Faculty of Medicine

Advancing Our Innovation Agenda

May 7, 2019

Professor Richard Hegele, photo by University Health NetworkProfessor Richard Hegele, photo by University Health Network Our leadership in the health sciences depends on translation of research into new therapies and products. But the road to translation — and clinical impact — can be long and winding. That is why U of T Medicine’s new Academic Strategic Plan commits to developing a pipeline for innovation that provides clarity and support to our researchers. 

Our innovation strategy recognizes that we are part of a broader eco-system of innovation with many partners, the University’s Intellectual Property Office and MaRS key among them. I want to explain the Faculty’s role in that eco-system and the steps we’re taking to advance our innovation agenda. 

First, we are establishing a pilot Research Executive-in-Residence role in U of T Medicine. This person will ideally be a serial entrepreneur, and will mentor researchers through the early-stage development of start-ups. The Executive-in-Residence is also anticipated to review faculty research to determine its potential for commercialization and knowledge translation, and will utilize an extensive professional network to communicate the value of partnering with us on advanced research. 

This work will build on the success of the Health Innovation Hub (H2i), U of T Medicine’s campus-based accelerator. Its mission is to educate, facilitate and partner on trainee-initiated health commercialization. The aim of H2i is to create and advance a culture and infrastructure that translates discoveries and ideas into products, thereby fostering the success of 100 companies over the next 10 years. The value generated by companies enrolled in H2i has grown from $40,000 since its inception in 2014 to $10-million last year. 

A critical piece of our strategy is expansion of the available number of early stage innovation grants. Often when we approach industrial partners with novel innovations, we’re told they hold promise, but “it’s too early.” We need to provide support at those crucial early stages to enable innovations to become commercialization-ready.

Early stage innovation grants have proven effective in incubating ideas and spurring collaboration. For example, with the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering and TAHSN research institutes, we established the EMHSeed program in 2015, which to date has provided $1.7-million in seed funding for innovative research partnerships that address important, unsolved problems at the engineering-medicine interface. Another example is LAB150, a drug development collaboration between MaRS Innovation and Evotec AG that accelerates Toronto’s academic research into market-ready products. And Neuroscience Catalyst, a public-private partnership between U of T, Janssen Inc. and the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center in California, funds open-source, pre-competitive, proof-of-concept research. The aim of the Neuroscience Catalyst is to identify and validate therapeutic targets that can progress to clinical treatments for mood disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. 

We are seeking to establish new opportunities that will further our innovation agenda, working with the Faculty’s Office of Advancement. A great example is the establishment of the Accelerator for Donnelly Collaboration (AcDC), thanks to a $10-million donation by Terrence Donnelly. The vision of AcDC is to be a state-of-the-art catalyst hub for biotechnology innovation and commercialization that will house startup companies and facilitate collaboration with investigators at the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. And, we foresee playing an important role as the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre takes shape.

Finally, we are linking members of our research community to leadership training opportunities that build the skillsets necessary for guiding teams as they move their innovations forward. A plethora of options are available, from training programs at Mitacs and executive training at Rotman to the New and Evolving Academic Leaders Program in the Centre for Faculty Development. We aim to develop an online, searchable database of these opportunities for all our community members.

We face more opportunities than ever to capitalize on the research findings that drive health care solutions and economic growth; let’s seize them together as we enact our innovation agenda. 

Richard Hegele
Vice Dean, Research and Innovation
Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto 

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