Ottawa donates $11.9 M to local project speeding cutting-edge science to market

The federal government is funding a big new project at Innovation Park called BEAM, which will take up residence inside the MARC building at the corner of Longwood and Aberdeen.

'Universities were never built to make a company' but BEAM project aims to address that

Federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced the government's support of BEAM on Tuesday afternoon at Innovation Park (Dave Beatty/CBC)

The federal government has just announced it is providing $11.96 million toward a new Innovation Park facility housing a project called BEAM.

BEAM (The Biomedical Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing project centre) will be housed in McMaster Innovation Park's MARC building. The site is currently used for automotive research.

So what can the public expect to see there?

First of all, the BEAM project says it will create 74 "full-time equivalent" jobs developing 35 novel technologies. Here is a sampling of those initiatives:

  • Eye care: An improved system for medicating your eyes. Currently, the government's press release says, the effectiveness of eye drop medication is reduced by tears.
  • Cell therapy for use in cancer treatment: New devices that hospitals could use to allow cancer patients to fight the disease with their own blood cells.
  • Point of Care: Testing devices that could be used commercially, in doctor's offices, or even at home, to detect E.coli and salmonella, for example. Bramson told the CBC this "testing device" could be specially-made printer ink imbued with reactionary chemicals. So you print off a test using the ink, which will react in a certain way if the thing it's looking for is present, not unlike a home pregnancy test.

BEAM is a joint project between McMaster University and a German organization called the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology. Its purpose is to develop biomedical technology. But more specifically, it aims to develop it in a way that puts products on shelves faster.

"You've got all this fantastic science, leading to new technologies, that exists within the university space," said Jonathan Bramson, McMaster's Scientific Director of BEAM. "But universities were never built to make a company. And so the consequence is, very often, great ideas are lost."

A lag between discoveries and products being made

Because of universities' traditional focus on research, Bramson said, there's "a real lag" between discoveries, inventions, and the commercial products that do get made. In other words, the process of converting knowledge into products is much less efficient than it could be. With BEAM, the whole idea is to speed up that process.

McMaster's partner, the Fraunhofer Institute, "built itself on what they call applied research," said Bramson. "When they enter into a research project, they ask themselves already, 'How am I going to get this out to market?'"

The announcement was made formally today by Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, at a press conference at Innovation Park. MPs Bains, Bob Bratina and Filomena Tassi unveiled a sign outside the building that will be home to BEAM. At the same time, a photography drone buzzed overhead, heralding the wave of new technology that's promised to take Hamilton's economy to great heights.

"Capturing the true economic value of McMaster's research is essential to developing and diversifying our regional economy," said Dr. Rob Baker, McMaster's Vice-President of Research.

BEAM is expected to be up and running by the end of 2017.

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty