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Angels Den’s battle for breakthroughs awards more than $400,000 to St. Michael’s researchers

Toronto, November 14, 2018

By Ana Gajic

Eight teams. Four minutes to pitch scientific ideas. Four celebrity judges. Two winners. More than $400,000 in prizes.

It might sound like the make-up of a reality television show, but this was the structure of the fourth annual Angels Den, a scientific pitch competition where St. Michael’s researchers faced off for funding for their innovations.

“This event is a proven model,” said Dr. Patricia O’Campo, interim vice-president of Research at St. Michael’s Hospital. “In a world where research dollars are both critical and scarce, this funding is very meaningful.”

Hosted annually by the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation, this home-grown battle for breakthroughs is an opportunity for scientists to share their innovations in a friendly competition for funds. This reality-TV-style contest decided which two teams of researchers from St. Michael’s took home at least $100,000 each in innovation funding. It was hosted by CHFI’s Maureen Holloway and featured celebrity judges Joe Mimran, Michael Wekerle, Michele Romanow and Vincenzo Guzzo.

“Our goal [was] to pull back the curtain,” said Melissa Martin, co-chair of Angels Den and a director on the St. Michael's Foundation's Board. “To take something that is all around us but can be intangible and difficult to understand – and demystify it.”

Eight teams of researchers were selected to pitch their research projects to the judges and a panel of prominent jurors. Four presented social innovation projects or tools to ensure all patients have access to quality and innovative health care.

The other four presented projects aimed at transforming scientific discoveries into new therapies, diagnostics or devices that will improve patients’ lives.

First prize in both categories was $100,000, and also came with additional funding to cover expenses to an invitation-only competition hosted by the Global Healthcare Innovation Academy. The remaining six teams each received $25,000.

This year’s winner in the Social Innovation category was Dr. Muhammad Mamdani, with his project called fAIth. fAIth is a set of artificial intelligence tools to help health care run more efficiently and make meaning out of the complex and vast datasets collected by health care institutions every day.

In the Biomedical Innovation stream, Dr. George Yousef and Dr. Michael Ordon claimed the $100,000 prize for their innovation, Prostate Predictor. Their innovation is a blood test that can accurately classify patients with prostate cancer as ‘low’ or ‘high’ risk, helping doctors decide which patients need surgery and which can be proactively monitored. It also eliminates the need for painful biopsies.

While the jurors voted on the overall winners, every member of the audience was able to vote for a People’s Choice award. The audience agreed with the jury and the $50,000 award also went to Drs. Yousef and Ordon.

What started as a small event in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute four years ago, with about 50 attendees, has now grown exponentially, with more than 750 attendees at this year’s Angels Den in Koerner Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning. This year, for the first time ever, the event was also live streamed from Koerner Hall, allowing more people to tune in for the fierce competition.

“We don’t want any idea to be left behind,” Martin said. “More funding is the best way to accelerate research so that we all reap the benefits: the benefits of more treatments, improved procedures and more access to health care. We can’t wait for next November, for the fifth annual Angels Den where another eight innovative ideas will battle it out.”

Watch the full video of Angels Den 2018 (starts at 36:30)

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

St. Michael’s Hospital with Providence Healthcare and St. Joseph’s Health Centre now operate under one corporate entity as of August 1, 2017. United, the three organizations serve patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education.

See More of Our Stories in 2018