A partnership to get health innovations into the hands of Alberta's health system

Oct. 24, 2016

Accelerating Innovations into Care (AICE) is the newest funding opportunity offered by Alberta Innovates — Health Solutions (AIHS). As its name suggests, AICE is designed to bring innovative technology to front-line health care throughout the province. The program is built on partnerships between AIHS, TEC Edmonton, small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and Alberta Health Services (AHS), the latter of whose Strategic Clinical Networks (SCN) will pilot new technologies that the SMEs develop.

AICE was introduced in November 2015. The first recipient, the Diabetes, Obesity, and Nutrition SCN, was announced in April 2016. The SCN is partnering with two Alberta companies, Edmonton-based Exciton Technologies Inc. and Calgary-based Orpyx Medical Technologies Inc. Exciton makes silver bandages for wound treatment. Orpyx makes an insole that alerts people with peripheral neuropathy when there is abnormal pressure in their shoes.

Both products have potential to improve the lives of patients with diabetic foot disease, while saving money for the health care system. Without AICE, however, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for SME’s with limited resources to compete and prove their technologies value, which is where the SCNs come in.

Among the SCNs goals are to look for innovative ways to do things in the health system, and to make the system into a “living lab,” constantly looking for new ways to improve health care and make it as efficient as possible for patients. Having the SCNs pilot new technologies developed by Alberta companies is one way to do that.

Although the first companies to benefit from AICE are Alberta-based, the program is not limited to those within provincial borders. “If we have a company from, say, Manitoba that has a product of interest to an SCN, we don’t want to close the door,” says Reg Joseph, AIHS Vice President of Innovations and Initiatives. “Priority will be given to the impact of the health technology, not to where the company is located.”

To date, AICE has received three applications, two of which have been funded. But there are more than 30 companies and SCNs in the queue, working together to develop proposals. “It’s been fairly slow as far as applications in the door because we work together with the companies and help them develop their proposals: we don’t let them apply until they’re ready,” Joseph says.

AIHS opted to fund the SCN and not the company to ensure that the need for the products is driven by the health system – from a “pull” perspective as opposed to a “push” by the company to get in, Joseph explains.

“Our goal is to give the health care system the incentive to start doing these innovative projects. Before AICE, the SCNS may have had a slight interest in using these new technologies, but they couldn’t do it because the infrastructure and funding weren’t in place.”

To determine which projects will be funded, AICE draws from a pool of 20 to 30 experts around the world. Each application is judged by three-person panel: a business expert who has been involved in commercializing technologies, someone who works within the health care system at a fairly high operation level bringing in new health technologies, and a clinician expert in whatever disease area the project is focused on.

“Anyone can say ‘oh, there is a significant need for this product in the system,’” Joseph says. “The expert panel is there to validate whether there is a need, and whether the potential exists to make a difference.”

Each grant is for $150,000 over an 18-month period. It’s mostly for people power, to give the SCNS the resources they need to implement the technology and collect and analyze the data that shows how the technology worked and what the outcomes were. The company provides its product in-kind, as a match to the program.

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