Swiftsure Innovations captured the $55,000 prize at the 10th annual BioInnovation Challenge pitch competition on Wednesday.

Swiftsure, which was selected from three finalists in a virtual event, will receive a $25,000 grant and $30,000 worth of in-kind services. For the past decade, the pitch competition has been a highlight of BioPort Atlantic, the annual conference for life sciences in the region.  It wrapped up Wednesday.

BioNova, the Nova Scotia life sciences association and host of the BIC, said the eight semi-finalists in the competition came from all four Atlantic Provinces and had raised over $1 million since the start of 2020, making this one of the most competitive years in the competition’s 10-year history.

“The BioInnovation Challenge gave us the opportunity to really hone our business plan and strategy,” SwiftSure CEO and Founder Deanne McCarthy said in a statement. “We have benefited not only from winning, but from the program and training it provided as a whole. It was also a great chance to learn about the game-changing technologies being developed right here in Atlantic Canada.”

Based in Pasadena on Newfoundland’s West Coast, Swiftsure is developing a device to facilitate the moisturization and cleaning of ventilator patients’ mouths and noses by flushing them with fluid.

McCarthy, a registered nurse, said she came up with the idea after observing the problems created by endotracheal tubes, which are used in hospital ventilators. These problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tubes’ lack of a proper seal on the mouth and the prolonged dryness in the mouth and nasal cavity can work to produce germs, that can be carried into the lungs through the tubes. The Swiftsure tube improves the seal and includes a system that sprays the mouth and nose, to reduce the risk of infection.

McCarthy has already formed partnerships around the region to develop the business. Dalhousie University medtech whiz Daniel Boyd is a member of the team, while Moncton-based Venn Innovation is helping her to research her addressable market and Halifax engineering firm Enginuity is assisting with the prototyping.

The company hopes to have pilot projects in 2021.

The other finalists in the competition were:

3D BioFibR

Kevin Sullivan, John Frampton


Halifax-based 3D BioFibR Inc., which has already closed a $550,000 funding round, is on a mission to produce commercial quantities of nature’s “strongest, lightest and toughest” materials.

Through his research at Dal, Chief Scientific Officer John Frampton has improved methods of producing biofibres – which are fibres that exist in nature and are used by humans. They include spider silk (the threads spiders make for their webs), collagen (the main structural protein found in skin), and chitosan (a multi-purpose substance found in shellfish shells).

These materials already have a range of commercial applications in such markets as medicine, green textiles, aerospace and defense. Frampton’s methods allow them to be produced in industrial quantities at lower prices than what’s available now. 

CEO Kevin Sullivan said the pitch the company’s first major objective is to go after “low-volume, high-margin” markets, including the development of 3D tissue culture and artificial tendons.

“Our vision is to produce nature's strongest, lightest and toughest materials . . .  at a scale and cost that make them a viable alternatives to the materials available today,” he said.


Jonathan Zuccolo, Amir Zuccolo


AffinityImmuno has developed an antibody test for SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. The test can be used to measure patients’ responses to possible vaccines, track the spread of the virus in the population and monitor how long immunity lasts in recovered patients.

The test is designed to tell whether naturally occurring antibodies within people can prevent the COVID-19 virus from binding to ACE2 receptors, from which the virus attacks internal organs. There are a lot of tests to determine the presence of antibodies – the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. has received 236 tests for approval and already rejected 127.

However,  AffinityImmuno is one of only two companies whose tests can determine whether antibodies can protect against COVID, said Director of Quality Amir Zuccolo during her pitch.

“We’ve demonstrated that our test is efficacious with COVID-19 sera,” she said. “Our test is fast, specific and effective.”

The company now has a provisional patent on its product and is going through the regulatory process with Health Canada and the FDA. The test is now used by researchers and the company has 27 distributors and 60 customers in 29 countries.

"This year's competition highlights the strong leadership and innovation coming from health and life sciences startups in the region and the need for continued support programs like the BioInnovation Challenge,” said BioNova Executive Director Scott Moffitt.