Winning the fight against COVID-19: The impact of BC-led innovation

Over the past two years, the hardships of the pandemic have been widespread, from the increasing stress and anxiety of our frontline healthcare workers to the impact on job security, business growth, food supply and the healthcare outcomes of every Canadian.   

At the same time, the pandemic has spurred an incredible burst of far-reaching science, technology and innovation that is expediting the development of vaccines and drugs, reducing health system backlogs, increasing workplace safety, restoring supply chain interruptions, growing digital businesses in our communities and supporting a greener post-pandemic economy. 

What a lot of us do not realize is how many of these advancements have roots in BC.  

BC-led innovation to be proud of 

At the Digital Supercluster, we have over $250 million in innovation projects led by our BC members. This local ecosystem involves more than 500 industry leaders, start-ups, scaleups, academia, researchers, community stakeholders, not-for-profits and government, working together to keep Canadians healthy, address the challenges of climate change and drive economic productivity through digital transformation. 

Within our portfolio of more than 60 COVID-related projects, many of our BC members play an active role in producing break-through technologies that are helping us win Canada’s fight against COVID. Here are just a few examples.   

Developing an antiviral pill to treat Omnicron and Delta 

Even with the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, there is a need for effective and affordable antiviral medications to treat variants such as Omnicron and Delta. Raven2 features an AI platform to fast-track the discovery of a drug therapy. The project is led by Variational AI and supported by adMare  BioInnovations  and the University of British Columbia (UBC). They are currently testing discovered compounds for validation.  

Reducing the backlog of cancer surgeries 

2022 is proving to be another challenging year of surgery wait lists. The latest numbers show 4,200 fewer surgeries are being performed each month. The Access to Cancer Testing and Treatment in Response to COVID-19 (ACTT) project, led by Vancouver-based Canexia Health, is pushing ahead with liquid biopsy testing to suggest treatment options for lung, breast and colorectal cancer, thus avoiding tissue biopsies which require a surgical procedure. Other consortium partners include Queen’s University, AstraZeneca Canada, the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, Genolife, Semaphore Solutions, emtelligent, Xtract AI, Novateur and Illumina.

Expediting the diagnosis of lung abnormalities in chest X-rays

Identifying lung abnormalities in a timely manner is critical to the effective treatment of COVID-19. The XrAI project harnesses the power of AI and machine learning to produce a diagnostic tool that can help clinicians in urban, rural and remote locations to diagnose these abnormalities and provide urgent emergency care. By speeding up the analysis of the x-rays, XrAI is reducing radiology bottlenecks and making real-time decisions possible.

XrAI  has been approved by Health Canada as a Class III medical device to support Canadian health providers in the fight against COVID-19. The project is being developed by Synthesis Health in partnership with Fraser Health Authority, Vancouver Coastal Health, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Trillium Health Partners, Microsoft and others.

Delivering real-time, point-of-care ultrasounds in rural and remote communities

Diagnosing COVID-19 in patients in rural and remote communities can be costly and time-consuming. The risks of delays or misdiagnosis can lead to severe consequences such as outbreaks and death. In the Point-of-Care Ultrasound for COVID-19 project, Providence Health Care, working together with Clarius Mobile Health, Change Healthcare, UBC, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Rural Coordination Centre of BC, developed an AI-powered platform that can be used with  handheld mobile ultrasound devices and reduce the need for patients to travel to a test site. 

Providing wellness management for any body 

The stress and anxiety associated with COVID-19 has increased the need for wellness management based not only on physical health, but also emotional well-being and social health. is a project spearheaded by Lululemon with a goal to develop AI models and a “virtual agent” that would help assess the state of personal wellbeing to create immersive and personalized coaching experiences. Other consortium members include Wysdom.AI, Microsoft and Queen’s University. 

Extending social support to those isolated by COVID-19

Before COVID, healthcare depended largely on personal interactions for post-surgery physio, critical peer support, education, monitoring and clinical evaluation. The Stronger Together: Social Infrastructure for Community Health project led by Curatio, in partnership with Simon Fraser University (SFU), UBC, Cloud DX, Pacific Blue Cross,, Wellness Garage, Interior Health Authority and OnCall Health, brings together a privacy-compliant social network platform with remote medical-grade patient monitoring to ensure that discharged patients in COVID-19 isolation receive continued virtual peer support, health monitoring, as well as educational programs. 

Delivering mental health care for frontline healthcare workers 

COVID-19 has added a whole new level of stress, anxiety, trauma, and depression for frontline healthcare workers that is leading to burnout and mental health issues. Starling Minds in collaboration with UBC and Genome BC is developing a suite of interactive digital therapy tools under a project called Digital Mental Health Tools for Healthcare Workers Providing COVID-19 Care. Leveraging customized content by profession, an ability to incorporate personality traits for a more tailored therapy and a mental fitness playbook, these self-guided mental health tools are being offered to 30,000 health care workers across the Fraser Health Authority. The project also expanded its scope to include over 200,000 educators, principals and vice principals across Canada. 

Overcoming food supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and floods

A combination of stay at home orders, supply chain issues, floods and fast-tracked digital transformation have forced many B.C. food producers to adopt creative solutions to keep their doors open. 

Wisebox Solutions, based in Abbotsford, BC, specializes in the rapid development of fully-managed web-based transactional e-commerce solutions. Through the project, they have launched a new digital marketplace to strengthen the local food supply chain, provide the digital infrastructure small businesses need to survive and support the growing “shop local” movement. It is one of the first online fulfillments systems to facilitate “farm-to-table” grocery delivery, reducing food miles and providing consumers easy access to healthier food with traceable origins. Other partners include i-Open Technologies, Novex Delivery Solutions and D-Wave Systems.  

Matching unsold food with organizations that are hungry for it  

Almost 60-percent of food produced in Canada is never eaten. The financial value of this potentially rescuable food is a staggering $49.46 billion. Even worse, it could have been used to feed the hungry and food insecure, groups whose numbers have swelled as a result of the pandemic.

The Emergency Food Distribution Network project led by FoodMesh has become Canada’s largest online ecosystem of food suppliers, charities and farmers. This project brings together non-profits such as the United Way Lower Mainland, Vancity EnviroFund, National Zero Waste Council and Vancouver Coastal Health; private-sector food producers and suppliers such as Daiya Foods, Overwaitea Food Group and Buy Low Food Group; government municipalities such as Metro Vancouver, City of Richmond and Fraser Valley Regional District; and business leaders such as Traction on Demand and Salesforce. 

Since the consortium started its work, they have helped organizations rescue the equivalent of more than 16 million meals. The amount of food handled via the network has grown 300 percent in 2021, with the network now encompassing 150 food stores and more than 2,500 charities and farmers in four provinces.

Securing safe food delivery and reducing food waste 

As the COVID-19 environment evolves, so does the challenge for retailers to offer safe food delivery to Canadians. Led by FoodX, the Scaling Safe Food Delivery for Canadians project is developing software for managing fresh inventory within its e-Grocery fulfillment centre at scale, making it easy for essential workers, home-based patients and citizens in quarantine to access fresh, high-quality groceries. Partners include OpsGuru, AltaML, ETG Consulting, Routific, Meridian Farm Market, Microsoft and Calico Logic. 

Fending off disruptive waves of COVID-19 at large events 

The ability to scan large numbers of people entering stores, airports and entertainment venues will be critical to protecting the health of Canadians. The Early Detection of COVID-19 Through AI project is using thermal cameras, AI and monitoring to conduct large-scale real-time temperature screenings. Patriot One Technologies leads the development of the system, which is being tested in Canada and the US, in partnership with UBC-Okanagan and other sports organizations such as the Cincinnati Reds Stadium. 

For B.C., ahead of the curve starts here 

Whether related to boosting patient outcomes, supporting mental well-being, improving the resiliency of our healthcare systems, strengthening economy recovery or securing vital food supply chains, BC-led innovation is helping every step of the way. 

Innovation doesn’t happen in silos — especially practical innovation that needs to be applied to the real world in record time. The Digital Supercluster is proud of our members, and the bold solutions and break-through products they are delivering. Together, we will win the fight against COVID, spurring collaboration and co-investment when, and where, we need it most.