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Dr. Marc Desjardins

Dr. Marc Desjardins

Lead Microbiologist at Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association

As the country’s largest provider of SARS CoV2 PCR tests, Seegene Canada might be the most important Canadian medical technology company you’ve never heard of.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Seegene Canada has been working behind the scenes to support Canada’s response, serving hospitals and major medical diagnostic labs in nine provinces with robotic liquid handlers and proprietary priming chemistry. If you’ve had a COVID test, it’s likely that Seegene’s reagents were used to test the swab that went up your nose.

A little over a year ago, Seegene Canada was a team of just six people providing PCR tests and diagnostic machines to labs and hospitals across Canada. Since the COVID-19 pandemic came to Canada, this small but agile outfit has become one of the leading players in the rapidly-expanding field of COVID-19 testing and molecular diagnostics. Now with 20 employees and plans to expand to 30 by the end of the year, Seegene is moving forward with further expansion, including the development of an R&D facility in Kitchener-Waterloo in addition to its offices in Toronto.

Seegene’s cross-Canada network of nearly 100 automated liquid handlers (PCR testing machines) can be found in most of the major medical diagnostic labs across the country. Using Seegene technology, these labs are playing a significant role as Canada responds to the pandemic. As Dr. Marc Desjardins, Lead Microbiologist at Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association, puts it, “It’s because of companies like Seegene that laboratories such as ours have been able to step up and meet the testing demands that are necessitated by this pandemic.”

Not all PCR and COVID-19 tests are created equal

Seegene Canada President James Yantzi has been instrumental in the company’s success. In Yantzi’s view, Seegene’s PCR tests are industry-leading — what he likes to call the “filet mignon” of medical diagnostic testing. “Seegene’s priming chemistry is our greatest advantage and allows us to deliver high-performance tests at a large scale,” he says. “Our tests detect 10 times as many targets as our competition and our new products are driving innovation in Canadian health care.”

Unlike its competitors, Seegene’s latest PCR test can detect three gene targets for SARS CoV2 using just a single test. Additionally, Seegene’s tests are able to determine whether a positive SARS CoV2 sample is one of the variants of concern that have been widely described in the media as potentially being more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus.

Yantzi points out that Seegene’s competitors’ PCR tests require that a positive SARS CoV2 sample be sent to specialized sequencing facilities to determine whether it’s a variant of concern. This adds extra time ­­— from days to weeks — to get the results that are so desperately needed. Indeed, “multiplex” technologies like Seegene’s create new possibilities for adaptive and responsive diagnostic testing, deliver more effective and efficient results, and help governments, labs, and hospitals save costs.

20210311_Novaplex SARS-CoV-2 variants I.jpg

Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto is one of Seegene Canada’s biggest customers and its labs have benefited enormously from Seegene’s cutting-edge PCR testing technology. As Dr. Tony Mazzulli, Mount Sinai’s Microbiologist-in-Chief, explains, “Seegene was one of the first vendors able to provide reliable test kits and instrumentation to help labs like Mount Sinai’s offer molecular testing for COVID-19. The’ve played a major role in supporting labs across Ontario to meet the increasing demand for testing. Our lab now has seven of its testing machines and each one is capable of performing over 600 COVID-19 molecular tests per day.”

Seegene and the future of medical technologies in Canada

In Yantzi’s view, the future of health care will be driven by data, and Seegene is positioned to be “the Google of physical information” as data and mobile medical diagnostics become more common and as we begin to incorporate them into our everyday lives. Yantzi has been working with Seegene for 13 years and is currently building a team of engineers to help the company lay the groundwork for the future of medtech.

When asked why he’s choosing to set up R&D facilities in Kitchener-Waterloo, a place with few biotech businesses, Yantzi says that the talent pool in the Region of Waterloo aligns well with where health care innovation is going,“We’re in the early days of an emerging market that will be shaped by mobile medical diagnostics, personalized health and well-being solutions, and the data that these technologies generate,” he says. “The technology corridor that connects Toronto with Waterloo is currently a bit like Silicon Valley in the 1980s, but instead of developing computers and the internet, we’re developing medical diagnostics and data-driven solutions.”

Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor Tech Talent
Image courtesy of Waterloo EDC

1Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.
2U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For Yantzi and Seegene Canada, the innovators along the Toronto-Waterloo technology corridor can be leaders in this space by building on their long track record of collaboration and innovation and by leveraging cutting-edge medical technology with emerging fields like artificial intelligence and even quantum computing. “The world of truly personalized medicine and medical testing and diagnosis is coming,” says Yantzi, “and Seegene Canada will be on the frontlines.”

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