INOVAIT aims to promote Canada’s image-guided therapy innovators
February 28, 2022
TORONTO – INOVAIT, a pan-Canadian network led by the Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) and supported by the Government of Canada, has announced an investment of $2.1 million in 28 companies and organizations that are devising new technologies for image-guided therapy. INOVAIT is awarding the teams grants of up to $125,000, for short-term projects with potentially high value.
The organizations must put up matching funds, and many of the smaller entities have partnered with larger companies.
“All of the projects have at least two partners, and some have up to four partners,” commented Raphael Ronen, director of business development at SRI and director of INOVAIT.
Ronen noted that the goal of the INOVAIT network is to foster image-guided therapies that can dramatically improve patient care in Canada and around the world. He observed that there are many small and innovative medical-imaging companies across Canada, but as usual with small firms, they’re underfunded and need a push to get their products to the next level.
While $125,000 isn’t a lot in the scheme of things, he said most of the companies that are successful in this pilot will likely apply for the next round, which will provide more funding.
Indeed, INOVAIT has itself been funded with $49 million from the federal government. It was originally called the Industry Consortium for Image-Guided Therapy but changed its name to the easier to pronounce and remember INOVAIT.
When the funding was originally announced by then Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains, in 2019 the idea was for a network of 70 private and public sector partners to invest more than an additional $76 million, for a total of $126 million.
The project has a five-year duration, and new investments will be coming up soon, said Ronen.
A list of organizations partnering with INOVAIT can be found on its website at inovait.ca. They include start-ups like Luxsonic Technologies of Saskatchewan and Perimeter Medical Imaging AI, Inc., as well as 16 Bit, a company led by two radiologists that won the 2017 RSNA Machine Learning challenge. Their solution was the best at training a neural network to determine pediatric bone age from X-ray images.
16 Bit has launched other projects since then, including initiatives related to COVID, osteoporosis and breast cancer screening.
For its part, Luxsonic Technologies, has partnered with physicians from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and machine learning (ML) researchers at the University of Saskatchewan. Together, this team will develop a ML pipeline in Luxsonic’s SieVRt virtual reality (VR) radiology software. The integrated solution will allow researchers to train new ML models more quickly.
Physicians will then put them to use, improving image-guided procedures and therapeutic interventions. This combination of artificial intelligence, VR, and image guided therapy (IGT) is expected to lead to dramatic improvements in patient care.
Perimeter Medical Imaging AI will be using its INOVAIT funding to develop a solution for improved, image-guided breast cancer biopsies.
Breast cancer became the most common cancer globally as of 2021, accounting for 12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide. Image-guided biopsy is often used to help with difficult breast cancer diagnoses. Based on the same technology as the commercially available Perimeter S-Series OCT platform, Perimeter Medical is developing a device that could help produce accurate, real-time sampling during an image-guided biopsy.
In partnership with Mount Sinai Health System Toronto, this INOVAIT funded project is aimed at demonstrating how Perimeter’s OCT combined with artificial intelligence (AI) technology may potentially improve cancer detection, provide better patient care, and represents a game-changer in breast cancer diagnosis.
Ronen noted the growing importance of artificial intelligence in imaging and said that most of the projects are incorporating some form of AI, such as machine learning, into their technologies.
He stressed that INOVAIT is not an incubator or accelerator. “We don’t want to duplicate what others are already doing.”
However, he pointed out that in addition to providing funding, INOVAIT is acting as a matchmaker and is connecting companies with other organizations that could help them – such as AI specialists, for example, or clinical partners that could provide testbeds.
“We want to promote networking,” said Ronen. And not just locally, but on a national scale. “People don’t know what’s going on across the country. We’re going to be holding virtual meetings that will allow people to network across Canada.”
Training is also part of INOVAIT’s mandate, and the team recently launched a virtual seminar series focused on topics like AI and advances in image-guided therapy, as well as intellectual property and the regulatory framework for medical devices.
Ronen observed that the measure of success for INOVAIT will consist of whether its investments have made an impact on Canadian healthcare and on the world stage. “These are all projects that are all technologically sound and have the potential to generate benefits for Canada – medically and economically,” he said.