City pledges accelerated support to medical network

The proposed London Medical Innovation and Commercialization Network took another step closer to reality Monday night when the city council’s Investment and Economic Prosperity Committee pledged an immediate $5 million in support of the network’s Phase 1. The move speeds up the initial plan for the city to invest $1 million annually over a decade.

The city’s commitment to a faster timetable demonstrates to senior levels of government, who organizers are counting on as partners, that London is unified and ready to move forward on the project, said Paul Paolatto, Western Research Parks executive director.

A new contribution agreement has been drafted and awaits final legal review prior to its execution. Once signed, the city will release its contribution to network leadership.

Concurrently, network leaders have already initiated an application to FedDev to secure additional funding.

Phase 1 focuses on expansion of the Stiller Centre for Technology Commercialization to house musculoskeletal and brain-health research. Located in Western’s Discovery Park, the Stiller Centre is a technology incubator, bringing together research, professional, medical, biotechnology and commercial sectors. The team hopes to have all of the funding in place to break ground on the $45-million Phase 1 – seeded by $5 million from the city and $9.3 million from Western – this fall.

Network supporters said the benefits of Phase 1 alone could help more than 20 million Canadians, and more than 1 billion people worldwide, suffering from musculoskeletal and brain impediments.

“I continue to be impressed by the level of engagement and enthusiasm shown by our community’s health-care leadership,” Paolatto said.

In addition to discussions on financing, the network’s strategic plan debuted Monday – spelling out additional details about its potential benefits.

The $124-million network calls for the city pitching in $10 million and Western investing $10 million, as well as committing to raise an additional $10 million. It looks to create a partnership between the city, the university’s medical school, London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care and their foundations, as well as the Lawson Health Research Institute.

The idea is to develop, test and market medical devices through the network, drawing on the strengths of those in London’s medical community. In an ideal scenario, Western researchers would develop an idea for a device to be prototyped by the network. The device would be clinically tested at local hospitals, patented through WORLDiscoveries (the business development arm of London’s research network) and licensed to a local company that would market the device.

Organizers envision a London-based network to rival “renowned, medically intensive communities worldwide,” such as the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.

Toward this end, network organizers have established six goals:

  1. Create a series of integrated, team-based, medical innovation and commercialization hubs called Pillars at strategic sites across the city that will capitalize on London’s strength in health-care delivery and research;
  2. Add quantifiable economic value to London’s economy, attract new industry and help create new knowledge-based, long-term jobs;
  3. Collaborate with London’s impressive hospital network and cache of health-care assets to create better patient outcomes;
  4. Create opportunities for long-term youth employment and local business;
  5. Improve patient care locally, nationally and globally; and
  6. Operate the network in a sound and financially self-sustaining manner.

The first three centres of strength would be musculoskeletal and brain-health research (Phase 1); biomedical medical devices and advanced simulation (Phase 2); and biomedical imaging (Phase 3).

Conservative projection of job growth is roughly 400 new positions with the network, Paolatto said. Backers said the network could generate $40 million annually for the local economy, as well as nearly $60 million in indirect employment. But what’s most important, Paolatto stressed previously, is the future potential of similar ventures and the consequential rebranding of London that will accompany the network’s success.

Those job numbers interest the university’s partners in the city. However, the initiative will strengthen campus as well.

“The university’s ability to attract and retain the best researchers – and the best students, don’t forget that – is a key outcome to the implementation of this plan,” Paolatto said. “That’s why this is game on.”

Organizers are not sitting still until the fall. As FedDev deliberates the network, they will continue the push for additional funding. Organizers will also continue reaching out to potential research and industrial partners.