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2021 Message from the President & Scientific Director

It’s safe to say that no one at OBI expected to be celebrating our decennial anniversary in the midst of a pandemic. And in light of the challenges and devastating events that have occurred due to COVID-19, 'celebrating' isn’t an accurate descriptor for how we spent the last year. We have, however, reflected with a significant amount of gratitude.

Much has been lamented about the challenges COVID-19 has had on our day-to-day lives – navigating public health restrictions, feelings of isolation, shifts in the routines we depend on. Recently I’ve stopped to think about how, in some ways, our achievements to date, and the model we have established, perfectly positioned us to be nimble and adaptive to the organizational shifts that the pandemic forced us to make.

We focused more than ever on taking the knowledge we have gathered over the years and translating it to the public – specifically prioritizing actionable tactics that people could employ in their own lives as they navigated their way through this new world.

Our integrated discovery programs led the way in this regard; POND worked to identify those at highest risk for restrictions brought on by the pandemic, CAN-BIND developed, “Coping with COVID” resources to support positive mental health practices, ONDRI collected information on the impact of the pandemic on people with neurodegenerative disease, and EpLink collaborated on, and helped launch, a virtual mental health support for people living with epilepsy.

Another great example of translating our lab-to-life philosophy came through the five distinct Public Talks we hosted over the last year – tailoring our conversations to align with the concerns everyday Ontarians were facing during COVID-19, like mindfulness in stressful times, dealing with depression, and sleep and brain health. We moved these Public Talks online, and in doing so reached over 3,000 people – reaching a broader audience and gaining international followers.

It was also important, perhaps more than ever, to amplify the work of community organizations on the ground – where care can be local, accessible, and perhaps more personal. OBI’s GEEK program continues to recognize community organizations that play a critical role in care for people with brain disorders. This year, three outstanding organizations were awarded $520,000 in total funding over 2-3 years to support their initiatives.

The pandemic also demonstrated the exceptional talent and expertise we have within the global research community – as not one, but three vaccines were developed in record time to protect against the novel coronavirus. This race to develop a vaccine is proof of the phenomenal feats that can be achieved when we work together to remove unnecessary barriers and create an environment that is conducive to facilitating greatness. Which raises the question – how can we apply this experience to eliminate the significant bureaucratic obstacles standing in the way of other groundbreaking discoveries?

We believe that Brain-CODE, OBI’s data-sharing platform, may offer up part of the solution. Earlier this year, Brain-CODE released its first clinical data sets from over 5,500 participants involved in studies on neurodevelopmental disorders (like autism) and pediatric concussions. In doing so, we’re able to put our model to the test, offering the research community an opportunity to take advantage of well-curated, ready-to-use data to better understand brain disorders and identify new treatment options that would otherwise take years of work and resources.

We know, that with the right support, big ideas come alive. We’ve seen it happen with Trexo Robotics, an OBI portfolio company, creating mobility devices that help children with disabilities learn how to walk with a healthy gait pattern. We’ve seen it with LUCID, another OBI portfolio company, who launched a music therapy app shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety after a single session, and we’ve seen it with Welbi, an alumnus of our ONtrepreneur program and now an OBI portfolio company, who worked with Revera, one of Canada’s largest seniors living companies, to personalize recreation programs for seniors. Welbi did this through innovative software, unique assessment tools, and real-time analytics to help recreation teams identify trends and gaps, allowing them to develop and evaluate programming to engage their residents.

There is much to be proud of as we look back over the last ten years – and as I look back, I am confident that the relationships we’ve made, the values we’ve embraced and the character we’ve established has prepared us to lead during this time. Our team has demonstrated that leadership, provided education and resources, offered support and stability, and continued to bolster the capacity of our international research community – with each of these efforts directly helping the one in three people living with brain disorders.

And ten years ago, that is exactly what we set out to do.

"We focused more than ever on taking the knowledge we have gathered over the years and translating it to the public – specifically prioritizing actionable tactics that people could employ in their own lives as they navigated their way through this new world."

Dr. Tom Mikkelsen, President & Scientific Director