New program launches to help Alberta innovators commercialize digital health technologies

Mark Lowey
June 16, 2021

Alberta Innovates has launched a program to help early-stage entrepreneurs commercialize digital technologies aimed at solving health care’s biggest challenges.

The goal of the new Accelerating Innovations into CarE (AICE)-Concepts program is to reduce the cost of health care — which now consumes nearly 40 percent of the provincial budget — while improving Albertans’ health by nurturing a digital health ecosystem.

“Alberta has all the ingredients to be a leader in providing digital health solutions to the world — the ambition, people, expertise, and tools,” Tim Murphy, vice-president of health innovations at Alberta Innovates, said in an email to Research Money.

“Alberta Innovates is seizing the opportunity to help improve the health of Albertans and diversify our economy, by securing a share of a global digital health market estimated at US$96.5 billion dollars in 2020."

The AICE-Concepts program will assist early-stage health research that demonstrates high commercialization potential in precision health. Precision health (also called precision medicine or personalized medicine) involves measuring factors such as an individual's genes, behaviours (exercise and eating habits, for example) and environment, and tailoring interventions to specific individuals rather than using the same approach for everyone.

The program is designed to accelerate the application of computational technologies that lead to personalized health benefits in the precision health priority areas of disease prevention and diagnosis.

Digital technologies in healthcare include mobile applications, electronic medical records and diagnostic tools enabled by artificial intelligence, wearable devices and virtual reality training.

Early-stage innovators will be able to apply through the AICE-Concepts program for a maximum of $600,000 in funding, for up to 36 months, to help commercialize their innovations. Innovators can use the funding to accelerate product development, business readiness, product-market fit and regulatory compliance.

Projects must be led by an Alberta-based post-secondary institution or government health authority.

“Alberta Innovates’ product offerings, like AICE-Concepts, are a way to help innovators jump-start and drive commercialization to maximize social and economic benefits for Alberta,” Murphy said.

Projects must apply computational technology or technique to a clinical problem

Early approaches in precision health examined the relationship between a single clinical marker and a disease for an individual. Though this reductive approach has proven to be effective in some cases, it is increasingly limited due to complex biological, social and environmental factors influencing individual health needs.

The rapid emergence and application of computational tools has enabled precision health research to overcome the limits of a reductionist approach. Network medicine or network-based approaches are a leading example of system-level precision health that interrogates interaction networks using computational tools.

Network-based approaches, which involve the rapidly scaling volume of health data as well as computational tools, consider a system-level review in addressing health needs and maximizing benefits. Such approaches are now used in areas such as cardiac disease, cancer, lung disease, genetic predictions and drug discovery.

Genome Canada's "All for One" precision health partnership, which enables access for Canadians to a timely and accurate genomic-based diagnosis, is an example of a network-based approach.

Projects eligible for the AICE-Concepts program must apply a computational technology or technique to address at least one clearly defined clinical problem that is relevant to the precision health priority areas of prevention and diagnosis. Network-based precision health approaches will get priority.

The new program builds on Alberta Innovates’ existing AICE suite of programs that provide a coordinated series of enabling mechanisms to support entrepreneurs along their health innovations commercialization journey.

Those mechanisms include a market access program to support small- and medium-sized enterprises and real-world testing sites in carrying out clinical trials, feasibility studies or real-world trials to fast-track commercial progression and market adoption.

To date, Alberta Innovates has provided $5.7 million to Alberta-based researchers to support 11 AICE projects with a total value of $11 million.


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