Innovation is Infectious

Got a life-saving medical device you want to get to market, stat? Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD, did. Learn how the Idea Exchange panellist and UCalgary professor took his revolutionary diagnostic tools from academic to commercial application.


What role does UCalgary plays in the innovation ecosystem in Calgary? How is UCalgary uniquely positioned to grow entrepreneurial thinking in this city and this province?
Calgary sits at an exciting intersection of health care, technology and innovation. Alberta enjoys one of the largest consolidated health-care systems in Canada. This unique resource allows medical research to be conducted on a scale that is not possible anywhere else in the world. Recent advances in technology lead by University of Calgary researchers have opened the door to an exciting new generation of rapid diagnostic tools. The proximity of these emerging technologies — just across the street — from one of the largest consolidated testing laboratories has created a truly unique opportunity to revolutionize health care. Moreover, the recent launch of the UCalgary Life Sciences Innovation Hub, along with the city’s entrepreneurial atmosphere, have created one of the most vibrant emerging ecosystems for health-care innovation.

How will innovation and improved technology — including around your own team’s recent developments — reshape how we diagnose and manage disease?
Our rapid diagnostic tools for identifying bloodstream and urinary tract infections will radically change the way infections are managed. Currently, it takes between two and four days to identify a pathogen and determine which antibiotic to use. Our new technology delivers this same crucial diagnostic information in as little as four hours. This rapid timeline allows doctors to prescribe the right antibiotic in the critical early hours of the infection, which saves lives and reduces disability from serious infections.

Without training and guidance, even the best the best entrepreneurial ideas have no chance of success.

Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD

How difficult was it to make the leap from lab research to “product” launch? Tell us about the obstacles, and about what helped propel your work.
The transition from research project to real-world diagnostic is one of the biggest challenges we have encountered. Bringing a new medical device to market requires careful consideration of a variety of business and practical considerations that typically are not part of the research and development process. Questions like, “Is the intellectual process protected?” and, “Can this device be manufactured on an industrial scale?” and, “Is this device compatible with clinical laboratory workflows?” are all critical considerations that make or break products. Working closely with business, clinicians and manufacturing experts is critical for the success of emerging diagnostic technology.

What benefits will UCalgary’s leadership as an innovation hub bring to Calgary’s economy?
The innovation hub provides the critical insight, experience and connections necessary to transition projects from academic to commercial applications. This valuable assets allows research to focus on creating the diagnostic technology of tomorrow in an environment where this innovation can reach the real world. The innovation hub helps place UCalgary on a globally competitive stage and helps insure that UCalgary inventions are part of tomorrow’s health-care system.

We’re fond of saying that “entrepreneurs are made, not born.” Is that true for you?
Absolutely. All successes in life are a mixture of hard work, training and luck. Without training and guidance, even the best the best entrepreneurial ideas have no chance of success. UCalgary is leading the way in helping ensure our students, faculties and community have the tools necessary to succeed.