6 issues that will define the future of healthcare

6 issues that will define the future of healthcare

Key sessions at MaRS Impact Health will examine an industry on the cusp of a decisive tilt toward digital technologies

COVID wasn’t a black swan event for the healthcare sector. It was a flock of black swans that triggered rapid realignments across the industry. It pushed provinces to enable the adoption of virtual healthcare, shattered illusions about the security of Canada’s medical supply chains and sparked an investment boom.

“Transformational things are now happening,” says Barry Billings, a senior health advisor at MaRS. He predicts healthcare is now on a path toward an “omni-channel” delivery model, making greater use of technology to give patients more flexibility in where and how they access care. That’s a significant departure from the status quo, and it will have wide-ranging implications.

With the sector at a pivotal moment, MaRS Impact Health will assemble heavyweight panels of experts and innovators to address some of the major questions facing healthcare. Here are six of the key issues the online summit will delve into.


What does the surge in health investment mean for the industry?

Deal-making has hit a frenetic pace as investors try to capitalize on new opportunities in digital health, biotechnology and diagnostic devices. According to funding platform Hockeystick, healthcare was the first or second most-funded vertical in each of Canada’s five biggest startup ecosystems last year. But there are headwinds gathering, too. U.S. corporate benefit managers — important customers for Canada’s export-focused ventures — are already warning that they’re overwhelmed by sales pitches from new health startups. The question is: How much further can the boom run? And who will be the winners when the dust settles?

What: Investor Roundtable

When: June 22, 11:20 a.m. ET

Who: Jonathan Norris, Silicon Valley Bank; Christina Farr, OMERS Ventures; Jerel Davis, Versant Ventures; Sam Ifergan, iGan Ventures.


How can we engineer a better talent pipeline?

Canada continues to be a top destination for highly skilled scientists and engineers, even with a more immigration-friendly administration in Washington. But challenges remain. The rise of remote working has opened a new front in the war for talent and foreign companies are beginning to hire Canadians without needing to relocate them. Meanwhile, Canada still struggles to produce enough STEM graduates and remains overly reliant on imported talent: immigrants make up about 21 percent of the population but hold 50 percent of STEM degrees. Building a robust pipeline of workers with highly specialized skills is no easy task, but without it promising ventures will stall or move elsewhere to find the people they need.

What: Talent crunch: Building the life-sciences talent pipeline

When: June 22, 1:30 p.m. ET

Who: Anne Woods, Silicon Valley Bank; Bharat Srinivasa, Amplitude; Jennifer Chow, Chimeric Therapeutics; John Delaney, Amgen


How to meet the demand for better supply chains?

COVID was a case study in the inherent risks of sprawling supply chains. At the height of the pandemic, at least three planes chartered by Ottawa to fly medical supplies from China returned empty after their cargoes failed to materialize. The recent struggle for vaccines cemented the impression that Canada is too reliant on producers beyond its control. Conversely, Canadian startups executed rapid pivots to make personal protective equipment, and companies like Thornhill Medical forged new partnerships with manufacturing firms to ramp up supply of ventilators. A broad reconfiguring of healthcare supply chains is now on the cards — and how we apply the lessons learned during this pandemic will determine how prepared we are for the next one.

What: Logistics of health

When: June 22, 2:05 p.m. ET

Who: Jayson Myers, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada; Adam Steinhoff, Solaris; Lesley Gouldie, Thornhill Medical; Mario Thomas, Precision Biomonitoring; Linda Hasenfratz, Linamar


Will robots make good listeners?

Algorithms are becoming empathetic. With 40 percent of Canadians reporting their mental health has declined over the past year, demand is surging for online services that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Text-based therapy with chatbots or self-guided care apps can expand access to support and alleviate pressure on mental health providers who are themselves facing burnout. But with no clear guidelines on which patients such services are suitable for and lack of integration with existing care models, automating routine care may not be as simple as it sounds.

What: The pandemic’s psychological fallout

When: June 23, 10:05 a.m. ET

Who: Funmi Alassan, Togetherall; Samer Abughannam, Layla; Allan Kaplan, CAMH and University of Toronto; Sam Duboc, MindBeacon


What can we learn from Moderna’s story?

Before we all became armchair experts in vaccine science, many people might have assumed “Moderna” was a line of minimalist European furniture. But the previously under-the-radar company has been developing its mRNA technology for a decade, with the COVID vaccine being its first product in-market. Founded by Canadian-born former Harvard scientist Derrick Rossi, Moderna’s story highlights how long the road can be from medical discovery to world-changing technology.

What: Fireside chat

When: June 23, 11:40 a.m. ET

Who: Derrick Rossi, Moderna co-founder


What’s next in health innovation?

Telemedicine has captured the headlines, but the technological advances about to impact healthcare go far beyond on-demand video consultations. Startups are steering the industry toward faster and more convenient diagnostics, greater use of automation in drug discovery, as well as technologies that enable more care to be delivered remotely to patients in their own homes. The CEOs of some of Canada’s most innovative startups will share how they see their technologies shaping the future of healthcare.

What: Venture presentations

When: June 23. Therapeutics: 1:45 p.m. ET; Remote care: 2:20 p.m. ET;  Diagnostics: 3:15 p.m. ET; Pain management: 3:50 p.m. ET

Who: Therapeutics: ProteinQure, Specific Biologics Remote care: Careteam, IRegained, Kinetisense. Diagnostics: MIMOSA Diagnostics, Oncoustics, RetiSpec. Pain management: ManagingLife, Intronix Technologies, AmacaThera


MaRS Impact Health is a virtual conference exploring the frontiers of health innovation on June 22 and 23. The complete program for the event is available here.