Canada’s Innovation Superclusters join fight against COVID-19

Mark Lowey
April 1, 2020

Two of Canada’s Innovation Superclusters are together investing up to $110 million in new projects with industry partners to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, based in British Columbia, will invest up to $60 million through its new COVID-19 Program in projects that support the health and safety of Canadians; deliver solutions to issues created by the COVID-19 outbreak; and build expertise and capacity relevant to future health crises.

“We solve big problems, and we do it quickly. COVID-19 presents unprecedented problems and our members have mobilized to deliver solutions,” says Sue Paish, CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster.

The Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) supercluster, based in Ontario, has allocated up to $50 million, through its new COVID-19 Response Program, to support companies as they prepare to produce critically needed technologies, equipment and medical products.

Both superclusters’ new programs are in support of Canada’s Plan to Mobilize Industry to fight COVID-19, announced in March by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Under the plan, the government is adding a requirement to program mandates of the Innovation Superclusters, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), tasking them with prioritizing funding and support for goods and services that can help respond to COVID-19.

The plan builds on the federal government’s more than $1-billion COVID-19 Response Fund, focused on domestic capacity building, innovation solutions and procurement of essential supplies.

The government is asking the Innovation Superclusters to tap into their national network of 1,800 members, along with Innovative Solutions Canada, to help companies commercialize products more quickly.

The Digital Technology Supercluster’s COVID-19 Program is focused on delivering solutions to protect the health and safety of all Canadians, while also supporting the economy through the creation, application and scaling of digital technologies in five areas: the health system; community health; safe living; diagnostics; and therapeutics.

The B.C. government has partnered with the Digital Technology Supercluster and the Business Council of British Columbia to create the COVID-19 Supply Hub. It is an online platform to coordinate, source and expedite medical supplies and personal protective equipment for provincial health authorities to support front-line workers fighting COVID-19.

The new hub, developed by B.C. tech company Traction on Demand and built on the Salesforce platform, provides a single point of entry to triage and prioritize the thousands of offers and donations for essential supplies from businesses and other organizations.

The Supercluster is accepting project proposals immediately and on a continuous basis.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based data-sharing company DNAstack, which is part of the Digital Technology Supercluster’s network, has launched a new open-source tool — called the COVID-19 Beacon — that allows scientific and medical communities to instantly share information about genetic variants of COVID-19, using software that follows an open international standard.

Researchers can use the tool to discover sequences with specific genetic mutations and chart their geographic and evolutionary origins. “There is an urgent need to respond to this virus in a coordinated way, and we urge researchers and clinicians worldwide to openly share genetic and other biological data to fight COVID-19,” said Marc Fiume, CEO of DNAstack.

“The Supply Hub and the DNAstack Beacon projects are two of the 180 potential projects we are reviewing around the clock to address COVID-19 issues,” Paish says.

NGen’s COVID-19 Response Program will fund projects that involve the rapid production and launch of products in short supply, including virus screening test kits, gloves, gowns, masks, and other personal protective equipment, hospital equipment such as ventilators and peripherals, as well as cleaning and sterilization chemicals and equipment.

NGen’s funding will be available for companies across Canada and will fund projects that can have an immediate impact in the next four to 12 weeks.

“NGen will allocate at least $50 million of its supercluster funding to projects that can move promising technologies to full production readiness to ensure that safe, manufacturable products get to the front of the line in this crisis and that we can build more robust supply chain capabilities in Canada,” says Rob MacLeod, NGen's director, strategic partnerships & programs.

The rapid launch of safe medical products will require expeditious product validation, secure supply of materials and components, regulatory approvals, and the scale-up of new manufacturing systems before full-scale production can be brought online, NGen says.


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