An Interview with Canada‘s Digital Technology Supercluster on Accelerating Innovation in Canada
October 22, 2021

Our world is constantly changing and at its core, innovation is really about responding to change in a new, creative way. It requires courage, conviction, resilience, the support of a community of collaborators, and innovation-oriented policies in order to succeed.Digital technologies are driving much of this change, rapidly outpacing our traditional systems and infrastructure. It’s more important than ever that we bolster innovation to foster effective and sustainable health care, as well as economic growth.

This week at the 21st Annual Healthcare Summit: The Future of Innovation, Personalized Medicine and Genomics, more than 50 national and international subject matter experts and leaders in digital health technology, personalized medicine, health innovation, value-based healthcare and genomics met to share ideas and discuss how to futureproof health care. At this event, our CEO Dr. Marc Fiume participated in a panel discussion on the Digital Technology Supercluster and investing in the future of healthcare. He sat down with Bill Tam, Chief Operating Officer at Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, to share his thoughts about how this unique funding model has helped us drive digital innovation in Canada and around the world.

Bill: What brought you to the Digital Technology Supercluster?

Marc: At DNAstack we have an audacious goal and that is to accelerate biomedical research and discovery with our software. The Supercluster is an exponent on our mission, in that it has provided a framework for us to incubate and grow software products alongside partners who believe in the same principles and future as we do. We believe that by connecting, and transparently and responsibly sharing, making accessible and computable Canada’s genomics and biomedical data, that we can accelerate translational discoveries that have profound impacts on the future of healthcare for Canadians. So that’s really what brings us to Supercluster — the opportunity to multiply our impact through collaboration.

Bill: What Supercluster projects are you currently working on and what about them excites you the most?

Marc: We’re currently working on two Supercluster projects that focus on building game-changing technology for data sharing, discovery and analysis — we are just finishing one in COVID and beginning another in autism. I will sum up my answer in one word: IMPACT. We want to change the world for the better by powering and enabling groundbreaking research. Of course, we know it takes a village, and through both of these projects, strong collaborations with our partners is essential to achieving our goals.

For example, early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an overwhelming sense that the world needed technology to share genomic data about this new virus. We quickly mobilized a group of like-minded partners around COVID Cloud  , a software platform which enables real-time sharing of viral sequences over open, interoperable standards. Fast forward nearly a year and a half later, and together with an incredible consortium of industry and academic partners, we have built a great piece of technology and long-term partnerships that will help bolster Canadian innovation. This opportunity has resulted in a number of follow-on and unrelated projects with repeat partners, and our enterprise-grade solution is being used to support data-driven decision making in Ontario, as well as to share viral sequences at the national level through Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN)’s VirusSeq initiative.

This past spring, we kicked off the Autism Sharing Initiative (ASI) , which will build the first federated global network for data sharing to accelerate research and develop precision healthcare approaches for individuals with autism. Understanding autism requires a collaborative and globally representative ecosystem, and the siloed nature of individual research and clinical datasets is a fundamental roadblock to understanding not only autism, but the diversity of human health in general.

ASI is supporting research enabled by new technology based on the concept of “data federation,” a technique that allows search and data analysis to be performed across multiple datasets while allowing those individual datasets to remain in their protected local environments, such as a hospital where the data was originally collected.

Again, we are thrilled to be able to have such an incredible group of collaborators all focused on the goal of building technology that will provide autistic people and their families with more precision healthcare approaches. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the passion and commitment of the organizations who have come together to support this project is unparalleled.

Bill: To date, how has the Digital Technology Supercluster Ecosystem contributed to the success of your business?

Marc: We can’t overstate the importance of the Digital Technology Supercluster Ecosystem to the success of DNAstack. This is a unique model that fosters trust and collaboration with partners across industry, academia, and not-for-profit, rallying behind a common challenge and bringing unique expertise to the table. Our partners have common goals, and also share many of the same roadblocks in the way of working on large-scale, innovative projects such as these. The Supercluster model helps break down these walls by providing a framework for collaboration and incentivizes participating organizations to work closely together to achieve their shared objectives.

For DNAstack, the Supercluster’s support has helped us scale quickly and sustainably, enabling us to reach a stage of product maturity that we couldn’t have otherwise accomplished in this short timeframe. Since joining the Supercluster DNAstack has tripled in size and revenues, and the validation we are getting on the products we are building have helped us attract investment and partnership interest which will carry us through the next phase of our growth.

 * COVID Cloud consortium: BioSymetrics, Centre of Genomics and Policy at McGill University, DNAstack, FACIT, Genome BC, Mannin Research, McMaster University, Microsoft Canada, Ontario Genomics, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Roche Canada, Sunnybrook Research Institute, and Vector Institute** ASI consortium: Autism Speaks, Autism Speaks Canada, DNAstack, Excelar Technologies, McGill University’s Centre of Genomics and Policy, Molecular You, Pacific Autism Family Centre Foundation, Hoffmann-La Roche Limited (Roche Canada), SickKids and the University of British Columbia. In addition to the core consortium, partners supporting this initiative include Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Ontario Brain Institute, and the Autism SPectrum Interdisciplinary REsearch (ASPIRE) Program at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.