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Geralyn Ochab
CEO - Imagia
Part of the Spotlight on Montreal’s AI for Health Sector

Investing in AI to Improve Healthcare

Takeaways

  1. Montreal’s life sciences and technology sector has a long history, allowing it to become a hub for AI in healthcare today.
  2. Montreal’s innovation ecosystem has the engagement of researchers, academia, government and private industry, which altogether makes for a collaborative environment.
  3. As a city, Montreal is incredibly attractive to live in, making it a popular destination for talent.

Action

While the applications of artificial intelligence for healthcare are still in the early stages, innovators in Montreal have developed significant technologies that could really propel the cause forward. Investment in and collaboration with these entities is key to keeping innovation rolling.


What does Imagia do in terms of applying artificial intelligence to health?  

Imagia is an artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare company and we are rather unique because we bring together expertise in technology with our domain knowledge in healthcare and apply it to some of the big problems that exist in healthcare today. One of those challenges is that we have a one-size-fits-all delivery of medicine. Our AI platform, EVIDENS, provides innovation infrastructure for medical breakthroughs. These medical breakthroughs are brought to patients to improve their lives and their healthcare journey, and we bring them together in partnership with industry. 


How is artificial intelligence being applied to healthcare today and what developments are you most excited about? 

It is still early days but it is a really exciting time. I will talk about the ones Imagia is working on as well as the industry as a whole. The first is applying AI to clinical decision support for malignancy prediction for colon polyps. For example, when you go for a colon polyps screening exam, we have a tool that helps a physician determine just by the image, without disrupting his workflow, whether that polyp is malignant or benign. That is one example. There are examples for lung nodule detection and for breasts—basically, anything oncology-driven. There has been a lot of work in cardiology as well. The applications of AI are transversal across healthcare, from detection and diagnosis to predicting outcomes and responses to changes in treatment, or to ensure that the patient is on the right drug at the right time.  


What are Montreal and Canada’s competitive advantages when it comes to artificial intelligence?  

Canada has taken a unique approach to AI. We have a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy that spans coast-to-coast, linking research institutes, hospitals, and universities. We have support from federal and provincial governments, which is unique, and when you get to Montreal specifically, it is truly a unique environment. We started really deep in Montreal’s life sciences and technology sectors, which have been there for decades. Montreal’s foundation in life sciences and technology has allowed it to become the basis for AI in healthcare. There is also the Montréal Institute of Learning Algorithms (Mila), with hundreds of researchers working on anything from healthcare to fintech and beyond. It really attracts great talent. 

“Montreal is in the top three of AI ecosystems globally.” 

Both federally and provincially, Canada has infrastructure that promotes foreign investment with great immigration policies, a stable economy, and great taxation for investments. In Montreal, you have the life sciences, Mila, and the support of groups like Montréal International. That organization has one of the best foundations for economic development in any city I have seen in Canada. There is also Valence Discovery , bringing the life sciences and technology together. Along with the universities and hospitals, all the stakeholders are present and engaged in Montreal. This makes Montreal really unique and frankly, Montreal is in the top three of AI ecosystems globally. 


How is collaboration between Montreal’s AI and life science players driving growth in the AI for health space? 

Montreal has some of the most premier healthcare institutions within Canada and they are recognized on a global scale. In the life sciences sector, we have Consortium de Recherche Biopharmaceutique (CQDM), the largest pharmaceutical companies with their head offices in Montreal, and great medical device companies. I have never experienced a true collaboration ecosystem at this scale as I have in Montreal. 

“I have never experienced a true collaboration ecosystem at this scale as I have in Montreal.” 

You can feel the excitement. It is palpable. When you are talking to other companies, you can feel the desire for innovation and to make a difference, and the willingness to collaborate. The level of intelligence and bright people we have here is great. We have some of the brightest people in this city. Altogether, people are trying to figure out a way to band together to solve problems. It does not feel competitive; it really feels like collaboration or coopetition.  


What is the availability of talent in Montreal’s AI sector? 

We have seen a shift in the challenges in terms of the access of talent. We need to break it down into two parts of sourcing talent and retaining talent. We are coming over the hump of the talent sourcing challenge. Now, we have some great talent here. The young talent in the research environment has made the transition from research to business, and that investment in education and growth has been made and continues to be made. Now, the challenge is how to get them to stay and how to make sure they do not go south of the border or abroad and instead continue to stay in our Canadian ecosystem. You do that by collaboration and coopetition, allowing and encouraging people to grow and advance, especially for high-value talent who are ambitious. You have to think of the environment as a whole. 

As a woman in the field, it is really great to see. At Imagia specifically, at least 30% of our team is made of women. We are very diverse and inclusive from women on the executive team to women leading our technology teams.  


How receptive is Montreal’s artificial intelligence ecosystem to foreign investors? 

From personal experience, I can say that they are very welcoming, from business partnering to customer interactions. A lot of the young companies are entrepreneurial companies and startups that need investment, and so there are a lot of different forms of investment that Quebec and Montreal are open to. 

What I love about AI in healthcare is the opportunity to make a difference. We see that in our people in Imagia. That is what I get up for every day, to find a way we can move our healthcare system from one that addresses disease and treatment to one that is focused on prevention and wellness.  


How do you see Montreal’s AI for health space evolving in the coming years? 

Montreal is uniquely positioned from a few different perspectives. One, it is a city where people want to come and live. It has an international flair, and that is really important if you are trying to compete globally and address all the challenges that exist. Montreal has the education sector, the hospital sector, and the commitment from government and business. The fact that a lot of large companies have now set up shop or their head office in Montreal around AI and AI in healthcare is really important. The global economy may get questionable and we are in unprecedented times, but Montreal is really unique to be able to weather those in terms of attracting the talent, having the talent stay, and making sure companies want to stay. Montreal is going to do great. 


What would be your pitch to attract foreign investors to Montreal’s AI for health ecosystem? 

Montreal has a stable economy, team, tech and talent all in one place. We are open to innovation and passionate about what we do.  

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Geralyn Ochab
CEO - Imagia

Bio: Geralyn Ochab is the Chief Executive Officer of Imagia, where she has been for over five years. She was also the Chief Business Officer there, where she led the strategy and execution of industry-first commercial and collaboration agreements. She has over 25 years of experience as an innovative healthcare technology leader. Previously, she served as Vice President Business Development at the Insception-Lifebank Cord Blood stem cell bank.  

 

Organization Profile: Imagia brings together healthcare expertise and advanced artificial intelligence technology to discover and scale medical breakthroughs. Imagia is a shared ecosystem empowering all stakeholders necessary for the discovery of clinically relevant biomarkers. Their EVIDENS platform allows clinical research teams to unlock hospital-wide data sets, derive insights using AI, and collaborate across organizations.