Q&A with Dr. Jennifer Johnston: Transforming health care through innovation

Dr. Jennifer Johnston stands smiling with donors Susan Crocker John Hunkin and Susan Mullin.

Dr. Jennifer Johnston (second from left) with donors Susan Crocker (left), John Hunkin (second from right) and Susan Mullin, president and CEO, QEII Foundation (right) at the inaugural Innovation Den event on November 23. Dr. Johnston was awarded the top prize for The Better Ring. 

Dr. Jennifer Johnston is a practicing family physician from the Annapolis Valley, mother of four, entrepreneur and founder of Elle, MD Biotechnologies. As a healthcare innovator, Dr. Johnston is developing a non-hormonal contraceptive device, The Better Ring, so patients everywhere can have access to safe, reliable birth control that doesn't compromise health.

In November 2023, Dr. Johnston was the inaugural winner of a $100,000 Innovation Catalyst Grant through the Innovation Catalyst Fund. The grant was made possible by forward-thinking couple and donors John Hunkin and Susan Crocker, who donated $1 million to the QEII Foundation to create the Innovation Catalyst Fund to accelerate health transformation at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

As with many innovative ideas, Dr. Johnston's motivation to create The Better Ring was sparked by encountering a problem that millions of women around the world face – and one that she dealt with personally.

Q: What is The Better Ring, and why did you create it?  

A: A few years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) – a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure. I learned that my long-term use of hormonal contraceptives increased my risk of developing the disease. In fact, research shows that hormonal birth control has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, certain cancers and other health risks*. At the time, I had four young children and needed reliable contraception once again. But with hormones off the table, my options were limited, so I decided to find a solution by developing my own – The Better Ring.  

The Better Ring is a non-hormonal, reliable, reusable, convenient and user-controlled contraceptive ring that will double as an emergency contraceptive. We hope to make it accessible for anyone looking for an alternative to hormones.

Q: What's next for The Better Ring now that you've secured $100,000 in funding through the Innovation Catalyst Grant? 

A: I'm incredibly grateful for this grant. It will allow me to start clinical trials in 2024. All our research to date has been promising, and now we are waiting for the first batch of rings to arrive so we can begin using them in human trials to test tolerability and efficacy.

Q: How does funding, like the support you received through the Innovation Catalyst Grant, fuel innovation in health care, and why is it important?

A: Donations like this one are critical to advancing innovation and improving health outcomes. The more we can do locally, the better we can help patients in Nova Scotia and, hopefully, beyond.

As a primary healthcare provider, I work with patients every day who need better access to contraception. Innovations in health care are coming from people, like me, living and breathing these issues and creating solutions. Generosity from awards like the Innovation Catalyst Grant creates a ripple effect; it can inspire other people to support innovation and keeps ideas moving forward that have the potential to transform health care for everyone.

Click here to learn more about the Innovation Catalyst Fund and how you can support innovation in health care through the QEII.