Funding Innovation

on May 29, 2019

WORLDiscoveries is part of C4 along with the universities and some of the research institutions affiliated with the University of Waterloo, McMaster University, Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Windsor and the University of Guelph. The C4 objective is to coordinate, cooperate and collaborate to commercialize technologies.

Getting any business off the ground is daunting on the best of days. But for an innovative medical or scientific research initiative to take flight, it requires a great deal of financial support at the very least. WORLDiscoveries is focused on helping innovative start-ups secure early-stage finance to get closer to commercialization.

The Western Innovation Fund (WIF) was launched in 2004 and has awarded $2.1 million to researchers at The University of Western Ontario. “These awards leverage an additional $2.8 million in other grants and industry investment,” says Nadine Weedmark, Administration and Budget Manager at WORLDiscoveries. “There are three competitions per year, and applicants can request up to $50,000 per project.”

Proposals are evaluated by university and industry professionals with extensive commercialization experience. “This past year, WIF has assisted in getting two spin-off companies established – DQE Instruments and ENT SimTech,” says Weedmark. “And six licence agreements have been signed as a result of the technology moving forward from WIF funds.”

Another source of proof-of-principle funding is through the Ontario government’s program known as the C4 Consortium. WORLDiscoveries is part of C4 along with the universities and some of the research institutions affiliated with the University of Waterloo, McMaster University, Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Windsor and the University of Guelph.

The C4 objective is to coordinate, cooperate and collaborate to commercialize technologies. “At the most basic level C4 means we work well together and share best practices,” says Weedmark. “C4 gives us all more of a presence in Southwestern Ontario and clout in technology transfer. We become a team of 40 minds working together, instead of just 15 people.”

The C4 proof-of-principle fund was established in the fall of 2007, and Western researchers have won over $300,000 towards their commercialization projects to date. “Western is known for some specialties and the system recognizes that each institution has different strengths,” says Weedmark. “It is about the small wins that give us big traction.”

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A sweeping new innovation in sport

on May 29, 2019

The 2010 Canadian Women’s Olympic Curling team swept their way to silver in Vancouver with a secret weapon developed specifically for them by Western researchers – a new Canadian Olympic curling broom.

Jaipreet Bindra, a Business Development Manager with WORLDiscoveries, explains, “Curling hasn’t had an innovation in a very long time. The last patent I think was for breaking the stick into three parts.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s ‘Own the Podium’ mission to dominate the medals race led it to invest in curling. This meant some research and development. “The Committee wanted to determine what factors make the ice melt and if the head of the broom could be redesigned so it is more efficient on ice,” says Bindra.

So like an episode from MythBusters an old wives tales was busted by Western’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “They learned that the ice does not actually melt with sweeping,” says Bindra. So the team made a broom head that would improve performance based on the findings.

The new broom head, designed by Tom Jenkyn and Jeff Wood of Western’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and curling coach Scott Arnold, requires less force to clean the ice during play because it allows heat to be reflected back onto the ice. The reduced friction between the rock and ice allows for an easier sweep to victory.

“They needed WORLDiscoveries’s help to protect the intellectual property,” says Bindra. “And they tapped the Western Innovation Fund when they needed money for further testing.”

Bindra is in the process of licensing the technology to a leading curling manufacturer to be sold worldwide. “The deal will help finance new discoveries in this sport and others,” says Bindra. “It demonstrates that a small investment in our athletes and our technology can yield multiple benefits for our country.”

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Supporting Start-ups

on May 29, 2019

Renix is a new Londonbased start-up that has developed an innovative, ion-exchange process to purify products or remove contaminants. “The name Renix is a combination from ‘rena,’ the root word for purification and ‘ix’ for ion exchange,” says Christine Haas, co-founder and President of Renix.

Haas says the Renix technology drives down manufacturing costs, increases yields and improves efficiencies. “The real value of the process is that we move from batch to continuous,” says Haas. “No one is running a continuous process in ion exchange. That makes the technology a game changer.”

Manufacturers in auto, pharmaceutical, food, oil and gas, paints, adhesives and metals all have ion exchange applications, so the potential for demand is great. “Renix licensed patented technologies developed by two Western biochemical engineers to do adsorption and desorption on a simultaneous and continuous basis in a fluidized ion exchange,” says Haas.

Renix is running a non-commercial prototype two storeys tall in an engineering lab on campus for proof of concept, and testing so far has yielded good results, says Haas.

In addition to licensing the platform technology to Renix, WORLDiscoveries has stepped up its efforts to help grow the new startup through a range of marketing and support services.

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Creating opportunity globally and locally

on May 29, 2019

Defect-free coatings are tricky for manufacturers – even the hint of an ‘orange peel’ finish can ruin the process. And while liquid coatings that use oil-based solvents work well, they can cause environmental problems.

Dr. Jesse Zhu, at The University of Western Ontario, is co-inventor of a green solution for electrostatic dry powder coating. “Our coating process is the most environmentally friendly one on the market today because it does not use Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs),” says Zhu, Professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.

Zhu is also the liaison between Western and Fineshine, a Shanghaibased company that manufacturers the ultrafine powder coatings. “Fineshine wants to expand powder coating from between 10 and 15 per cent of the market to 50 per cent. This increase means increased profits, but also an increase in environmentally friendly product.”

Today there are countless industrial applications from wood furniture to big-screen TVs and especially in the automotive sector where coatings beautify and protect products but also release VOCs. “Under the hood of a car 99 per cent will be powder coating,” says Zhu. “But what you see on the outside of the car is 100 per cent liquid coating.”

Fineshine’s breakthrough was to increase the durability of the fine particle coating so it could be used more regularly in the automotive industry. “If you have smaller particles you can save 30 to 50 per cent on materials in many applications,” explains Zhu. And dry powder coatings can save a remarkable $500 – $1,000 in production costs per car.

Western’s licence with Fineshine marks the first formal agreement with a Chinese company since WORLDiscoveries initiated its global strategy. “Our goal is to continue to introduce our technology to the Asian market and ideally introduce Asian companies to our cache of research talent,” explains Paul Paolatto, WORLDiscoveries Executive Director, who also helped engineer the agreement.

“It is our hope that this expansion of commercial opportunities abroad will help create wealth and jobs here in London,” Paolatto said.

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Going worldwide

on May 29, 2019

How did JSR, a billion dollar Japanese company and industry leader in synthetic rubber products, find The University of Western Ontario when they needed research on a special protein called Protein A?

The JSR deal gives WORLDiscoveries a foothold in the Asian market, and demonstrates the value of this emerging market for London’s talent and technology.

“They brought their problem to Dr. Shawn Li, a leader in Stem Cell research and veteran Western scientist who likes a challenge,” says Ling Ting, a Business Development Manager for WORLDiscoveries.

This ‘World is Flat’ moment occurred because Dr. Li, Canada Research Chair in Functional Genomics and Cellular Proteomics in Western’s Biochemistry Department, had trained at the University of Peking with a Chinese scientist who had moved to Japan to work for JSR.

The life sciences market is an area of interest for JSR. The company manufactures high quality beads used in antibody purification. Proteins bind to a specific target on these beads in an established process known as column purification. “Protein A is commonly used in the purification of antibodies and found in the cell wall of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus,” says Ting.

Recently, JSR signed the first of what could be a series of licensing agreements to commercially deploy Dr. Li’s process technologies. And WORLDiscoveries was right there to help.

Indeed, the JSR deal gives WORLDiscoveries a foothold in the Asian market, and demonstrates the value of this emerging market for London’s talent and technology

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Expanding boundaries and opportunities

on May 29, 2019

WORLDiscoveries first ventured to Asia in 2007 in pursuit of business development opportunities. The work that has been done with Asian companies Fineshine and JSR are two examples of what we have accomplished so far.

“In the Asian market there are a lot of Memos of Understanding (MOUs) and goodwill,” says Paul Paolatto, the Executive Director of WORLDiscoveries. But those agreements do not necessarily translate into firm business transactions. The goal of WORLDiscoveries is to try to “drive through monetized agreements,” explains Paolatto.

Ling Ting, a Business Development Manager for WORLDiscoveries, says the licensing agreement with JSR was accomplished quickly – a rarity in Japan – through face to face meetings. He says the personal touch was even more important because this was the first time JSR had partnered with a North American university. It’s a partnership that WORLDiscoveries hopes is the first of many.

WORLDiscoveries tapped into federal assistance to help forge these partnerships. Going Global is a fund administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada to attract foreign direct investment and increase overseas business development. Funding subsidizes the type of overseas meetings that can make or break a strategic alliance between a research institute and a foreign partner.

This global business model benefits both parties, and the WORLDiscoveries benefits extend right into London’s business community. “Through these international opportunities we build credibility and stimulate future public and private investment,” says Paolatto. “Then, once we build these relationships, we can invite these companies to establish themselves in London.”

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Finding Value in Organic Waste

on May 29, 2019

Ten cubic metres of low-value biomass becomes three cubic metres of high-value oil.

Pyrolysis does in seconds what nature has done for millions of years. “It converts algae, woody waste – just about anything you can think of – into oil, char and gas,” explains Jennifer MacDonald, Chief Operating Officer of Agri-Therm, Inc. “Pyrolysis is like a big furnace or kiln that has a proprietary and well-designed system to feed biomass into the kiln where it is heated.”

MacDonald says Agri-Therm’s competitive advantage is access to the pyrolysis research program led by Dr. Franco Berruti and Dr. Cedric Briens. “Because we are located in Western’s Institute of Chemicals from Alternative Resources (ICFAR) – a state-of-the-art R&D facility that opened north of campus in 2009 – we have access to PhDs, students and technicians who are all dedicated to making pyrolysis world-class,” explains MacDonald.

Pyrolysis is a green technology that recycles and condenses biomass, but also produces a valuable resource. “Ten cubic metres of low-value biomass becomes three cubic metres of high-value oil,” explains MacDonald.

Because the Agri-Therm pyrolysis unit is mobile it can be transported to many hard-to-access sites with a few units. The reactor is attractive in the field because it is mobile, and therefore can be taken from site to site. As well, the machinery is easier to maintain and manage.

With their first pre-commercial unit promised to a Mexican university, MacDonald is excited for the first one to go live. “We get requests every week asking if it is commercialized yet,” she says. “So, the pipeline of interest is definitely there.”

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Safer medical imaging

on May 29, 2019

Digital medical imaging systems detect everything from tumours to cavities, and are in such frequent use they often are taken for granted. Yet because of their daily use in many applications, people tend to forget that there is a possibility of overexposure to ionizing radiation from X-ray equipment.

“Digital images have rapidly replaced film in medical imaging applications,” says Sandy Vascotto, a Business Development Manager with WORLDiscoveries. “Unfortunately, the quality control of digital technology has not kept pace.” He adds, “The concern is that with greater ease of use with digital film you will have a increased exposure to X-ray radiation over a lifetime.”

To ensure quality control, imaging equipment must be inspected regularly for leaking radiation.

Thankfully, advanced technology has been developed by a Robarts start-up company using the detective quantum efficiency value (DQE), the proven method to evaluate the safe functionality of digital imaging equipment.

DQE Instruments, a 2009 medical device company founded by Dr. Ian Cunningham – a leader in DQE physics – and incubated through The University of Western Ontario, has invented and patented a breakthrough portable core device and software system to provide quality assurance in digital medical imaging equipment.

Through this innovation – and DQE Instruments’s work with WORLDiscoveries – non-medical experts can for the first time measure the DQE themselves, in effect creating an opportunity to materially improve health care. “This technology allows every institution, manufacturer and government agency to be accountable to the patient and the general public,” says Vascotto.

Improved equipment means improved imaging, so clinicians, who sometimes turn up the dose of radiation if imaging is poor, don’t need to increase radiation. “Through this technology, we can reduce the dose and the associated risk,” Vascotto explains.

Not surprising, the marketplace has responded. “We’ve generated such interest we already cannot satisfy demand in the start-up phase,” says Vascotto.

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The ‘Fun’ in Fundamentals

on May 29, 2019

We sometimes forget that even adult students don’t always enjoy doing school assignments. And with that in mind, a new software training system for ear, nose and throat diagnostic and surgical procedures makes learning fun.

“It’s essentially a game for medical students that provides hands-on experience,” says Jaipreet Bindra, a Business Development Manager for WORLDiscoveries. “That is how they like to learn. This generation does not want to learn only from books.”

ENT Simulation Technologies, Inc. (ENT SimTech), a Western spin-off, develops simulators based on virtual-reality technologies that use a three-dimensional anatomical model with realistic graphics and touch feedback.

Bindra says the touch-feel part of the product will help the students fine-tune their skills. “For example, in a Myringotomy, where tubes are put into the ear – touch is very important,” he says. “Newly trained surgeons don’t have the skills to know how deep the tubes need to go or they make an incorrect incision or put one in the wrong place.”

And because ENT SimTech is fun, students are willing to spend more time practising their technique. “With our technology, you perform the procedure repeatedly and get feedback,” says Bindra.

The technology was developed by co-founders Dr. Sumit Agrawal, an otolaryngologist at the London Health Sciences Centre and Professor Hanif Ladak, a Western bio-medical engineer.

In addition to helping to finance this promising new company, WORLDiscoveries is assisting with the completion of the beta test system so that they can quickly move it to its test markets in Canada and the U.S. “That will help us refine the technology and get ready for full product launch,” says Bindra.

“The advantage is that ENT SimTech is relatively inexpensive compared to other training tools and teaches a wide range of procedures.”

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Training that’s more lifelike

on May 29, 2019

Practise makes perfect. And for surgeons-in-training the skill to make tight, accurate stitches at high speed could mean life or death.

Dr. Leonardo Millon makes biocompatible tissue replacements so lifelike they can be used for surgical training. “We have proven that we have come close to real tissue,” says Millon who developed a proprietary, hydrogel tissue. The product can be used to practise cardiac procedures including valve replacement and repair. “Medical students get surgical training in anastomosis, which is the suturing of vessels or conduits, veins, coronary arteries and aorta.”

Millon started up Lifelike BioTissue Inc. in 2009 after getting his PhD in biomedical engineering from Western. Building off of technology licensed through WORLDiscoveries and developed in partnership with Drs. Wankei Wan and Mackenzie Quartz, Millon engineered tissue superior to silicone products to be used for synthetic biotissue training applications.

In 2009, Lifelike BioTissue was awarded $100,000 from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) for Technical Entrepreneurship – a prestigious award that came with mentors and a broad support system. Millon then partnered with his sister Karen Millon, a former investment banker, to manage the path to commercialization.

Karen Millon says the current training system is too expensive for the volume of practise required to excel. “Currently, human and animal cadavers including pig’s feet and dogs are used for vascular and surgical training,” she says. “And up to eight students share a cadaver because they are in short supply and costly.”

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