Written by Sara M. Nolte
On March 7, Innovation Factory hosted the final stage of the Synapse Life Science Competition at McMaster Innovation Park. The event was the culmination of months of hard work and training that saw teams of Innovators and MBA and post-graduate students create an Executive Summary (addressing business and market potential) and a Commercialization Plan. The Top 3 Finalists – Advanced Theranostics (ATI), Pain-QuILT, and Pairwise Affinity – were each given 20 minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges composed of executives from Amgen Canada, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Johnson & Johnson, Mitsui Canada, and Trellis Capital.
First up was Dr. James Henry representing Pain-QuILT. Henry presented the company’s mobile-based pain assessment and tracking tool, which they believe will revolutionize the way chronic pain is quantified and analyzed. Not only is this digital tool a huge upgrade from current pencil-and-paper methods, but it is the first pain assessment tool capable of asking questions regarding pain quality (e.g. burning, stabbing), intensity, and location(s). The team has several scientific papers validating the usefulness and reliability of their tool, and they suggest Pain-QuILT could facilitate clinical trials for chronic pain management. Follow updates from Pain-QuILT on Twitter: @PainQuILT.
Following PainQuILT, DeGroote MBA student Richard Cioci delivered Pairwise Affinity’s presentation. The company has developed a new diagnostic technology for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that leads to vision loss and/or blindness in older adults, and currently has no cure. The technology improves upon current diagnostics that focus on visual acuity (e.g. eye charts), by incorporating the use of textures. By asking patients to identify texture patterns in an image, early stages of degeneration can be assessed; whereas changes in visual acuity occur at much later stages. Pairwise suggests their technology will be most useful for discovering new treatment options for early-stage AMD. Follow @pairwise on Twitter for company updates.
Last to head to the stage was Dr. Chris Stone of ATI. Stone began by asking the audience to imagine a world in which we could determine the cause of infectious diseases within 20 minutes. ATI’s new point-of-care device makes this possible. A patient suspected of having a bacterial or viral infection would swab their cheek, and insert the swab into ATI’s disposal device. Using patent-pending technology to extract DNA from patient saliva on the swab, the device would assess the DNA for the presence of specific pieces of bacterial or viral DNA. The device (the size of a cell phone) gives the result (positive/negative) in 20 minutes. ATI foresees their device being used in public health clinics, hospitals, and remote locations – the places where a fast diagnosis is needed most. Follow ATI on Twitter: @AdvTheranostics.
Five additional teams – Culture Made Faster, Genesis Health Light, MELOCAS Technologies, Miami Mice, and Therapeutic Surface Solutions Inc. – participated in open-forum poster board presentations.
After a long deliberation, judge Dr. Clive Ward-Able of Amgen Canada Inc., announced the winners. ATI was awarded first place for their point-of-care diagnostic device. They received $30,000 in cash and in-kind resources to promote the development of their company, and were offered meetings with GSK and Trellis Capital. Second place went to Pairwise Affinity for their AMD diagnostic test, where they received in-kind services from INO (National Optics Institute), and a meeting with Trellis Capital. Pain-QuILT rounded out the finalists and received meeting offers from Johnson & Johnson and GSK.
Judge Dominic Talalla of Trellis Capital acknowledged that the competition was tight. All companies presented innovations of great value and need, and had well-developed business plans. In the end, what really set ATI apart was their more advanced business plan, which highlighted discussions and interest with potential business partners.
When asked about their big win, Stone admitted to being excited for the next steps, but said the highlight of Synapse was being in such a great environment. “The group of people Innovation Factory was able to bring together was amazing. The opportunities to network and share ideas are plentiful – a big help to all [competition participants].”
Overall, the first iteration of Synapse Life Science Competition was a huge success, achieving its goal of bringing together researchers, business students, investors, and mentors all focused on raising the bar of life science innovation.