NRC builds centre to boost biomedical development

The National Research Council of Canada hopes to bridge the gap between the research and the commercialization of technology by opening a centre that will create products and services for the biology and medical industries.

Located

in Winnipeg, the NRC officially opened the Centre for the Commercialization of Biomedical Technology (NRC-CCBT) this week, an addition to its Institute for Biodiagnostics (NRC-IBD). The facility will be home to more than 40 firms, organizations, and innovation support services and programs. Included will be companies that develop diagnostic and imaging hardware and software, create data analysis and informatics products and support, undertake medical device manufacturing, or develop health and health information systems. Construction of the centre cost $11.2 million.

Dr. Ian Smith, the NRC-IBD’s director general, said the facility will act as a sort of incubator to firms with a focus on health-care technology. These include IMRIS, a local firm creating MRI-related tools which was recently spun out by the NRC. Although there are some standard software and hardware products that health-care organizations and biomedical organizations can adapt for their own use, the idea is to build niche solutions from the ground up.

“”Every (piece of) medical data needs a set of tweaking,”” he said. “”The problem is you usually have too much — you’re looking at a heck of a lot of observations for a subject, and a lot of subjects.””

The NCR offers informatics software developed by its 200 research staff at the IBD under licence as required, Smith said. The incubatees then use the software as the foundation for their own specific applications. For example, one company is being created whose products will assess the viability of a tissue graft.

“”(The incubatees) know their infrared spectroscopy, but they don’t know their statistics,”” he said. “”It also be the other way around — it could be somebody has a really interesting problem and they need infrared spectroscopy. We would help them adapt the infrared spectroscopy to their particular need and maybe give them the software.””

The NRC-CCBT is a partnership involving the Government of Manitoba and a national not-for-profit organization, Biomedical Commercialization Canada (BCC), which will help design and oversee the programs and services within the NRC-CCBT, Smith said. NRC is providing the infrastructure and the care given to the incubees is determined by a board of directors made up primarily from the business sector. The Manitoba government and the federal government also have representation on the board.

Mike Swenson, a life-sciences analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said biomedical organizations encounter a lot of challenges poring though the qualitative annotations that scientists have done in the course of their work.

“”Some of it really is text mining,”” he said. “”So much of what’s out there is not fully structured. It’s in databases or data repositories of one sort or another. There’s lots of text notes and face descriptions that use medical terminology, but not everybody’s consistent about it.””

The NRC centre has about 15 companies due to start working in it right now, Smith said, and he expects about five more to join each year, so the facility will be full by 2008. He said those incubated at the centre will, on average, be ready to bring products and services to the market within two years, and should be profitable within four.

“”The whole art is to find the niche,”” he said.

Swenson agreed, adding that Canadian firmed developed through the NRC centre should be able to compete against their more established counterparts.

“”If there’s software that makes a real demonstrable difference either in care, improvement of process or cost savings, there’s always room for new entrants,”” he said. “”Will they become the next Microsoft? No, because it’s not a general-purpose tool, but they’re probably going to have a successful little company. They can get adoption.””

NRC funding for the centre is the result of a 2002 federal government decision to support the NRC community innovation strategy. In addition, the Government of Manitoba is providing $2 million for the construction and initial support to develop a number of the centre’s programs.

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