TORONTO – Industry-led accelerator Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen) has dipped into its CA$50 million (US$37 million) supercluster fund to help three Canadian companies beef up the nation’s supply of COVID-19 equipment and medical devices. More than CA$6 million (US$4.44 million) will go towards developing plastic diagnostic medical molds, remote COVID-19 monitoring technology and textile-based devices that triage patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

“We went through nine hundred, very good applications to participate in this program. These are the best of the best,” NGen CEO Jayson Myers told BioWorld. “We’re expecting their products to be in the hands of health care workers by the end of this calendar year, if not before.”

Not just for BP anymore

Canadians aren’t writing a blank check, they want value for the money they’re spending on COVID-19 Robert Kaul, CEO, of Kitchener, Ontario-based Cloud Dx Inc. told BioWorld. The company’s Pulsewave 2.0 is a spot monitor that remotely measures non-acute symptoms of COVID-19 of patients at home, but with one very special feature.

“Like your average blood pressure cuff, you just put it on, press a button to take your blood pressure, take it off and go about your day,” said Kaul. “What’s unique about this is it also measures respiration rate. There’s no other blood pressure cuff on the market that does that.”

Measuring respiration is essential for patients suffering from shortness of breath that may be linked to COVID-19. Cloud Dx’s device wraps around the wrist and checks the patient’s radial artery pulse rate. This in turn is analyzed by a series of algorithms which enable doctors to know precisely what the patient’s breathing rate is, along with BP and heart rate.

The CA$1.75 million (US$1.3 million) from the supercluster fund will be spent on clinical validation studies and establishment a new, 12,000 square foot, medical device manufacturing facility in Kitchener. “Previously we would do that in China, the lowest cost place to do assembly like this,” said Kaul. “Since COVID-19 and the deterioration of relations between Canada and China it makes strategic sense to find a way to do this kind of work on shore.”

The strategy also ensures the company’s intellectual property remains secured, “and provides a really great chance to develop high end manufacturing jobs in Ontario and have ultimate quality of control over the product.”

Monitoring magic

From the moment we’re born to the day we die our bodies are wrapped in a textile of some kind. This is the basic premise underlying electronic wearable companies like Toronto-based Myant Inc. which received CA$2.5 million (US$1.85 million) from NGen to manufacture and deploy a textile-based, wearable health monitoring system called Skiin.

“The magic happens through our ability to knit sensors and actuators into clothing that measure respiration, heart activity and other important health indicators, but particularly at times of COVID-19,” Myant’s director of marketing Hannah Fung told BioWorld. “But we also want to improve access to care to more than tech savvy, able-bodied people living in big urban settings where there are good hospitals.”

Residents of elder care homes have been hit hardest by the pandemic. They need solutions for monitoring their vital stats unencumbered by size or complexity, said Fung. Myant’s textile-based sensors collect longitudinal biometric patient data sent to the cloud where it easily accessed and read by health care staff, he said.

Key here is machine learning that flag deviations from baseline body behavior that might require a closer look such as elevated temperature or a change in breathing. Machine learning takes that one step further by enabling doctors to triage patients, said Fung. That means “determining through actual data rather than patient reports whether they’re at a higher likelihood of having COVID-19.”

A mix of technical skills

Machine learning will play a large role in Cloud Dx’s future too, said Robert Kaul. “Thousands of people using Pulsewave 2.0 for weeks and months will enable us to build up a big data link which you can then apply machine learning to for predicting population trends and better understanding where to spend resources.”

Cloud Dx still must match Ottawa’s 50% contribution to the company’s year-long project costs. That will come from sales of its Connected Health kit and monthly subscription service and from a CA$5 million (US$3.7 million) fundraising drive, said Kaul.

For its part, Myant will be advancing wholly owned Canadian engineering and manufacturing capacity at its 80,000 square foot plant in Etobicoke, Ontario. For some, though, the 3D robotics knitting machines may not be nearly as interesting as the mix of skills brought to bear on COVID-19 fighting wearable technologies.

“Our biomedical engineers sit beside our fashion designers who sit beside our data science people,” said Fung. “So we’re a very interdisciplinary company that provides everything, end-to-end.”

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