Federal government commits $20 million to help scale up health innovations

VANCOUVER — The federal government has committed $20 million to help scale up innovative Canadian companies in the health and biosciences sectors.

The funding announced Monday will go towards establishing a marketplace on which small and medium-sized companies and startups will be able to sell health technologies to participating hospitals and health providers.

“The integrated market is an innovative approach supporting technology development and business growth,” said Minister of Small Business Mary Ng in a statement.

“Through easy access to a large, consolidated domestic marketplace, companies will scale up and be anchored in Canada, commercializing technologies that can be exported around the world.”

The government says the network will allow companies to collaborate with health institutions on research, development and refinement of technologies to make them market ready.

The federal government will initially put up $7 million to establish a western Canada network led by the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and a southern Ontario network led by Trillium Health Partners. The plan is to later expand the network to Quebec, Atlantic Canada and northern Canada based on results from the initial networks.

The initiative sounds like it could help Canada’s health-focused companies, said Charles Plant, senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre.

“I think it’s great, because it gets focus on connecting the hospitals more firmly with the technology that’s coming out of Canada. And that’s something that’s difficult to do, because the health system hasn’t been developed to spur innovation.”

Plant wrote a report last year highlighting that, even adjusted for population, the U.S. has five times more funding available for new and growing health companies. The report noted that for entrepreneurs, Canada’s system for commercializing heath technology is byzantine and overlapping.

He said the new network could help on developing the supply side of the market, but that Canadian governments also could do more to spur demand for homegrown technologies through regulations such as mandated purchasing of domestic technology.

Such regulations would add cost, but could be covered by economic development agencies, much like the new network is, said Plant.

Half of the initial $7 million for the new network will be paid for by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the other half by FedDev Ontario.

The federal government says Canada’s health-care spending totalled $253 billion last year while the international market for medical technologies is estimated at $500 billion annually.

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