The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation

The impact of an inventive approach to innovation

iStock/CSA-Archive

iStock/CSA-Archive

An innovative idea might begin with a metaphorical light bulb flickering on, but, more often than not, there are many, many steps in between identifying a problem and coming up with a successful solution. Based in Toronto, the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) aims to bridge that gap in seniors’ health care.

Created in 2015 through funding from the Government of Canada through the Public Health Agency of Canada, CABHI helps support the development and commercialization of aging and brain innovations from early ideas, to testing and validating products, to helping a product scale and get adopted in the health sector. Some of the services CABHI offers include funding, project management, knowledge dissemination, networking, feedback from the CABHI Seniors Advisory Panel and more. 

CABHI focuses its efforts on four gaps it has identified in innovation in seniors’ health. These include filling a niche in providing resources for underserved point-of-care innovation; improved speed between innovations in getting from bench to end users; increasing the success of Canadian companies engaged in the aging brain health and dementia care markets through their services so that these innovations can become procured and more widely adopted; and providing support for underrepresented communities in seniors’ care

We know our approach can make a meaningful difference for older adults and their caregivers.
— Mel Barsky

CABHI has several programs that focus on the various stages of the innovation process, often in collaboration with other partners, including National Bank. Programs include the Spark Program, where health-care workers can develop their ideas for improving seniors’ care, and the Industry Innovation Partnership Program, which connects companies and seniors’ care organizations to test innovations.  

Mel Barsky, director of business development, says CABHI’s unique approach to innovation is its emphasis on perspective. 

“CABHI developed a partnership model that optimizes the innovation process through co-development, ensuring that end users’ — for example, older adults, caregivers or health-care providers — perspectives are integrated into decision-making, priority-setting, user testing and dissemination,” says Barsky. “In a 2018 survey of CABHI stakeholders, 91 per cent of industry respondents, 92 per cent of researchers and developer respondents, and 100 per cent of health-care respondents said it would be difficult to access similar services or assistance elsewhere.” 

Essentially, CABHI takes a needs-specific approach to innovation in seniors’ health. It identifies where the greatest stop-gaps are in the innovation process — both for individual innovators and in seniors’ health care overall — and helps to fill them. One of the key ways it does so is by making sure that innovators receive feedback from those organizations and the people their project/product is aiming to help.  

So far, CABHI’s unique approach has led to the launch of more than 210 projects and over $84 million in project funding in less than five years. This year also saw CABHI’s introduction of What’s Next Canada’s inaugural Innovation Day on March 20. The day was a part of the annual Rotman Research Institute Conference in Toronto. The focus of What’s Next Canada was to provide learning and networking opportunities for innovators. 

In addition to a number of exciting guest speakers and panellists, one of the highlights of the day was the pitch competition, hosted by NBC News anchor Richard Lui. Nine companies competed and were judged on the potential transformative ability of their pitch. The 2019 CABHI Innovation People’s Choice Award was given to U.S.- and Canadian-based Catalyst Healthcare for “spencer,” a device that helps manage medication. And the 2019 CABHI Innovation Award went to San Francisco-based Darmiyan for its work on early dementia detection.

CABHI is continuing on its upward trajectory — it already partners with seven provinces, including Alberta, and is working on partnering with two more and a territory. CABHI is also continuing to expand on an international scale, with three partnerships that will be announced in the near future. 

“We know our approach can make a meaningful difference for older adults and their caregivers, for seniors’ care organizations, for innovators, and for the health system,” says Barsky. “We will continue to build our community of innovators.” [ ]