Health Canada

Drug Checking Technology Challenge

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I agreed to join the panel as a judge I think because our family's been personally impacted by the by this crisis and we lost our son in 2013. So, I wasn't just agreeing to it but it was a it was a privilege to do it so knowing that we could have make a difference and have an impact for other families.

The drug-testing challenge, what it means to me is saving lives. You know having an impact, a big impact, in terms of saving lives.

It's the first time I think Health Canada has done this where there's kind of financial incentive for people to do it so we talk about the million-dollar prize, but I think what we're not talking about is just the way government has moved on this like the barriers they've taken down the risks they've taken. So, I think that's really important right if we can make this work who knows there would be a lot more opportunities for change.


My name is Rick Lees I'm the executive director of Main Street project in Winnipeg.

My organization works with very marginalized people dealing with addiction and mental health.

This particular challenge interests me because it would bring to the frontline the ability to do drug testing and save lives.

I really hope that this challenge as we move through stage two into stage 3 and ultimately the successful applicant to the final award, will bring a drug testing right to the front line. Take it out of the labs and take it out of the technical side of things and help a population that's struggling around opioids use, and addiction to become more informed. And I think with information also becomes a way for people to then move towards treatment.

Steve Cody, Chair

CEO Marketplace Studio

  • Full bio

    Steve is an Ottawa entrepreneur, currently working as the CEO of Marketplace Studio. Steve Cody is a father of five children, husband to a terrific wife, and papa to two very cool grandkids. Steve and his wife lost their son Nicholas to drugs in 2013. After seeing Sharon and Tony House's passion and commitment to help others through Kaleidoscope of Hope*, Steve knew that he wanted to be a part of this journey helping others in his community. He is extremely touched that he can have a direct impact on the mental health, drug awareness, and education of children.

Rick Lees

Executive Director of Main Street Project

  • Full bio

    Rick Lees is the Executive Director of Main Street Project. With over 25 years of community health experience, Rick is an advocate for marginalized populations through his various positions as Director of Organizational Development with Sherbourne Health Centre; Director of Programs and Services with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWA) and Director of Corporate Services with Street Health, Toronto.

Alexandra de Kiewit

Advocate for community work | Cofounder of the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD)

  • Full bio

    Alexandra de Kiewit is an advocate for community work since 2010 and works with people who use drugs and sex workers. She cofounded the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD). Alexandra is also an instructor at the Institute for the Development of Positive Leadership (IDLP) in Quebec and is a member of CATIE’s Board of Directors.

Rob Boyd

Oasis Program Director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

  • Full bio

    Rob Boyd has been working in the field of mental health, substance use disorder and homelessness in Ottawa for nearly 30 years. He started at the Salvation Army Youth shelter in 1990, then moved on the YMCA/YWCA to manage their housing programs before becoming the Oasis Program Director at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in 2004. Originally a walk in medical clinic with a drop in and limited outreach capacity, Rob and the team at Sandy Hill CHC have expanded services to respond to the changing needs of people who use drugs in Ottawa.

Stéphanie Lessard

Laboratory specialist for the Regulatory Operations and Enforcement Branch of Health Canada

  • Full bio

    Stéphanie Lessard is a laboratory specialist for the Regulatory Operations and Enforcement Branch of Health Canada since 2018. She is part of the Drug Analysis Service’s Research and Science Development Team. Prior to this, Stéphanie worked as a medicinal chemist in the pharmaceutical industry for 8 years. She obtained her M.Sc. degree in organic chemistry at the University of Alberta in 2009. After her career debut in drug discovery, she is now involved in projects related to the opioid crisis and drug abuse, as well as to innovative approaches for drug analysis.

Dr. Roman Szumski

Senior Vice-President of Covid Vaccine Acquisitions, Public Health Agency of Canada

  • Full bio

    Dr. Roman Szumski is currently on assignment with the Public Health Agency of Canada as Senior Vice-President of Covid Vaccine Acquisitions. Previously, he was Vice-President of Life Sciences at the National Research Council since July 2005. A medical doctor and pathologist by training, Dr. Szumski is recognized as a visionary leader and an innovative manager with unique experience in building strategic public-private sector partnerships in the life sciences sector. He was the founding CEO of Calgary Laboratory Services, and more Vice-President (Science & Technology) of MDS Inc.

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn

Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health

  • Full bio

    Dr. Mark Lysyshyn works for Vancouver Coastal Health as a Medical Health Officer and the medical lead for the health authority’s harm reduction programs. He is co-leading the health authority response to the overdose emergency and has been investigating drug checking as a potential response to the crisis. He is a specialist in Public Health and Preventive Medicine and Internal Medicine and has worked as an Addiction Medicine physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.

Dr. Shahab Shahnazari

Director, Innovation Challenges, MaRS Partnerships

  • Full bio

    Dr. Shahab Shahnazari leads MaRS' Innovation Challenges practice which works with governments, agencies, foundations and private sector organizations to engage the global community in the identification and testing of novel concepts, methodologies and products that can address organizational innovation gaps and needs. He holds a B.Sc. in Biochemistry from McMaster University and a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto.

Malcolm Birbeck

Community Representative, Lived Experience, Harm Reduction

  • Full bio

    Malcolm Birbeck is a representative of the community for which this challenge is aimed to help. His lived experience has led him to work in many roles within the harm reduction community. He has worked in community health centers, with research projects for Ottawa University (I-Track), and he is an active advocate for harm reduction services and approaches. Malcolm is currently employed as a Community Worker in Ottawa, where he works on the front lines of the deadly toxic drug supply epidemic. His experience has led him to have a passion for finding innovative ways to help his community out and, hopefully, decreasing the amount of unnecessary deaths. Previously, Malcolm worked in the Aerospace and Automotive industries as a certified quality Technician/Auditor, certified by ASQ with a Metrology/Statistical background for 25 years. He also enjoys working on various fine wood projects in his free time.

Ashley Smoke (Stage 3)

Indigenous Services, Lived Experience, Harm Reduction

  • Full bio

    Ashley Smoke is an Indigenous Woman from Alderville First Nation's living in Brampton, Ontario. She has a diploma in Community and Justice Services and does lots of work in Harm Reduction and Indigenous Services. Ashley also does advisory work for various research projects around people who use drugs and does advocacy at Regional, Provincial and National levels. Ashley does this work from a place of living expertise and is driven by the experiences she has had throughout the years as someone who uses drugs and has accessed harm reduction services herself such as methadone and safe supply. Ashley has a one-and-a-half-year-old son named Austin and does this work in hopes that his future can be bright and so he won't have to bury his friends at the same rate as well as to commemorate all those friends, family, coworkers and clients that have been lost during the opioid crisis.

Challenge details

Who can apply

Open to any for-profit and not-for-profit organizations such as companies, industry associations, Indigenous organizations and research associations, as well as post-secondary institutions.


  • Up to 10 Semi-Finalists will receive an estimated prize of $25,000 to further develop their prototypes.
  • Up to 5 Semi-Finalists will receive an estimated prize of $100,000 to pilot their prototypes.
  • A grand prize winner will receive an estimated prize of $1,000,000 to further develop and build their product.

Key Dates

  • Challenge Launch: October 2nd, 2018
  • Application Deadline: February 1st,  2019
  • First Selection Phase - Semi-Finalists Announced: April 2019
  • Incubation Period: April to September 2019
  • Second Selection Phase - Finalists Announced: December 2019
  • Pilot-Phase: January 2020 to December 2020
  • Grand Prize Announced: Spring 2021

Important resources