Writing about medical devices on a daily basis without ever seeing the inside of a life sciences laboratory or a healthcare facility would be a bit like a sports writer who never steps foot inside a stadium. And yet many of us journalists rarely get the opportunity to see where all the magic happens in the industries we cover so faithfully. Recently I had an opportunity, for the second time, to visit nearly a dozen life sciences facilities during a four-day tour of Ontario’s medical device industry which included stops in both Toronto and Ottawa. The tour, organized by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development Trade and Employment, included journalists from seven different countries around the globe. I participated in a similar tour of the province in November 2011 and was grateful for the opportunity to visit Ontario’s medical device industry again in June. Appropriately, the tour began in a truly unique facility in the heart of Toronto’s life sciences research community, an innovation center dubbed the MaRS Discovery District. Built with the intention of bringing together researchers and entrepreneurs to collaborate on new life sciences technologies, MaRS is home to 140 tenants, 80 of which are start-ups, and is set up to accommodate both executive offices and laboratory facilities, often located just a few steps from one another. During the first day of the tour, Minister Reza Moridi of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation told us that Ontario sees innovative research as a journey. And indeed, after four long days of visiting companies and research facilities in Toronto and Ottawa, it certainly felt like we had been on quite a journey. I think I was the only one in the group who got really excited the first time we were asked to slip into a white lab coat and safety goggles before walking through a lab, it was the first time I felt like I was dressing up like a scientist! By the fourth or fifth lab we visited, the luster of the white lab coat had worn off, but it was still neat to see researchers hard at work trying to advance the field of medicine.
And in Canada’s capital, where people from all over the country were gathering to celebrate Canada Day on July 1, we got to see the opposite end of the innovation spectrum, the manufacturing facility of Best Theratronics, where welders and other plant workers were building cyclotron systems for research and radioisotope production, external beam therapy units for cancer therapy, and self-contained irradiators for blood and research purposes.
Most impressive at the Best Theratronics stop was the 70 MeV Cyclotron. Over the past few years the company has had to upgrade a 5,900 square foot dedicated room in order to build such a massive machine in-house.
All in all the tour provided us with a comprehensive picture of Ontario’s medical device industry and the take-home message was quite clear, the life sciences are important to Ontario.