Medical Technologies Hold Promise for Healthy Prosperity (Part 1)

HFHII May 2014(2)Many young and talented people have left Windsor in the past 7 years.  Without prospects for fulfilling careers, most will never come back.  Today, the automotive companies are busy again. Yet, everyone agrees that our community must diversify to assure its prosperity in the long term.

Allow me to describe a promising path for our region to reinvent itself with new capabilities in an attractive sector. Medical technologies are one of the top 10 growing export industries in Canada and employ a sophisticated workforce.  I am especially familiar with this sector, as an 18-year veteran of the medical technology industry.  WEtech is mandated with the important role of accelerating technology and innovation in the region.  In the past year, in cooperation with the Windsor-Essex Economic Development Corporatoin and other community partners including University of Windsor and St. Clair College, we have worked on developing the Cross-Border Health Corridor Initiative.

The goal is to use our geographic location at the gateway between Canada and the USA to establish a regional medical hub with unique expertise and competence.  The Windsor-Detroit region already has technological infrastructure, with expansive manufacturing and engineering capabilities. We propose connecting hospitals, researchers, academia and industry on both sides of the border to attract innovative medical technologies and build a thriving reputable medical corridor.

Fortunately, it is timely. This regional collaboration is welcomed by several stakeholders on both side of the border.  Community partners are ready to engage.  The benefits of a robust Health Corridor extend beyond good economics and attractive careers. It should also enhance patient care in Windsor-Essex.

The region can develop into a destination for patients and med-tech companies capitalizing on its distinctive advantages and strength. Following are some clear competitive advantages for medical technology companies to perform clinical trials, R&D, and Manufacturing in Windsor- Essex:

1.  Regulatory environment advantages: with Health Canada certification being less onerous as the FDA, while quality and standards are similar. The outcomes are acceptable and compatible with USA and EU regulations.

2.  Cost savings: Windsor offers lower total cost to conduct clinical trials, build prototypes, and manufacture. It has lower labor costs and a favorable exchange rate, modest real estate cost and lower corporate taxes compared with the USA.

3.   Access to funding: Government funding and tax credits are among the most generous in the world to support clinical research, R&D, and manufacturing. Clinical trials funding sources are available from the Canadian government and Canadian foundations (CIHR, CIF and more).  In addition, this collaboration creates opportunities to explore grant applications for cross-border medical research and clinical trials on the American side of the border for Canadian researchers and medical professionals.

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4.  Collaboration creates might:  The region is well known for its high precision manufacturing and engineering expertise. The automotive industry has long exploited this geographical advantage, actively collaborating each and every day.  A robust know-how will be built on strengthening research relationships with hospitals, academic institutions and industry.

Windsor may be too small as a stand-alone unique medical hub; but with its close proximity to Detroit, an alliance is achievable. Access to the infrastructure of hospitals on both sides of the border will attract companies and introduce new and innovative products for the health care system.

The long-term vision for the Cross-border Health corridor initiative is clear:  Improve patient care, advance clinical research, increase development of new products, attract high value trade and investments, and create desirable careers in our region.

No doubt, it will take several years to build these unique capabilities, skills and know-how.  Focus is needed to remove existing barriers and create teamwork among participants in both countries. Yet, as the Chinese proverb says: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.   Today, several community partners are already taking important first steps in the journey towards establishing the Cross-border Health Corridor in our region. WEtech can play a leading role in accelerating innovation and commercialization of medical technologies.  Together we can leap into a new exciting path for regional prosperity.

Deborah Livneh, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at WEtech Alliance and is a veteran co-founder of a medical technology company.  She is the former Chair of Board of St Clair College. She holds engineering and MBA degrees.