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Healthcare tech: Game-changer for Brampton & patient-care

Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton have all touted themselves as leading-edge developers of healthcare technology. Now, get ready for Brampton to join the club. The city, located just north of Toronto, is home to a rapidly growing cluster of medical and life-sciences companies, educational facilities, and leading-edge hospitals and clinics. Brampton is about to build on that, with a strategy that fast-tracks its development as a health-technology hub.

At the heart of Brampton’s healthcare expertise is the giant William Osler Health System – with three campuses and one of Canada’s busiest Emergency Departments. The hospital is now taking that expertise and allying with educational centres and entrepreneurs to create new technologies – to both improve medical outcomes and generate economic activity.

“Over the next year, we’re creating a focus on innovation at Osler,” said Dr. Naveed Mohammed, Vice President of Medical Affairs at the hospital. “We’ll be taking front-line companies and inviting them to work with our clinicians. It will be a bit like Dragon’s Den, with a number of projects completing their validation at Osler, with complete support from the hospital.”

Already, the hospital has launched a research and innovation unit, headed by Dr. Ronald Heslegrave. “We’ve now got four or five companies working with us, and we’re coordinating the development of an app for supporting palliative patients in their homes,” said Dr. Heslegrave. On the research side, the group is spearheading a large study of cardiac patients; many more studies and innovation projects will be launched in the near future.

A key component of the city’s healthcare technology strategy revolves around the Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness, which opened last year in downtown Brampton. The $500 million hospital – part of the Osler network – is geared to a new model of healthcare: disease prevention and wellness promotion. As well as restoring patients to health, the centre is focused on preventive care for nearly 1.3 million people in the Brampton catchment area. “The focus of the centre is unique in Ontario, and possibly across Canada,” said Martin Bohl, Sector Manager for Health and Life Sciences at the City of Brampton.

To this end, Brampton is taking a special interest in methods and technologies that prevent people from becoming ill in the first place. City planners are already envisioning the creation of a “super-cluster” of innovative preventive health technology companies surrounding the Peel Memorial Centre for Health and Wellness. The aim is not only to serve the hospital next door, and the Brampton-area community, but to export the new solutions worldwide.

Indeed, the local population travels back and forth between Brampton and south Asia so readily that William Osler Health System recently struck up a partnership with the Apollo chain of hospitals and clinics in India, one of the largest providers of healthcare services in the country. Not only are the partners sharing medical expertise with each other, but the stage is also set for the transfer of new technologies, too. “We’re contributing to hospitals outside our borders,” said Dr. Mohammed.

Brampton is geographically advantaged for this role. It’s located 20 minutes from Pearson International Airport. It has excellent links to downtown Toronto – it’s just 30 minutes away by GO Train. And Brampton sits at the centre of the Innovation Super Corridor.

Brampton already has a base of top-tier corporations, including Medtronic Canada, Canon, Dynacare labs and surgical robotics developer MDA Corp. All told, there are 800 health and life-sciences companies in the Brampton region, employing more than 12,000 people, with an average growth rate of 6% a year.

Other major players include Taro Pharma, Loblaw, the owner of Shoppers Drug Mart, Stericycle, Sharpsmart Canada, and The Stevens Co., a national distributor of medical equipment. And Canadian Blood Services is based in the city, too. “CBS just invested $20 million to expand their labs here,” said Bohl. “They added 90 new jobs.”

In addition to healthcare providers like William Osler Health System, Brampton is home to Peel Manor, a large seniors’ facility, and the ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development, a large autism care and children’s disability care provider. There are some 600 medical and dental clinics and facilities in the region, employing 12,000 workers in the life sciences. “There are amazing opportunities for synergies here,” said Bohl.

Education and the development of talent is another important building block in the healthcare innovation strategy. Sheridan College’s largest campus is located in Brampton and specializes in applied health and community studies. Moreover, Ryerson University – in partnership with Sheridan College – has announced an expansion to Brampton, where it plans to build a $150 million educational campus; it will focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The school, world-famous for its DMZ business incubator in downtown Toronto, aims to create a new accelerator at the Brampton site. Part of the plan is to connect student entrepreneurs with area business people and clinicians to devise new medical apps and technologies.

Dr. Wendy Cukier, a professor of IT management at Ryerson University and the school’s former VP of Research and Innovation, notes that innovation thrives more readily “on the periphery” – not in traditional hospitals or universities in downtown centres, but in companies and institutions that are willing to take risks and break boundaries. “Breakthroughs often come from unexpected places,” she observed. In this respect, she continued, Brampton, the William Osler Health System, and entrepreneurs have a wonderful opportunity to collaborate and create new solutions.

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