TRIUMF business arm looking into broader industry collaborations
July 4, 2018
Part of expanded mandate started in 2017
Can science and business fruitfully cohabitate? It’s possible. And it’s happening in a Vancouver university campus where physicists can be found hard at work on their cyclotron particle accelerator in one room while industry people are in another room testing for radiation particles. These are common-day activities in TRIUMF, one of Canada’s large-scale research facilities, which is home to hundreds of researchers from academia, other research institutes and industry from across Canada and around the world.
What ties in science and business in TRIUMF is its commercialization arm, TRIUMF Innovations, which has recently expanded its mandate to reach out for more industry partnerships. It was formerly known as Advanced Applied Physics Solutions (AAPS), a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE) from 2008 to 2016. Relaunching AAPS as TRIUMF Innovations last year expanded this mandate.
AAPS was focused on spinning off some specific technologies out of TRIUMF, creating five companies -- ARTMS Products Inc, CRM GeoTomography Technologies Inc., Frontier Sonde Inc, Micromatter Technologies Inc, and IKOMED Technologies, Inc. Together they raised millions of dollars in equity or venture financing. Last December, ARTMS, which produces technologies for the production of the world’s most-used diagnostic imaging isotope, was able to raise US$3 million from Quark Venture Inc. and GF Securities, through their Global Health Science Fund.
Kathryn Hayashi, TRIUMF Innovations CEO, tells RE$EARCH MONEY that her company is not just focused on spinning out specific technologies out of TRIUMF, a consortium of 20 universities across Canada, including the Univ of British Columbia where it is based.
“We’re now the full business base connecting TRIUMF researchers, technologies and infrastructure to the world via industry partnerships, licensing agreements, creating new start-up companies. Anything to do with the private sector, we’re here to facilitate those transactions and be that connector to TRIUMF,” says Hayashi. “We’re also interested in leveraging the national network of advanced science universities that has been created over 50 years. We’re looking at opportunities to bring technologies out of that network … into (the TRIUMF) network.”
An example of how this leveraging works includes looking into a data science training program for graduates of the universities in the network. TRIUMF Innovations is also looking into creating a quantum computing network or cluster that would provide a new type of computing resource for the university network.
TRIUMF has established a successful track record of moving academic research towards commercialization. TRIUMF Innovations’ role is to provide crucial support to further this commercialization process. For example, TRIUMF Innovations sells TRIUMF testing services to industry. Teams from companies from all over the world, like Cisco Systems and Boeing, come to TRIUMF at various stages of their R&D to use the particle accelerator beam to test the ability of their equipment to withstand radiation.
“We want the world to be able to take advantage of the expertise and infrastructure that we built at TRIUMF, so we seek industry partners to try and develop collaborations to see whether we can provide services that they see as interesting. We try to look for opportunities to have an impact on society,” Hayashi adds.
But TRIUMF Innovations’ primary task of spinning off companies doesn’t stop there. Hayashi says the spin-off companies are progressing well as they continue to develop funding opportunities and industry partnerships.
For example, CRM GeoTomography, which develops technologies for use in geology and mining, has recently graduated from a program of the Creative Destruction Lab-West, a seed-stage mentorship program for science-based companies. Originating from Univ of Toronto, CDL-West is based in UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
TRIUMF Innovations has diluted its interests in CRM GeoTomography and ARTMS because that’s the natural progression of how companies grow.
An upcoming business opportunity could be in nuclear medicine where a “new” treatment for cancer patients – targeted alpha therapy -- has recently become more widely adopted, though it is an established technology. This therapy uses isotopes that are in limited quantities. But because TRIUMF has the largest and most powerful proton beam accelerator in the world, it has the capability to make millions of doses of this isotope for treatment. This research capability offers investment opportunities for possible spin off and therapeutic production, says Hayashi, adding “I think Canada has the potential to be a big player in nuclear medicine.”
She also debunks the criticism that Canada is good at starting companies but not good at scaling them locally. She says the strength of these spin-offs lies in their research capabilities tied to the TRIUMF infrastructure and Canada-wide network.
“The infrastructure in TRIUMF has been here (in Vancouver) for 50 years; it’s not possible to move it. Being a key part of what we’re looking at with our nuclear medicine initiative makes its possible for us to imagine a nuclear medicine cluster and group of companies that could be based around TRIUMF,” she explains. “It is an opportunity for Canada to take a leadership position in this new emerging area.”
Aside from opportunities in nuclear medicine, Hayashi says isotopes being produced in TRIUMF also have industrial application.
Hayashi says that while TRIUMF Innovations may have an integral target as to how many spin-offs are forthcoming, she says spinning off a research project into a company depends on the technologies, management team and business planning.
Instead of focusing on this target, she says her team is looking at other creative ways to forge industry partnerships, such as working with other networks, like the BC Digital Technology Supercluster (DTS), which is one of five federally funded, business-led networks under the Innovation Supercluster Initiative. TRIUMF is working with D-Wave, a quantum computing company that is part of the DTS, to explore establishing a quantum computing network across Canada.