Waterloo conference discusses start-ups and AI
December 19, 2018
WATERLOO, Ont. – The 2018 Waterloo Region MedTech Conference, hosted and organized by Waterloo MedTech, was held on Wednesday, October 24. It offered a mixture of policy insights and prescriptions for spurring the growth of medical technology companies in the Waterloo area.
Murray Gamble (pictured), president of the C3 Group of Companies, called for the Waterloo Region community to create an incubator specifically for medical technology, life sciences and healthcare start-ups. Resources dedicated to this group would address the unique challenges they face in bringing their innovations to market.
Armen Bakirztian, CEO and co-founder of Intellijoint Surgical, and Neil Fraser, president of Medtronic Canada, asserted that healthcare tech companies need to engage with the various levels to government to drive forward the proposed actions put forward by the Economic Strategy Table: Health/Bio-sciences.
Intelligent Surgical’s Bakirtzian shared the real-world struggles that Intellijoint faced in scaling up.
Unfortunately, the Canadian healthcare system is typically not the first customer for Canadian medical technology firms, Bakirztian noted. He highlighted three hurdles that are preventing many promising firms in Ontario and Canada from scaling up: talent attraction and retention, including lack of access to domestic talent; domestic capital supports, with insufficient domestic capital; and domestic procurement problems, particularly the difficulties posed to start-ups when attempting to access healthcare customers in Canada.
Dr. Alex Wong, Canada Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence and Medical Imaging, highlighted the importance of AI in the current healthcare climate.
“Every medical company is now trying to become an AI company,” said Dr. Wong. He pointed to numerous examples of artificial intelligence in healthcare, as companies attempt to revolutionize medicine with AI. Among them: Zebra Medical Vision, in radiology; Athelas, in blood tests; Arterys in cardiology; Imagia and IBM Watson Health in various areas of medicine.
Indeed, AI became a recurring topic at the conference. For his part, Dr. Mohamed Alarakhia, director, eHealth Centre of Excellence and CCIO at Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network, observed that aggregate data now exists for 3.6 million Ontarians, and that it is data waiting to be analyzed using AI.
As well, he pointed out there are more than 80 separate patient portals in the province, all producing data. He noted the potential role of AI in more timely and tailored interventions as one means of modernizing the health system.
A full report of the conference can be found at http://waterloomedtech.com/conference2018.html.