Canadian Manufacturing

Got a business idea to help combat COVID-19?

by CM Staff   

Canadian Manufacturing

Mitacs has announced an initiative to speed up the application process and access to research talent for SMEs

Fast-tracking innovative ideas. PHOTO: Thinkstock

VANCOUVER — If you’re a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) with an idea that can contribute to Canada’s fight to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, a national research organization is ready to help.

Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver that fosters research related to industrial and social innovation, has announced an initiative that will fast-track projects.

“In response to federal and provincial government announcements of funding for coronavirus research, our 80 business development experts nationwide are poised to guide SMEs through the process and give them access to the talent and tools needed to succeed,” said John Hepburn, CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, in a statement.

The Mitacs team will help secure government funding, access resources for research, development and equipment, and hire post-secondary interns – within days. This includes assisting SMEs with government calls-for-proposals by helping to complete Mitacs funding applications. Businesses will also be matched and connected with top researchers at Canadian universities and colleges according to the skills and expertise required to develop each solution.


College interns have been added to the mix to speed up the process by supporting activities such as coding, prototyping, monitoring cell cultures, managing data, and creating visual presentations of modelling.

Mitacs will cover 75% of the intern’s $15,000 salary over four months through government and other funding sources. That means a business will contribute $3,750.

Normally, organizations contribute $7,500 per four-month research intern for projects, all accessible as part of the organization’s Accelerate internship program.

Although the initiative targets SMEs, large organizations can also get involved in COVID-19 product development. Working with Mitacs researchers, Suncor Energy has provided additional funding, equipment and expertise to develop a fast and affordable COVID-19 home antibody test kit by using technology used in its wastewater treatment research.

Jet Tower at Suncor Energy Sarnia, Ont. refinery. PHOTO: Suncor Energy

“When sequencing RNA or DNA be it human, bacteria or virus, all the procedures are very similar,” said Martin Flatley, a senior project manager from Suncor’s Sarnia, Ont. refinery. “We’ve been using software and hardware to sequence bacteria found in our process water as well as the genes that produce proteins to assist in breaking down contaminants. We’re hopeful that we could use the same process for use in a test kit.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Calgary-based energy company was working with Western University to determine metabolic pathways that bacteria use to break down contaminants – in this case, naphthenic acid, which is an unwanted product in the company’s wastewater treatment process. The COVID-19 work uses algae to produce a protein that will be used in the test kit.

Other tests currently being developed by different groups rely on using insect and mammal cells, or yeast, to produce the protein, which are expensive and difficult to scale.

Mitacs is funded by the governments of Canada and the provinces.


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