This newly announced partnership provides an exciting benefit to the CS-CAN|INFO-CAN membership! Profound Impact is offering CS-CAN|INFO-CAN members a free evaluation of Research Impact, which uses advanced AI to match researchers with the best research funding opportunities in their field and helps find industry partners to support successful grant applications.
LOCAL TECH COMPANY PROFOUND IMPACT ACHIEVES 100 PERCENT STAFF RETENTION OVER TWO YEARS DESPITE TUMULTUOUS MARKET CONDITIONS
Profound Impact attributes a staff retention rate of 100% to employee programs driven by purpose
WATERLOO, ON | NOVEMBER 27, 2023— Profound Impact™ Corporation, a local tech company in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, has reported in its annual Social Impact Report that it has achieved an employee retention rate of 100 percent (zero percent attrition) while growing the team by 33 percent. This employee retention rate is in stark contrast with tech companies globally, where the average attrition rate sits at 13.2 percent.
“It’s a rarity to see a start-up tech organization embody social impact programs so early in their company journey,” says Renata Rusiniak, who leads People & Purpose programs at Profound Impact. “Our CEO, Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, understands the business value of purpose-driven work and invests accordingly. Her early adoption of programs that support her team to engage with community organizations has created a culture of generosity and as a result, an impressive employee retention rate.”
The Social Impact Report highlights strategies the Profound Impact team undertook to maintain and improve a positive environment for their employees. Initiatives included monthly team meetings with team-building activities, virtual social events such as cooking sessions conducted through online platforms such as Zoom, team wellness programs such as team volunteering, professional skills and growth support education programs, matching charitable contributions to community organizations, book clubs, and much more.
Profound Impact’s annual ‘12 Days of Impact’ program encouraging generosity and the impact of small acts of kindness upon others, has also helped employees create a meaningful sense of contribution to their community while increasing bonds of collegiality on the job.
“Our 12 Days of Impact campaign provides great examples of easy and inexpensive ways to be kind and generous,” says Dr. Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, the CEO and Founder of Profound Impact. “ We’re encouraging our team members and our whole community to demonstrate the power of many through small acts of kindness that create big impacts in society.”
Profound Impact’s AI-powered tool, Research Impact, offers automatic, targeted and timely grant matching. The company is also passionate about community, environmental sustainability, and employer-supported volunteerism. In addition to giving back through the 12 Days of Impact, Profound Impact has implemented employee donation matching, time off for volunteering, and group volunteering. To learn more about Profound Impact’s purpose-driven business, take a look at our FY23 Social Impact Report.
Individuals and organizations participating in the 12 Days of Impact can download the 12 Days calendar and share their actions on social media using #12DaysOfImpact.
ABOUT PROFOUND IMPACT™ CORPORATION
Based in the Toronto-Waterloo technology corridor, Profound Impact’s AI-powered tool – Research Impact – helps academic and industry researchers find the perfect funding match. With over $300 Billion in research funding opportunities, 100,000s industry partners and 8.8 Million researchers globally, finding the optimal grant for academic and industry innovators is often overwhelming and unnecessarily time-consuming. More than just a search engine, Research Impact offers automatic, targeted and timely matching. Profound Impact’s customers include top North American research institutions, universities and industry partners. CEO and Founder Sherry Shannon-Vanstone is a serial technology entrepreneur with an unparalleled track record. She has had five successful start-ups and exits in Silicon Valley and Canada, including two IPOs and acquisitions.
We’re excited to make innovation in medicine the focus of this month’s newsletter and to introduce you to two Canadian trailblazers who are making profound changes in the treatment of diabetes and gynecologic cancers.
Our November Impact Story features Dr. Harald Stöver, Professor in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University and founder and CEO of Allarta Life Science. You’ll learn how Harald has moved his research on polymer hydrogels, bio-relevant macromolecules and the delivery of biologics from the laboratory to market to fundamentally change the way that patients with Type 1 Diabetes receive treatment.
You’ll also meet Dr. Laura Hopkins, a gynecological oncologist with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and Professor in the Division of Oncology and Provincial Lead for Gynecologic Oncology. A dedicated clinician, Laura’s devotion to providing excellent and timely care for patients through all stages of cancer treatment has led to the launch of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency’s first investigator-initiated trial to explore patients’ preferences for precision medicine in ovarian cancer.
In keeping with the focus on medical technology innovations, this month’s Research Spotlight explores technologies that are providing advanced tools that, thanks to innovative research partnerships between clinicians, scientists, patients and industry, are vastly improving patient care and clinical outcomes.
This month’s newsletter also features an article about CANARIE, Canada’s National Research and Education Network, in recognition of its 30th anniversary. Along with its provincial and territorial partners, CANARIE operates NREN, Canada’s National Research and Education Network. This nationwide, ultra-high-speed network connects Canada’s researchers, educators, and innovators to each other and to global data, technology, and colleagues.
In late October, I was appointed as Vice-Chair for the CANARIE Board. I am extremely honoured to take on this role and have the opportunity to work closely with the Board Chair, Larry Rosia, President and CEO of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Past Chair, Sylvie LaPerriere and the other Board members. As the CEO of a female-founded company, I’m proud to serve on the board of an organization committed to diversity as reflected in the appointment of Kathryn Anthonisen, CANARIE’s first female President and CEO, and, when women occupy just 23% of board seats in Canada, a board that is 60% female.
Thank you for connecting with us and the Profound Impact community.
Direct-to-consumer genetic testing, affordable virtual reality gaming for home use, AI-enabled home appliances and mRNA vaccines developed in quick response to a global pandemic have become part of daily life.
These technologies are among those revolutionizing the way healthcare is delivered and are giving rise to innovative and productive collaborations between clinicians, biologists, computer scientists and industry.
In 2023, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded jointly to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their discoveries that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19. As noted by the Nobel Prize organization, “Through their ground-breaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times.”
Although messenger RNA, or mRNA, was discovered in the early 1960s and research into how mRNA could be delivered into cells was developed in the 1970s, it wasn’t until 2020, when COVID-19 became a global pandemic, that the first mRNA vaccine was made widely available. Thanks to advances in nanotechnology, where lipid nanoparticles were developed to wrap mRNA and allow entry into cells, the first mRNA vaccines were developed against the Ebola virus. This milestone, combined with decades of research and huge increases in funding released during the pandemic, allowed for the worldwide release of the first mRNA COVID vaccine.
Because mRNA vaccines are made in a lab using easily available materials, these vaccines are developed quickly and can be tested via large-scale clinical trials to demonstrate their safety and effectiveness. These vaccines can also be quickly modified to address new virus variants.
The ability to quickly develop very effective vaccines through the use of mRNA for COVID has spurred the development of additional mRNA vaccines for use in HIV, flu, Zika, rabies and to trigger the immune system to target cancer cells.
American computer scientist and visual artist Jaron Lanier coined the term “virtual reality” in 1987. Lanier and human-computer interaction pioneer Thomas G. Zimmerman left Atari in 1985 to found VPL Research, the first company to sell VR goggles and wired gloves.
VR provides an immersive sensory experience that digitally simulates environments for applications in entertainment, education, architectural and urban design, engineering and robotics, archaeology and, increasingly, healthcare. Researchers and clinicians are exploring the use of VR to manage psychological and physical conditions including stress, anxiety, depression, dementia, autism, pain management and rehabilitation.
Healthcare providers have sought alternatives to opioids to address chronic pain as opioid addiction and death has become a worldwide crisis. In 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the marketing of a prescription home-use VR device to manage chronic low back pain.
At the Pain Studies Lab at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Dr. Diane Gromala, Canada Research Chair in Computational Technologies for Transforming Pain, leads a research group that conducts patient-centred research to study, invent and design technology systems for people who live with chronic pain. Systems and techniques employed in clinics and in patients’ homes include immersive virtual reality, immersive games, personal data capture and visualization, physiological sensing, wearable computing and mobile technologies and systems.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental disorders, affecting 301 million people in 2019. The WHO predicts that by 2030, mental health conditions will be the leading cause of disease burden worldwide. Anxiety has traditionally been treated by a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Virtual reality is now being integrated with traditional therapies, safely immersing patients in a therapeutic environment to practice mindfulness, paced breathing and calming distraction to cope with anxiety and stress.
Virtual Reality for Supporting the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety: Scoping Review, a paper by researchers in New Zealand and China published in the peer-reviewed journal JMIR Mental Health in 2021 noted: “Most studies demonstrated the use of VR to be effective for supporting the treatment of anxiety or depression in a range of settings and recommended its potential as a tool for use in a clinical environment.”
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
From disease detection and treatment recommendations to drug discovery and patient engagement, AI and machine learning promise to be game changers in healthcare. At the same time, governments around the world are concerned about the risks of AI. Representatives from 28 countries from across the globe including Canada, the UK, the US, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the EU met in the UK in November 2023 and identified, in the Bletchley Declaration, “the urgent need to understand and collectively manage potential risks through a new joint global effort to ensure that AI is developed and deployed in a safe, responsible way for the benefit of the global community.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted that AI tools have the potential to transform the health sector by strengthening clinical trials, improving medical diagnosis and treatment and enhancing the skills of healthcare professionals. In response to the increasing use of AI for health, the WHO has released a new publication listing key regulatory considerations and emphasizing:
the importance of establishing AI systems’ safety and effectiveness;
rapidly making appropriate systems available to those who need them; and
fostering dialogue among stakeholders, including developers, regulators, manufacturers, health workers, and patients.
Enhancing the reliability and accuracy of AI-enabled diagnosis via complementarity-driven deferral to clinicians, a joint paper by Google DeepMind and Google Research published in Nature Medicine in July 2023, proposes Complementarity-driven Deferral-to-Clinical Workflow (CoDoC), an add-on tool for human-AI collaboration that learns when to trust a predictive AI’s diagnosis or defer to a clinician. CoDoC learns to establish the reliability of a predictive AI model as compared to a clinician’s decision and is designed to be used by non-machine learning experts.
According to Krishnamurthy Dvijotham and Taylan Cemgil, on behalf of the CoDoC team, “CoDoC is a promising example of how we can harness the benefits of AI in combination with human strengths and expertise. We are working with external partners to rigorously evaluate our research and the system’s potential benefits. To bring technology like CoDoC safely to real-world medical settings, healthcare providers and manufacturers will also have to understand how clinicians interact differently with AI, and validate systems with specific medical AI tools and settings.”
An example of the use of AI to bring information to patients is AskEllyn.ai, which launched last week in Waterloo. The platform uses generative artificial intelligence to help people get answers to their questions about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. AskEllyn was developed by Ellyn Winters-Robinson, using stories from her book Flat Please – Hold The Shame as the base for its large language model, in collaboration with Pat Belliveau, CEO of Catalyst Entertainment, marketing pro Ryan Burgio and software developer Christian Silvestru. For external resources, Winters-Robinson curated a list of third-party sites that the tool will recommend. Users are able to chat with Ellyn anytime, anywhere, and in any language to ask questions ranging from what to expect from chemotherapy to how to speak with friends and family about a diagnosis.
“AskEllyn is there to answer the thousands of questions patients have that doctors simply don’t have the time to answer,” says Winters-Robinson. She envisions the project as the first instance of Conversation Care, a new kind of healthcare that could include platforms for information about a range of conditions “so that no one diagnosed will ever walk alone,” she says.
Precision or personalized medicine is defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as “an innovative approach that takes into account individual differences in patients’ genes, environments, and lifestyles.”
This approach to treatment is applied by oncologists to classify cancers into precise types and subtypes and to choose treatments based on the DNA signature of an individual patient’s tumor. Oncologists also use cancer immunotherapy through the use of the patient’s immune system to stop or slow the growth of cancer, stop cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, help the immune system work better to destroy cancer cells and deliver toxins, such as radiation or chemotherapy, directly to cancer cells.
Another form of precision medicine is pharmacogenetics, a field of research at the crossroads of pharmaceuticals and genetics and a rapidly growing field in human genetics. Pharmacogenetics studies how a person’s genes affect how they respond to medications in order to help clinicians prescribe the drugs and doses best suited for each patient. Pharmacogenetics is also expected to contribute to advanced screening for disease, providing people with the opportunity to make lifestyle and environmental changes at an early age in order to avoid or lessen the severity of a genetic disease.
Precision medicine is also emerging as a course for identifying therapies for the 6,000–8,000 identified unique rare diseases, with approximately 80% of those diseases being genetic in origin. According to the paper Rare disease emerging as a global public health priority, published in Frontiers of Public Health in 2022, 3.5–5.9% of the world’s population, which corresponds to 263 to 446 million people worldwide, are affected by rare diseases.
In Canada, All for One, a pan-Canadian initiative, was launched in 2022 to increase access to genome-wide sequencing for diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases. Led by Genome Canada, the initiative provides access to genome-wide sequencing for diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening genetic diseases. A key component of the All for One precision health initiative is the development of a Pan-Canadian Health Data Ecosystem, which connects and leverages genomic data across clinical sites to drive research breakthroughs in order to improve patient care. The ecosystem will enable data sharing between institutions, across jurisdictional boundaries, and between clinical and research settings, serving as a data solution to deliver precision health for rare genetic diseases.
In the US, Vertex Exa-cel therapy, a treatment and potential cure for sickle cell disease has been found safe enough for clinical use and may receive federal approval this year. Sickle cell disease, an illness that afflicts more than 100,000 Americans, affects millions of people worldwide, most of whom have African ancestry. Caused by a gene mutation, the disease results in strokes, organ damage and episodes of severe pain. If approved, this treatment would be the first medicine to treat a genetic disease using CRISPR gene-editing.
Researcher Spotlight: Laura Hopkins
Laura Hopkins always knew she wanted to be a doctor. Growing up on a beef cattle farm north of Napanee, Ontario, she enjoyed sewing, knitting and making lace. She attributes her proficiency as a surgeon to the eye-hand coordination she developed doing these crafts.
After completing medical school at the University of Toronto, Laura trained as a resident at McMaster University, where evidence-based medicine was first practiced. Described as one of the most important medical advances in the past 150 years, evidence-based medicine integrates the best research data with clinical expertise and patient values in order to use the best evidence to give patients the best possible care. Laura wanted to focus on clinical care and loved doing quality assurance projects to answer questions about how patient care could be improved. Her work to acquire evidence on how the use of antibiotics prior to cesarean delivery and the prophylactic prescription of anti-clotting agents for all cancer in-patients improved infection and clot rates was very rewarding – for Laura and for the patients who benefitted from these projects.
Laura sampled the field of electives during her residency and it was an obstetrician-gynecologist who served as the role model that led her to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. “She was the first happy doctor I had met,” says Laura. “I never looked back after working with her.”
Laura was on a path to a career as a generalist obstetrician-gynecologist when she was encouraged to apply for a fellowship in gynecologic oncology. Gynecologic oncologists treat ovarian, cervical, uterine, and vulvar cancers and are a unique class of physicians who not only perform complex surgeries but also work with women through their entire course of treatment, including chemotherapy and palliative support. She was accepted to the program at the University of Toronto and says, “It was the right decision and best choice for me. There is immediate gratification in getting rid of a bad problem for a patient through surgery.”
Laura was recruited to Saskatchewan in September 2019 after 18 years at the Ottawa Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. During her tenure at the University of Ottawa, she published papers, participated in committee work and served as undergraduate director, post-graduate director and division head. After almost two decades of this work, she looked for a change from the focus on medical education and started doing locums, covering for physicians on leave in Halifax and Saskatoon.
In late 2018, Saskatoon lost both of its gynecological oncologists due to exhausting workloads that resulted in burnout. Another resigned in Regina in June 2019, leaving just one permanent gynecological oncologist practicing in Saskatchewan. When the province began recruiting new physicians, Laura expressed interest and was hired as program lead to create a provincial model of care guidelines, quality improvement initiatives and clinical trials. She set up clinical programs in Saskatoon and Regina, and hired five additional gynecological oncologists to staff those programs. She opened clinical trials for women with cancer for the first time in Saskatchewan, achieved the best surgical wait times for gynecologic cancer in Canada, and inaugurated a robotic surgery program. With research funding provided by the federal government, matched by the provincial government and made available through Ovarian Cancer Canada, Laura set up a biobank for ovarian tumor tissue and an academic program.
In September 2023, Laura launched the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency’s first investigator-initiated trial. This is the first pragmatic trial in Canada that will feature patients, oncologists, pathologists and scientists working together to deliver personalized treatment options and improve quality of life. Ovarian cancer patients’ tumors will be tested for mutations that predict response to a new class of drugs, providing accurate, personalized, genomic information about each patient’s tumor and helping patients make informed choices about their care. A total of 100 patients from across Saskatchewan will be enrolled in the 2.5-year trial. “For the first time, we will be able to give ovarian cancer patients very specific information about their chances of responding to treatment,” notes Laura. “When I was in training, we used to talk about “bench to bedside” and cutting-edge care. But I was trained to guess about what chemo drugs were going to work and in what order to administer those drugs. Now we work with scientists who can run a 1,200-drug panel against cancer cells to find the right drugs to kill those cells.”
Laura Hopkins holds nearly $5 million in active research grants spanning surgical quality and safety, precision medicine and new technologies in oncofertility. She is a clinician, educator, researcher and successful leader in building a strong gynecological oncology clinical and research program and team in Saskatchewan. Patient care remains her priority. “My passion is to provide excellent, compassionate, timely care for my patients through all stages of treatment,” she says.
CANARIE connects Canada to the world with programs that equip researchers, students, and start-ups in Canada to excel on the global stage. Established in 1993 by the Government of Canada as a non-profit corporation to advance Canada’s knowledge and innovation infrastructure, the organization’s priorities, as established by Innovation, Science and Development Canada, are to:
Provide an internationally competitive ultra-high-speed network for Canada’s research, innovation and advanced education communities;
Develop, demonstrate and implement next-generation technologies;
Bolster Canada’s technology capabilities by assisting Canadian institutions and companies operating in Canada to advance innovation and commercialization of products and services.
CANARIE members include colleges, universities, healthcare facilities, research and post-secondary institutes, non-profit innovation organizations, government agencies and private sector organizations from across Canada.
“The organization’s mandate has evolved over its 30-year history,” says Kathryn Anthonisen, CANARIE President and CEO. Initiatives led by CANARIE since its inception include:
laying the groundwork, with provincial partner networks, for the first commercial Internet in Canada;
incubating the Internet Registration Authority in Canada, now known as CIRA;
working with global peers to align international research and education infrastructures to support globally collaborative research, now formalized via the Global Network Advancement Group (GNA-G);
developing the grid certificate authority in Canada that provides secure access to data generated from the Large Hadron Collider and other advanced digital technologies;
supporting the uptake of cloud technology by Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Canada;
identifying gaps in research software and championing the development of powerful research software tools to efficiently enable researchers across many disciplines to accelerate discovery, a program that has transitioned to the Digital Research Alliance of Canada as part of the Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI) Strategy; and
supporting Research Data Canada to align research data activities within Canada and internationally, now transitioned to the Digital Research Alliance of Canada as part of the DRI Strategy.
CANARIE’s current mandate includes enhancement of the cybersecurity capabilities of Canada’s research and education institutions. “The post-secondary education sector is one of the top three targets in Canada for cybersecurity breaches” notes Anthonisen. “Threat actors from nation-states are sophisticated, well-funded, and well-organized. They target research data, intellectual property and infrastructure to disrupt and disable the peace of mind of Canadians,” she says
To address its cybersecurity mandate, CANARIE launched the Cybersecurity Initiatives Program (CIP) in November 2020. 97% of 220 research and post-secondary organizations that are eligible for the program are now participating in the CIP, which offers funded services to strengthen organizations’ cybersecurity capabilities.
As part of this work, CANARIE and its provincial and territorial partners in the National Research and Education Network (NREN) launched a national cybersecurity assessment service, based on the five key dimensions of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework. The goals of the assessment are to provide a clear, comprehensive picture of the cybersecurity maturity of Canada’s research & education sector, and identify risk-based priorities for the planning, investment, and delivery of future cybersecurity initiatives at the organizational, regional, and federal level.
CANARIE, with its partners in the NREN, is also piloting a federated Security Operations Centre for the research and education sector, CanSSOC. Given that many institutions and NREN partners have already invested in cybersecurity expertise, processes and infrastructures, “CANARIE’s goal is to stitch together these existing investments to cost-effectively enable advanced threat detection and response for universities, colleges, polytechnics and CEGEPs across Canada,” says Anthonisen.
To support innovation in the private sector, Canadian companies with fewer than 500 employees have access to CANARIE’s DAIR Cloud Program, which provides resources to assist start-ups and SMEs for rapid and scalable design, development, validation, and demonstration of products and services. Over 1900 start-ups have used the DAIR Cloud program to build and test new products and services. This service is part of CANARIE’s Private Sector Innovation mandate, which recognizes CANARIE’s unique position at the nexus of research, technology, and government policy, and serves to accelerate the adoption of transformative technologies among Canadian businesses.
“CANARIE is an essential service,” notes Sylvie LaPerrière, who serves as Past Chair on the organization’s Board of Directors. “We are very much at the service of the community. We do a lot of listening to uncover future needs. And through this listening comes innovation.”
CANARIE is deeply committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, which is reflected in the diversity of its Board of Directors. The Board of Directors includes members from across Canada, representing research, education and industry from all regions. “A plurality of voices makes the board stronger,” says LaPerrière. “The CANARIE Board, with extensive expertise from both the public and private sectors, strengthens CANARIE’s ability to deliver on its mandate priorities by ensuring a diversity of perspectives that challenge management to maximize the value CANARIE delivers to its stakeholder communities.”
This commitment applies equally to CANARIE’s 84 employees. “When people feel they can bring their whole selves to work, they are able to bring richness and value to the organization,” says Anthonisen.
In late October, Profound Impact founder and CEO, Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, was appointed as the Vice Chair of the CANARIE board working with the newly appointed Chair, Larry Rosia, President of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and Past Chair, Sylvie LaPerrière.
Sherry’s appointment as Vice Chair of the CANARIE board reflects the significant contributions she has made to a range of industries, including cryptography, information security, and telecommunications as well as her dedication to the advancement of women in technology. “I look forward to working with my fellow board members to strengthen Canada’s national digital infrastructure and ensure our country continues to inspire ground-breaking innovations and remain globally competitive,” she says.
It was the influence and encouragement of a high school science teacher and the chemistry set handed down by his older brother that first triggered Dr. Harald Stöver’s interest in science. “I had a tiny lab in our house where I carried out chemical reactions and experimented with fireworks – including an unsuccessful attempt to blow up a tree stump. My parents were very supportive of my hobby, except perhaps for that tree stump. My mother even helped me conduct science experiments in the family kitchen,” recalls Harald.
Harald Stöver had completed three years of undergraduate chemistry study at the Technische Universitat Darmstadt in his native Germany when he decided to move to Canada for a year. His plan was to complete his degree at the University of Ottawa and return to Germany. However, his academic advisors in Ottawa noted that Harald’s undergraduate work from Darmstadt qualified him to enter graduate school. He became the first graduate student of the late Christian Detellier and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa. “Canada was now my home. They captured me!” says Harald.
During his time at the University of Ottawa, Harald established a connection with Professor Jean Fréchet, a professor in polymer chemistry. When Professor Fréchet moved to Cornell University as IBM Professor of Polymer Chemistry, he invited Harald to join him as a postdoctoral fellow to start research on a new technique. “We did great work together. I felt comfortable setting up new labs. After all, I had practiced in my mother’s kitchen,” says Harald.
Harald is currently a professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University. During his tenure of more than three decades at McMaster, he has established a reputation as a leading researcher in polymer hydrogels, bio-relevant macromolecules and the delivery of biologics. His research and work with industry has been recognized by being named an NSERC/3M Industrial Research Chair, receiving Canada’s National Macromolecular Science and Engineering Award, and his appointment as Director of the NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program in Biomaterials.
When McMaster University decided to expand its focus on teaching and research to include entrepreneurship, Harald’s experience and affinity for working with industry made him a clear choice for the university to invest in transferring his research to market. Allarta Life Science, a pre-clinical life science company that develops next-generation biomaterials for immune-privileged delivery of cells, stem cells and biologics, was launched in 2019 by Harald Stöver and Maria Antonakos, a senior executive with a broad range of experience managing innovation, and with an equity investment by McMaster.
Allarta Life Science’s work is poised to fundamentally change the way that patients with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), a chronic disease that comes with a host of potential complications, including increased risk of stroke and heart attack, receive treatment.
Patients with advanced T1D are eligible for islet cell transplants from the pancreas of a deceased donor. However, this alternative to multiple daily injections of insulin to manage blood sugar comes with costs to patients’ health. Because the body identifies the transplanted cells as invaders, patients must take immune suppression drugs for the rest of their lives. The solution being developed by Allarta Life Science is an immune-protective polymer gel, not recognized by the body as foreign material, to encapsulate the islet cells while still allowing the cells to receive nutrients and release insulin by diffusion. Harald likens the gel to a diver’s shark cage that protects a human from attack while allowing water to pass through. Ultimately, this therapy will reduce or eliminate the need for current immune suppression drugs that leave patients at risk for infections.
As a vertically integrated company, Allarta Life Sciences also works with partners who develop stem cell-based therapeutic cells that would eliminate the need for donor transplants. Fewer than a dozen other companies work in this area. Some develop new cells not recognized by the immune system, others focus on the immune-protective barrier. Allarta is unique in that their work covers all bases by producing hydrogels that contain islet cells, allow diffusion of insulin and deflect the immune system. “We expect to work with human subjects in clinical trials within two years,” notes Harald.
In October 2023, Allarta announced news of an award from JDRF, the leading global T1D research and advocacy organization, to fund the company’s ongoing work. “The JDRF award will help us advance these therapies further towards the clinic,” Harald says.
Harald is excited to be part of McMaster University’s evolution of academic focus to include building the entrepreneurial sector. “This brings fundamental science developed in university labs to clinical settings. It’s good for undergraduate and graduate students and for faculty and gives back to the community,” he explained.
Harald Stöver has come a long way from the experiments he conducted in his home science lab and his mother’s kitchen. His ground-breaking research at McMaster University and the work of Allarta Life Sciences are poised to make a profound impact by improving the lives of Type 1 Diabetes patients worldwide.
You can learn more about Harald in the visualizations below.
Do you have an Impact Story to share? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to have your story featured in an upcoming newsletter!
September was a month of celebration and new partnerships at Profound Impact.
We were proud to name Hui Huang Hoe and Mike Farwell as winners of the 2023 Impactful Actions Awards on September 14, Profound Impact Day.
Profound Impact Day is a time to recognize the world’s diverse leaders and changemakers who are leaving their mark on the global community through their initiatives, influence, and impact. This year the award expanded to include two categories: Young Leader and Lifetime Achievement. Hoe was awarded the Young Leader category, and Farwell accepted the Lifetime Achievement award.
Hui Huang Hoe is a serial inventor of green electrochemistry and the founder of elerGreen, a cleantech startup recovering valuable polymers, metals and chemicals from chemical waste.
Mike Farwell is a radio host at CityNews 570 in Kitchener and is play-by-play announcer for the Kitchener Rangers OHL hockey team. He is a relentless community builder who turned the grief from losing his two sisters to cystic fibrosis into Farwell4Hire, the largest annual fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Canada, through which he has raised more than $1.25 million.
You’ll learn more about Hui Huang and Mike in the profiles in this month’s newsletter.
We were also pleased to announce a new partnership with Haltech Regional Innovation Centre in September. Haltech is a non-profit organization launched in 2011 and is the go-to strategic connector and educator for start-ups in the Halton Region of Ontario and beyond. The partnership between Profound Impact and Haltech is designed to discover a range of funding and research opportunities for internal research and product development for Haltech’s clients through access to Research Impact, our AI-powered tool.
Profound Impact is proud to be a woman-founded and led company. Last month, I joined Sean Weisbrot, host of the We Live to Build podcast, to talk about my previous career in cryptography, my ongoing passion for encouraging women in business and the power of female investors. You’ll find the podcast here.
Thank you for connecting with us and the Profound Impact community.
2023 Impactful Actions Award Winner – Lifetime Achievement
“Community is my energy. It’s my fuel. It invigorates and inspires me,” says Mike Farwell, a relentless community builder who turned the grief of losing two sisters to cystic fibrosis (CF) into the largest annual fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis Canada. The 2023 Impactful Action Award Lifetime Achievement Award winner’s Farwell4Hire campaign has raised over $1.25 million in unrestricted funds over the last decade, supporting research, advocacy, and clinical care for people around the world living with CF, the most common fatal genetic disease in Canada.
Mike was born in Kitchener, Ontario as the middle of five children. He aspired to be a radio announcer, but not believing that this was a real job, he attended the University of Waterloo, earned a degree in Arts and went on to teach high school. “After one year as a teacher, I decided that this wasn’t the job for me,” says Mike. He enrolled in Conestoga College’s television and radio broadcast program and graduated with two career ambitions: to work as a radio music DJ and as a hockey announcer. He began his radio career in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, where he was a music DJ and also had the chance to report on the local hockey team. Mike moved from Salmon Arm to work in communities across Canada for several years before returning to the Waterloo Region.
Mike’s second dream job, as a hockey reporter and announcer, came about as the result of responding to an open casting call by Rogers for a daytime talk show host position in Kitchener. The casting director noticed that Mike had listed experience in sports reporting on his resume. “We need a sports guy,” she told him. Within a week, he was on camera for the first time as a field reporter for university sports including football, basketball, and volleyball. Mike now has more than 20 years of radio and television broadcasting experience, works with Rogers Radio in Kitchener as the host of the Mike Farwell Show, and is the play-by-play voice of the Kitchener Rangers on CityNews 570.
Mike created Farwell4Hire to honour Luanne and Sheri Farwell, the two sisters he and his family lost to CF. Luanne died in the fall of 1993 at the age of 24 and, just nine months later, Sheri succumbed to cystic fibrosis at the age of 18. “Farwell4Hire was started by accident,” says Mike. “I’m really bad at asking for things. I’d rather do.” Prior to launching the campaign, Mike had raised money through stunts, including jumping out of an airplane, sitting in (and getting wet) in a dunk tank and participating in a boxing match. The odd jobs Mike has performed as part of Farwell4Hire have ranged from the routine, like washing windows and mowing lawns, to the more exotic, like cleaning a horse’s sheath.
Farwell4Hire is an excellent example of community collaboration. Small business owners, associations and larger companies across Waterloo Region come together each May in support of Mike’s efforts. The campaign is a fundraiser with absolutely no overhead. Managed entirely through the efforts of volunteers, every dollar donated to Farwell4Hire is a dollar donated directly to CF.
When asked how he finds the time to write, produce, execute and edit his daily radio show, travel with the Kitchener Rangers to do play-by-playing reporting on their games, and run an annual month-long fundraising campaign, Mike again points to the importance of community to his life. He quotes fellow Waterloo Region broadcaster and public speaker, Neil Aitchison: “Community service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy.” Mike continues, “I don’t think I could possibly give back to the community what it has given to me.”
Mike is delighted with the ongoing progress in CF research and with how the $1.25 million raised for research through Farwell4Hire has contributed to massive impacts in extending the lives of Canadians living with CF. When Mike started fundraising as a teenager, the estimated lifespan of a child with CF was less than 12 years. In 2023, a baby born with CF today has a median life expectancy of 57 years. And Trikafta, a new drug with the potential to treat up to 90% of Canadians with CF, doesn’t just treat symptoms. This transformational treatment targets the basic defect from specific genetic mutations that cause the disease.
Mike was struck by a statement made by Roberto Clemente, the late National Baseball Hall of Famer who has an award for sportsmanship and community involvement named for him in recognition of his charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during the off-seasons. “Roberto said that a person who can help others and fails to do so has wasted his life. I don’t want to waste my life. I want to help if I can. And the work I do is the way I can do my part,” Mike adds.
Profound Impact is proud to present the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Impactful Action Award to Mike Farwell, a remarkable leader who has worked tirelessly to build community and to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis research, impacting lives in the Waterloo Region and around the world.
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2023 Impactful Actions Award Winner – Young Leader
As record temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere during the summer of 2023, people in locations as diverse as Canada, Europe and Hawaii experienced the severe effects of climate change in the form of ocean storms, wildfires, floods and droughts. For Hui Huang Hoe, this was not a new phenomenon. He had experienced the effects of climate change while growing up in Malaysia as ever-rising temperatures and extreme weather fluctuations resulted in floods and droughts. Hui Huang moved to Canada to attend the University of Toronto, and, in part, to escape the heat of Southeast Asia.
Hui Huang was inspired at an early age to study science after reading Stephen Hawking’s book, The Universe in a Nutshell. He went on to exhibit a keen interest and talent in science and math during high school, where he won the national Physics and Chemistry Olympiads Championships. Motivated by this success, he decided to pursue a career in chemical engineering, with a focus on sustainable energy and environmental engineering. He was awarded a scholarship to study in Canada and enrolled in the Chemical Engineering program at the University of Toronto, where he earned an undergraduate degree with High Honours as the top student in his class, venerated by the Society of Chemical Industry Merit Award.
Hui Huang considers himself lucky to have received exposure to research in the summer following his first year of study, through his award-winning work on energy-efficient fuel with Professor Ya-Huei (Cathy) Chin, now a Canada Research Chair. In his third year, he was granted a senior fellowship to work with Professor Donald W. Kirk, another of his mentors, on carbon-free zinc-air fuel cell research. Hui Huang produced an award-winning thesis (such as Mackay Hewer Memorial Prize, as the best chemical engineering thesis related to environmental studies) on converting carbon dioxide into fuels powered by renewable electricity. As part of his graduate research work, the carbon dioxide conversion was expanded beyond fuels into useful products. The University of Toronto recognized Hui Huang’s work with numerous awards and filed a patent, Electrochemical Carbon Dioxide Utilization, related to his research.
Hui Huang went on to establish elerGreen, a cleantech start-up company that addresses waste remediation through the recovery of polymers, metals and chemicals from waste and renewable electricity in an economical and eco-friendly way. For elerGreen’s key differentiator, he invented and patented a unique electrochemical reactor of moving electrodes against stationary blades to continuously harvest solid products. Interestingly, he conceived elerGreen moving electrode reactor with an Eureka moment while exercising on a treadmill!
elerGreen moving electrode reactor facilitates the conversion of pollutants, including tailings and petrochemical waste, into valuable metals, polymers and feedstocks, powered by renewable electricity. As a result, elerGreen converts CO2 or its derivatives into useful products, while replacing fossil fuel combustion in chemical or manufacturing plants, which is more energy-efficient. In layman’s terms, elerGreen cleantech is like Tesla’s electric vehicle, but for chemical or manufacturing plants.
Hui Huang’s leadership extends far beyond his work in cleantech. In addition to being a serial inventor in green electrochemistry, Hui Huang has been recognized for teaching excellence and for his work coaching students. He also wrote and published Mathematica Particularis, a book on engineering mathematics that is offered free of charge to students.
Hui Huang believes strongly in giving back to the community. In 2022, elerGreen partnered with Venture for Canada (VFC) to collaborate on the VFC Intrapreneurship Program, an experience offered to foster Canadian youth entrepreneurship and innovation. As part of this program, he coaches students, teaching them about clean technologies, educating them on intellectual property protection and making them aware of the importance of corporate social responsibility.
Hui Huang works to integrate elerGreen’s core principles of profitability and sustainability while contributing to society by developing cleantech technology and expertise and shifting the mindset of how society supports the cleantech sector. To support these goals, elerGreen has become a certified Ontario Made company and a member of Ontario Clean Technology Industry Association. “What we do at elerGreen can be summed up as Electrification Done Green,” Hui Huang says.
Hui Huang Hoe’s passion and success as a researcher, inventor and founder, his ongoing work to develop the next generation of cleantech entrepreneurs through his coaching and teaching and elerGreen’s commitment to equity, accessibility and inclusion for underrepresented people and newcomers to Canada truly make him a young leader deserving of the 2023 Impactful Action Award.
Finally, the Impactful Action Award comes with a donation by Profound Impact to a charity, and Hui Huang Hoe and elerGreen have nominated Parkdale Centre for Innovation. This donation to Parkdale Centre for Innovation would further support public awareness and social entrepreneurship on equity, accessibility, and inclusion for underrepresented people, including women, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and newcomers to Canada.
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Our Founder and CEO, Dr. Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, joined Sean Weisbrot, host of the We Live to Build podcast, to talk about her previous career in cryptography, her new role encouraging women in business, and the power of female investors.