new innovations. That is why we are always trying to bring down the silos and work collaboratively. All the different pieces of the ecosystem, from academia and investors to innovators and the private sector, need to come together for commercialization to succeed.The government’s role is to bring together diverse actors to work on new ideas.
“All the different pieces of the ecosystem, from academia and investors to innovators and the private sector, need to come together for commercialization to succeed.”
For example, TRUMF’s collaboration with CDRD combines our complementary strengths to explore the new field of targeted alpha therapeutics. They have talent in target identification, validation, medicinal chemistry and animal models. On the other hand, we have expertise in radiochemistry, radio-labelling and nuclear medicine. It takes so much to do drug development in terms of expertise, resources and infrastructure. Taking an innovation from an idea to something that has proof of concept in animals and then humans is a long and expensive process. It involves an incredible amount of collaboration and expertise, so we are very excited about our collaboration with the CDRD.
What does the innovation pipeline look like in the health sector?
Particularly in health, the most innovative technologies are coming from small companies that are later acquired by large companies. The pharmaceutical industry has moved away from making huge investments in internal innovation to recognizing that a lot of the innovative technologies come from small companies and external researchers. But, no one can commercialize and market a drug like a large pharmaceutical company. The drug development timeline is very long; it is not uncommon for a drug development project to take 10 to 15 years to make it to market. So, the private investment required for that type of technology is obviously much longer than, for example, mobile phone app development, which can be brought to market in less than a year. It is a very different scale of investment both in time and in dollars. That is why it is crucial for us in the health sector to be able to quickly identify and focus our resources on the best assets and then stop working on the technologies that are not strong enough to become a long-term commercial success.
How can we empower the next generation of scientists to enhance the commercialization of Canada’s health innovations?
I think that having a “business scientist” truly is an asset. TRIUMF’s Associate Director for Life Science, Dr. Paul Schaffer, was also the CEO of one of our spin-off companies. He is an incredibly talented scientist, who also has very good business capabilities, which is a rare combination. If I could clone Paul, I would. But, I also think that there is also room for scientists who are not so interested in business to connect their research to the right entrepreneur. There is not just one path to successful commercialization. However, it is really important for our students and scientists to have the opportunity and resources available to learn more about commercialization and entrepreneurship. So, we have created a training program at TRIUMF, where we conduct workshops and seminars to help some of our research staff learn more about commercialization and entrepreneurship, the importance of intellectual property, confidentiality, and collaboration agreements. We also help them develop technology ideas and business plans, and introduce them to mentors, if they are interested.
“It is really important for our students and scientists to have the opportunity and resources available to learn more about commercialization and entrepreneurship.”
Once you plant the entrepreneurship seed in an institution, it starts to grow. We have now had several spin-off companies come out of TRIUMF. So, commercialization and business are now much more present in the consciousness in the TRIUMF halls and meetings. There is more awareness about intellectual property, business potential, conference presentations, patents and other key points. It is great; a lot of scientists are naturally curious, so this is another new thing to be curious about.
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How important is intellectual property when it comes to commercializing our health innovations?
Intellectual property (IP) is an asset that is core to many businesses, but I think we also need to have balance and practicality in this space. Several years ago, there was a trend to patent everything and most of the tech transfer community has realized that that is not an effective strategy for long-term success. We do not need to patent something that we have not already identified a commercialization path or potential partner for. That is definitely a change from how patenting used to traditionally be done at research institutions. We also need resources to properly file, manage and grow patent portfolios. The ongoing federal review on innovation has identified that many funding programs do not recognize intellectual property as an eligible expenditure, and this needs to changeas well.
What do you think should be the key elements of Canada’s healthcare investment strategy?
Healthcare is a truly globally competitive market in the sense that no one really expects to develop a drug just for the domestic Canadian market. I think our long-term success comes down to collaboration; we have to find ways to work together to develop opportunities in a very focused way in order to leverage our collective strengths. We must invest in and focus on the technologies that we think have the biggest chance for success and further develop technologies in which we already have an upper hand.That is certainly our feeling about nuclear medicine at TRIUMF. We do think that Canada is globally competitive and can be a world leader in medical isotope innovation. We are leveraging the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in TRIUMF over the years. We have incredible infrastructure here that cannot be moved outside of Canada and that, used strategically, can provide the basis for successful innovation that provides a payoff to Canada in terms of commercialization, training and improved health. Canada definitely has the potential to be a world leader in nuclear medicine, so we must keep the momentum going in terms of collaboration, investment and innovation. This is a real opportunity to develop therapies for currently incurable cancers, which will benefit patients around the world but be firmly anchored in Canada.
“We must invest in and focus on the technologies that we think have the biggest chance for success and further develop technologies in which we already have an upper hand.”