Nov. 9, 2022

UCalgary launches Alberta Centre for Advanced Diagnostics

Globally competitive research centre launched with $14.6M investment to fast-track development of new medical diagnostic technology
Ian Lewis
Ian Lewis speaks at the ACAD launch announcement on Nov. 7, 2022. Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science has partnered with PrairiesCan and DynaLIFE Medical Labs to launch the Alberta Centre for Advanced Diagnostics (ACAD) — a new hub in the global push to advance diagnostic technology for health care.

“Diagnostics, such as blood tests or throat swabs, are a critical tool for health-care providers. They play a role in 70 per cent of treatment decisions, but many frontline diagnostics use outdated technology,” says Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD, director of ACAD, and associate professor and Alberta Innovates Translational Health Chair in Metabolomics in the Faculty of Science.

“At ACAD, we’re going to improve infectious disease diagnostic tools that help improve patient outcomes.”

The new research and testing centre was launched on Monday, possible thanks to a combined investment of $14.6 million by UCalgary, PrairiesCan, Genome Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Additional funding and support for ACAD is made possible by Alberta Innovates, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Alberta Precision Laboratories.

ACAD launch

From left: Ian Lewis; George Chahal; Raja Mita, executive director for Health Innovation at Alberta Innovates; Kristin Baetz, dean of the Faculty of Science; and William Ghali at the ACAD launch on Nov. 7, 2022.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

“Great communities are anchored by great research universities, and investing in research and innovation is the foundation of attracting global investment and supporting local economies,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research).With this investment, ACAD will equip Alberta to compete in the global diagnostics market.”

ACAD is a fully integrated ecosystem that will connect early-stage innovators with the facilities, equipment and health-care contacts needed to prototype new infectious disease diagnostics and evaluate them against established tools, while reducing both the time and cost needed to commercialize prototypes.

It will fast-track new technologies, spur the growth of Alberta’s health technology sector and help accelerate the adoption of new life-saving technology. 

“Investing in the development of new medical diagnostic technologies is the right thing to do for the health and well-being of Albertans, and the smart thing to do for our economy,” says Dan Vandal, minister for PrairiesCan.

“Our government’s investment in the Alberta Centre for Advanced Diagnostics will support jobs and growth in Alberta’s life sciences sector by enabling companies to more quickly test, validate and get their products to market.” Vandal was represented at the launch event by George Chahal, member of parliament for Calgary-Skyview.

Ian Lewis shows MP George Chahal the ACAD labs during a tour at the ACAD launch.

Ian Lewis shows MP George Chahal the ACAD labs during a tour at the ACAD launch.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Centre result of years of experience accelerating medical technologies

New tools face major cost, time and logistical barriers to commercialization that place small companies at a serious disadvantage when competing against large multinationals. Lewis is no stranger to helping small businesses overcome these challenges.

The predecessor to ACAD was the Alberta Precision Exchange (APEX), an Alberta-wide precision diagnostics program that connects the scientific resources at UCalgary with small businesses and large industry partners in health care. APEX has over 50 industry partners across Alberta.

Chelsey Reschke, pesident and CEO of Voran Group, worked with Lewis and APEX to get Voran’s Bacoban disinfectant to market. “Our business has a large regulatory burden, and we want to ensure that before we spend money on seeking Health Canada approval, we obtain a strong data set to support our proof of concept,” she says.

“APEX designs custom protocols for us based on real life, in-situ tests of our disinfectant. The team at APEX is capable of replicating a lot of unique scenarios that help us to prove the attributes of our products.”

ACAD offers similar benefits to APEX — accelerated and streamlined development of new diagnostic technologies — but ACAD is focused on the unique challenges inherent to detecting infections, one of the fastest-growing segments of the diagnostic market.

“We’re a big supporter of the ecosystem that is being developed. With ACAD and APEX we are watching a centre of excellence being born for the province, providing connectivity between academia and business to help spur innovation. We’re happy to support,” says Reschke.

Kristin Baetz speaks at the ACAD launch announcement on Nov. 7, 2022.

Kristin Baetz speaks at the ACAD launch announcement on Nov. 7, 2022.

Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary

Alberta’s integrated health-care system crucial advantage

ACAD leverages Alberta’s consolidated health-care system to drastically accelerate the research and development pipeline and give Alberta-based companies a significant edge in this rapidly growing market.

“For ACAD, the key benefits of Alberta’s integrated health-care system are opportunities for real-time testing and feedback,” says Lewis. “We’re able to take a new diagnostic tool and test its performance side-by-side with an existing tool being used in Alberta for the same purpose. We will also receive feedback from Alberta’s health-care system end-users, to ensure that new diagnostics tools meet their needs and benefit both health-care providers and their patients.”

Located in the Faculty of Science, ACAD enables the launch of new training programs, industry internships, research scholarships and fellowships, and training tools. Its resources include extensive fabrication and analytical resources, laboratory space for performance trials, feedback from Alberta’s health-care end-users, and a path to pan-Alberta implementation and potentially global uptake.  

ACAD has deep roots in UCalgary research. In 2016, the Office of the Vice-President (Research) awarded the Lewis Research Group funding as part of the match-funding program for the Biomedical Engineering Strategic Research Theme. APEX, emerged from that initial project, and ACAD is a further evolution of that funding support.

“UCalgary’s commitment to research excellence and entrepreneurial thinking aligns well with the goals of Alberta Innovates, Genome Canada, PrairiesCan and industry partners like Thermo Fisher Scientific and DynaLIFE Medical Labs,” says Lewis. “We thank all of ACAD’s partners for their generous support.”

Learn more about the Alberta Centre for Advanced Diagnostics.

Ian Lewis is Alberta Innovates Translational Health Chair and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science. Lewis is also the founder of the Alberta Precision Exchange (APEX), an Alberta-wide program that connects innovators with the health-care and industry resources needed to bring new diagnostic technologies to market.

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