This story is part of the life sciences sector series.
To learn more about export opportunities for companies in this sector, please also read Exporting key to success for Canada’s life science’s sector.
Were it not for fate, the CardioSTAT — a unique medical device that cardiologists are hailing as a game-changer — might not exist.
In 2009, Pierre Paquet was working as the product manager for a multinational that sold medical devices when he discovered that his new neighbour across the street was one of his old engineering classmates from Laval University.
“I met Yannick Le Devehat at Laval University in 1990 when I was doing my engineering degree,” Paquet said. “I had lost track of him for years. He was in Japan; I was in Switzerland. Then the house across from mine sold and Yannick appeared in front me of one day.”
The former friends and classmates exchanged notes on the previous couple of decades with Paquet realizing that Le Devehat had been working in low-cost electronics.
Fast forward to 2012, a year after Pierre Paquet had left his medical device job. He was speaking to one of his friends, a cardiologist at the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute (IUCPQ). The doctor was complaining about his access to the Holter, a device used to record the electrical activity of the heart of out-patients. The clunky device was rarely available because there weren’t enough of them at hospitals. In addition, it was bulky for patients to wear for the required 24 to 48 hours and its maintenance, installation and return had to be administered by healthcare professionals whose time could be better spent doing more patient-related work. Paquet made a mental note about this problem.
“I told Yannick I thought we had a real opportunity if he could take the functionality of the Holter and package it into something small, flexible at a low cost,” Paquet said.
And that’s exactly what they did. Within a few weeks, they had made a mock-up of their vision of the CardioSTAT out of medical tape.
“We went to meet the electrophysiologists at IUCPQ and I said I thought we could package the Holter electronics into this single-use device,” Paquet explained. “They were immediately excited. In less than a week, we had an agreement that they would test our product and serve as medical advisers during the whole design process.”
Their device is much more comfortable than the Holter and, while wearing it, the patient can do anything they’d normally do — run, cycle, shower — except maybe scuba diving. And, instead of only recording for a day or two, it will record for up to a week.
“From a doctor’s perspective, this is much better because it increases the chances to trap infrequent cardiac abnormalities,” he said. “And once the recording period is completed, you will just take the device off yourself, put it in a pre-stamped envelope and drop it in the mailbox. That saves you another trip to the hospital. Because it’s single-use, there’s always one ready so you don’t have to wait for the equipment to be free and the hospital doesn’t have to manage the Holters.”
In addition, a study they commissioned from Montreal Polytechnique determined that the CardioSTAT’s environmental footprint is smaller than the Holter because it saves travel to and from the hospital. Icentia is also recycling the electronic components and using much smaller batteries than the Holter.
Icentia’s device has been Health Canada-approved since September 2014 and has been in use at the Quebec Heart and Lung Institute (IUCPQ) in Quebec City for some time before a recent Canada-wide commercial launch. Currently, it’s selling in Ontario mostly, but one Hamilton hospital, which is using it for a research study, is also working with hospitals in Auckland, N.Z. and Hong Kong so the device is already on the export trail.
“From Day one we’ve been planning on exporting,” Paquet said. “But right now, we’re putting most of our efforts into Canada to prove that this product has value in a public healthcare system. The U.S. is a different animal — it requires much more aggressive marketing.”
The company has worked with EDC, which agreed to guarantee up to 50 per cent of its credit margin based on the fact that it knows Icentia will eventually export widely. “That has given us great confidence,” Le Devehat said. “We were in discussions with a bank, trying to put in place that credit margin. We could have done it without EDC, but we insisted on including them because we know what a valuable partner they will continue to be in the future. All of the introductions our contacts at EDC have made meant that EDC is a partner of choice for us.”
Paquet said the one characteristic required to be effective exporters is to have a strong understanding of the needs of your customers abroad and “to understand the difference between the value proposition in the domestic market versus how you approach cultures that do business differently.”
He said it’s important to educate yourself well on each market you’re approaching.
“Based on the fact that we knew we’d be exporting from day one, we made a product that suited markets in Europe,” he said.