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Sunnybrook Research Institute awarded Innovation Fund for Image-Guided Therapy

By Stephanie Roberts  •  July 4, 2019

On May 21, 2019, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, announced a federal investment of $49 million to launch the Industry Consortium for Image-Guided Therapy (ICIGT) at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

“Canadians have long been at the forefront of exciting innovations in health and biosciences, and through the Strategic Innovation Fund we have brought together the best in the public and private sectors to find real health care solutions. Our investment in the ICIGT project is helping to leverage Canada’s strengths in artificial intelligence, machine learning and image-guided therapies to ultimately deliver better health care for Canadians across the country,” said Bains, speaking to about 100 guests.

Sunnybrook Research Institute has long been known for its expertise in image-guided therapeutics, as evidenced in part by the Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics (CeRIGT), established in 2008 by another federal investment. That award of $74.6 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation is the largest grant secured by SRI, and has been foundational in enabling discovery and securing more investment.

Building on that expertise, and bringing together roughly 70 proposed partners from industry, universities, research institutes and nonprofit partners across Canada and the U.S., the consortium seeks to transform Canada’s image-guided therapy sector by integrating artificial intelligence and data advances into medical technologies that use imaging to treat, diagnose and monitor disease. Doing so will improve treatments, get new personalized therapies to people faster and reduce the costs of health care.

The network will create 300 jobs; develop 45 technologies; breed up to 20 startups; attract $80 million into partner companies and generate $200 million in sales.

“Making and then getting discoveries into the medical marketplace—this is what SRI does, motivated by the patient need we see daily. By harnessing the power of AI, and in tandem with our partners, we will expand and accelerate this work,” said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at Sunnybrook and SRI.

Sunnybrook Research Institute was one of two institutes out of 50 applications to be awarded a Strategic Innovation Fund grant. Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of Physical Sciences at SRI, is the project lead. Raphael Ronen, a senior commercialization manager with Hynynen, and Kevin Hamilton, director of Strategic Research Programs in the office of the vice-president, research, led the team’s proposal’s development.

Dr. Andy Smith, Sunnybrook’s president and CEO, was the event’s master of ceremonies, which was attended by the member of parliament for York Centre, Michael Levitt. “Sunnybrook would like to thank the government of Canada for this significant investment in image-guided therapeutics,” said Smith. “This important grant will help encourage further investment, inspire greater breakthroughs around the world, and elevate Canada’s artificial intelligence and image-guided therapy sectors.”

Bains was escorted on a tour of SRI’s device development lab in CeRIGT. Hynynen demonstrated the prototype Harmonic Medical Symphony, an MRI-guided clinical focused ultrasound system he invented and built soup to nuts in CeRIGT. The technology can destroy uterine fibroids noninvasively in about one hour. An earlier version of the technology was commercialized, resulting in the spinoff Harmonic Medical. A clinical trial of 40 patients is poised to begin with the new prototype.

The federal investment will enable researchers to adapt the technology for uses other than fibroids, including destroying lesions in the spine, as Dr. Meaghan O’Reilly, a scientist in Physical Sciences, explained to Bains during the demo. Dr. Christine Démoré, a scientist in Physical Sciences, talked about some of the specialized equipment in CeRIGT, including the dicing saw, which makes parts for miniature ultrasound probes, catheters and therapeutic focused ultrasound devices. Bains started the machine’s demo. Exclaiming at the intricacy of the work on the finished product, Bains asked if he could keep it. (The answer was yes.)

This stream of the Strategic Innovation Fund supports projects in the health and biosciences that improve Canada’s innovation performance while providing economic, innovation and public benefits to Canadians through collaboration between the private sector, researchers and nonprofits.