With over 16 million infections and close to 700,000 deaths worldwide by end-July 2020, the world is facing a health crisis of epic proportions in fighting COVID-19. This is putting a serious strain on healthcare infrastructure all over the world.
In the pre-Covid-19 era, innovations in healthcare were slow to come as the world’s VCs and tech innovators obsessed over self-driving cars, forays in space and social media showcasing ever-shorter videos. The unrelenting pandemic has necessitated a sense of urgency, making mitigating the effects of the vicious virus the need of the hour. Companies around the world are rising to the occasion with technology-based healthcare solutions that promise to pave the way for a better tomorrow.
The Brave New World of Biotech
COVID-19 has brought to light many of the challenges facing healthcare systems around the world. Even the Big Five tech giants (Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Apple) have spurred their healthcare ambitions into action. Each of them has healthcare units operating within their organizations, attracted by the massive $11.9 trillion global healthcare market.
Here are some standout companies that tap unserved niches and promise to revolutionise healthcare.
Breathresearch is a healthcare company with a mission to improve healthy living. It does this through affordable tracking and early detection of deteriorating respiratory health status. Breath Research has 35 proprietary biomarkers to look at various dimensions of lung health that they use to characterize asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) severity (with the help of AI and machine learning). This information can also be applied to patients with COVID-19. In June 2020 BreathResearch merged with Airehealth, a digital health company empowering healthy living through affordable treatments, symptom tracking and early detection of respiratory conditions.
SystemOne’s Aspect connectivity solution and software provides rapid diagnostic data delivery and management. The organization’s digital platform, which has already been tested by previous outbreaks of HIV, TB and Ebola, now tracks COVID-19 cases to inform preparedness, response, and tracking of outcomes. The solution is optimized to communicate healthcare data in low-resource settings. A connected network shortens the time from diagnosis to patient management, enabling reduction of transmission rates for highly infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Health ministries can now use the platform to monitor spread of the disease in their respective countries.
The standard testing method for detecting coronavirus is RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction). However, this test can in some cases produce false negative results. Huiying Medical which is a member of Intel AI Builders forum has developed a medical imaging diagnostic solution that uses CT chest scans that complement standard lab testing and assist with early detection of coronavirus infections. The company developed algorithms based on CT imaging data from over 4000 coronavirus cases and rolled out its AI-assisted screening system to more than 20 hospitals in China that are at the forefront of battling the disease in real time.
UK-based Vantage Health manages demand for hospital services with it’s AI-powered solution. It’s cutting-edge technology considers the needs of all the stakeholders and helps in reducing the strain on hospital infrastructure by transforming outpatient care. It’s solution recently received the Innovate UK Grant from UK’s innovation agency, in recognition of its effectiveness in dealing with the large spike in demand for hospital services due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Vantage’s solution enables general practitioners and dentists to easily direct their patients towards the right care pathways, ensuring consistency of referrals, and reducing the overall number of patients that result in hospital admission. The last element led one London-based Trust to request urgent support in dealing with the increased volume of patients to their main hospital, as a result of COVID-19.
The India Story
Back home in India, the Kerala-based start-up Asimov Robotics has been grabbing headlines with its three-wheeled robot that can assist patients in isolation wards, thereby reducing the chances of the hospital staff contracting the virus. The robot is capable of carrying food and medicines. Besides this, it can disinfect used items and allows doctors and relatives to interact with patients through video calling.
A group of engineering students from IIT-Bombay, National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar and Islamic University of Science & Technology in Awantipora (IUST), Jammu and Kashmir, have developed a low-cost ventilator called ‘Ruhdaar’. The team, according to a release by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, designed the low-cost ventilator using locally available materials but advanced software. While the prototype costs Rs 10,000, ‘Ruhdaar’ is now up for the next round of medical testing to get approvals.
IIT-Delhi and Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) conducted a collaborative research and found that the natural compounds from ashwagandha, an ancient medicinal herb used in Ayurveda, and propolis have the potential to be an effective novel coronavirus preventive drug.
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, an Indian-American oncologist and author recently tweeted, “Rarely has a vaccine been developed in less than 5 years. And yet the oft-cited target for creating a vaccine against Covid-19 is 12 months, 18 at the outside. Can it be done?”
The truth of the matter is that it does take months or even years before vaccines are available to all because vaccine candidate drugs must undergo extensive trials before they are approved. Due to the urgency for a suitable vaccine for Covid-19, companies have shaved off the years required for development and several organizations are working on a vaccine.
Bharat Biotech, a leading biotechnology company in India, headquartered in Hyderabad, announced that it had developed a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, named Covaxin, together with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune.
In a bold move, Pune based Serum Institute, which is the world’s largest vaccine maker, has teamed up with Oxford scientists to mass-produce the potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by them. As of July 2020, the company had already begun manufacturing the vaccine with the aim of having 2-3 million doses ready by the end of August 2020.
It is clear that companies, researchers and doctors around the world are working hard to develop ways to fight coronavirus and reduce its impact. With so much effort towards alleviating the pain caused by this virus, one thing is for sure – this storm too shall definitely pass!