Innovations in life sciences often find their beginnings in academic study and theory. The benefits to the healthcare system, though, are only achieved once the ideas have been developed into something practical and ready to be used by healthcare professionals to the benefit of their patients. At incubators and accelerators, people like Hassan Jaferi help create the opportunities that bring academic ideas into a business to be made functional and then available to the market.
Having the beginnings of his work rooted in patent examination, it seems natural that Hassan’s career has found its way into commercialization and working with a university-based accelerator. When asked about his career story, Hassan says, “The common thread with all the work that I’ve done is at the intersection of inventions and research and the world of business.”
In this installment of our Making Impact Podcast series, ODAIA’s co-founder, Helen Kontozopoulos met with Hassan Jaferi, Co Director of the UTEST Accelerator, which operates under the Toronto Innovation Acceleration Partners, and CEO of Bitnobi Inc., to discuss his experience working with startups in life sciences and starting his own company through an accelerator.
The Process of Moving Research to Practical Applications through Accelerators
At the beginning of developing new innovations, an academic start can allow a new technology to be completely theoretical in its origins. Emerging technologies are highly supported within an academic environment, not only from a conceptualization point of view but also with funding for the research. On the focus of accelerators, Hassan explains, “When you look at it from a bird’s eye view, it’s not just things that are happening on, let’s say the IT or the software side, there’s amazing stuff that has been happening on the life science side too.”
Commercialization and bringing ideas to the market is an involved process of integrating new innovations with existing business problems and then combining the forces of academic founders with business talent. As a hub, an accelerator can help bring together all the required parties and support them with resources to move a concept forward into a startup business.
Examples of Life Sciences Technologies Recently Commercializing from the UTEST Accelerator
There are many new innovations starting to come into the market in life sciences from the UTEST Accelerator. ODAIA itself is an example of a company with academic roots that started its commercialization journey with UTEST Accelerator as one of its early supporters.
Another example is Notch Therapeutics that is developing cell therapies to create immunotherapies for cancer patients. Founded in 2018, the company has now grown to over 85 people and closed an oversubscribed Series A funding round, in 2021.
Hypercare is another example that comes to mind for Hassan when highlighting startups in life sciences innovation. The focus of Hypercare is creating a mobile-first, communication app that allows medical professionals to connect and optimize patient care through secure messaging. Learn more about Hypercare from its CEO, Albert Tai, in an earlier episode of the Making Impact podcast, here.
There are many other startups in categories like health and life sciences, medical devices and surgical, ehealth/digital health, pharmaceuticals, and precision medicine getting their start at the UTEST Accelerator.
Hassan’s Own Startup Experience: The Story of Bitnobi
York University is the birthplace of Bitnobi where Hassan met Dr Marin Litoiu, an expert in data cloud computing. Around 2014, Dr Litoiu had identified that many data breaches were happening from sharing copies of data. To address this data security issue, Bitnobi was founded in 2016, with Hassan as CEO, while he also continued to work with the UTEST Accelerator. Bitnobi is an interface that allows a party to set the “rules of engagement” on the type of data they want to share with a data consumer or collaborator.
On the pain point that Bitnobi addresses and how it fill a business gap, Hassan explains, “I think the biggest pain point we saw, from 2016 all the way to coming up until now, is regardless of the market segment that you look at, sharing of data is a challenge, security of data is a challenge, and data collaborations are a challenge.”
A recent example of the need for better data security, specifically in life sciences and healthcare, was during the peak of the COVID pandemic. There was a lag in the health units and Ministry of Health receiving data due to the current system of checks and balances that are in place to try to ensure the transfer of data is secure.
At this point in the journey of Bitnobi, the company now faces challenges around data paradigms, as well as competition from other startups since data privacy and security has become a much more widespread issue compared with its relevance in 2016. The big vision moving forward for Bitnobi will be to continue to eliminate the need to move copies of data and expand to becoming a marketplace that connects data repositories and proprietary algorithms.
There are many places in business and healthcare that can benefit from innovation and invention - from development of new treatments for disease to improved communication between healthcare providers to creation of new types of medical devices.
When academic researchers can identify these gaps, they can work on creating solutions to address those needs. The incubators and accelerators, like UTEST, that help marry the life sciences research with funding and business talent will continue to be crucial in bringing new technologies and products to the healthcare industry. This value chain will make an impact on how effectively healthcare providers can do their jobs and ultimately lead to better treatments and care within the Canadian healthcare system.
This is the eighth installment of ODAIA’s Making Impact Podcast series, where we interview other thought leaders who are using cutting-edge technology to innovate in the life sciences. Listen to our previous episode with Milos Popovic, Institute Director of KITE, the research arm of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, he is a Professor at the University of Toronto, and co-founder and Director of MyndTec as he unpacks how the initiatives in rehabilitation science that are transformative for healthcare professionals and patients alike.