By Einat Paz-Frankel, Head of Content, Start-Up Nation Central
As the circles widen daily in one of the most serious global pandemics in recent history, it is not surprising that Israeli entrepreneurs are ‘on the case’ in the quest for both a vaccine and preventive solutions. With countries entering effective lockdown and quarantining millions, the hunt for COVID-19 medical solutions is now in full force. And so, a large number of Israeli medical research and MedTech companies are aiming for ways to control the spread of coronavirus.
While Israeli scientists are hard at work, researchers at Start-Up Nation Central have launched a comprehensive database of 80 Israeli MedTech companies (and counting) with MedTech solutions in relevant fields that can help in the global fight against COVID-19. These companies are actively working on wide-ranging solutions; their expertise range from remote monitoring, diagnostics and decision support, to protection and prevention, and addressing social and mental health aspects of the virus.
The race for a COVID-19 vaccine
Owing to the rapid rate of infection and growing number of new cases, the Holy Grail is a vaccine for global distribution. The Israel Institute of Biological Research in Ness Ziona has joined the global race to develop a vaccine and is reporting significant breakthroughs. Once a vaccine is found, it could take over a year to be sure that it is safe to give to healthy people. This is too big a challenge for one lab or one country. Israel, it seems, is in a good position to contribute to this global effort.
Simultaneously, another group of Israeli medical researchers at the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute has developed a vaccine against coronavirus in chickens (specifically, Infectious Bronchitis Virus, or IBV), according to results of the pre-clinical trials. MIGAL scientists found that the genome of the avian coronavirus is similar to the COVID-19 virus currently infecting humans, and maintain that the discovery will be able to streamline the development of an effective vaccine. Currently, the MIGAL team is making adjustments to see that the vaccine works on the virus that causes COVID-19, and is seeking assistance to expedite trials and develop the vaccine.
Flu or COVID-19?
One of the biggest challenges in controlling the spread of COVID-19 is that people can be infectious before they have any symptoms, and the symptoms at first are very similar to a regular cold or flu. As a result, it is difficult to determine how seriously someone should regard their symptoms, and whether they should stay home to prevent spreading the infection.
Hospitals, even without regard to COVID-19, are centers of infection for many diseases. Now these hospitals, already crowded, are besieged with patients and in some countries are collapsing under the load. At this time more than ever, there is an urgent need to examine, reassure, and treat as many people outside the hospital as possible.
Remote monitoring solutions are key
Remote monitoring is an area of real strength in Israel’s digital health ecosystem. A number of Israeli digital health companies* have developed systems to help doctors and other medical professionals monitor patients remotely. These solutions can be used firstly to help individuals better understand their condition and secondly, to direct only those with clear symptoms to receive in-person medical care.
Israeli startup Datos Health just started working with the Israeli Ministry of Health on remote monitoring of coronavirus patients. Datos’ remote care platform fully automates the transition of care processes and patient journey management from hospitals to the home.
Tyto Care, founded by Dedi Gilad and Ofer Tzadik, provides a novel device that allows doctors to listen to the heart and lungs remotely, as well as gauge temperature readings. This allows remote detection of COVID-19 symptoms, even from the comfort of a patient’s home.
Another Israeli company, EarlySense, founded by Danny Lange, provides completely touch-free monitoring of patients’ heart and respiratory rates, which could also be used to remotely detect the development of coronavirus symptoms and prioritize certain patients for further examination or quarantine.
In the world of test kits, BATM, founded by CEO Ziv Marom, claims to have developed a diagnostic kit for COVID-19 that can detect the virus from saliva samples in less than a half hour. The test has been verified as effective by laboratories and hospitals, and the company is currently working towards global distribution.
Medial EarlySign, founded by Ori Geva, Ofer Ariely and Nir Kalkstein, uses machine-learning-based decision support tools to decipher medical data, enabling a personal interpretation of test results. This in turn can be used by healthcare providers to target high-risk patients with existing conditions – a known risk category in the COVID-19 crisis.
Controlling the spread of the virus
Apart from the challenge of differentiating symptoms from the regular flu, one of the reasons that COVID-19 has escalated into a global pandemic so quickly is that some people continue their normal routines without protection or taking precautions. Therefore, in order to control the further spread of the disease and to calm the panic (take your pick) – many are walking around with face masks with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Sonovia, founded by Shay and Joshua Hershcovich, has developed innovative antiviral masks that have been proven to stop the spread of E. coli and other deadly bacteria. However, it has yet to be determined if the face masks, which are washable and reusable, can prevent the spread of COVID-19 through their chemically engineered antibacterial materials.
To address hygiene challenges, Israeli startup Soapy Care has created an Internet of Things (IoT) device that provides individuals with an exact amount of water and soap, while collecting data on hand-washing patterns and trends. Soapy Care’s founders believe that by tracking data on hygiene patterns, the spread of viruses can be controlled and limited by 50%.
One cannot neglect the social and mental health aspects of the isolation caused by the quarantine. One of many Israeli startups that can help is Uniper, an AI-based, in-home assistance platform originally designed for the elderly. The company’s TV-based platform features social engagement, assistance with performing daily activities, access to entertainment content, and management of medical needs.
COVID-19 knows no borders and is posing some of the greatest health challenges of our generation for policymakers and health professionals. It seems likely that Israel’s digital health sector, with its unique strengths, will make a meaningful contribution toward addressing this global crisis.For more information about the Israeli companies working on COVID-19 innovation and research, visit the coronavirus directory on Start-Up Nation Finder, and take a look at our map of MedTech startups countering COVID-19, which we developed with HealthIL
*Can your startup help in the global fight against coronavirus? Let us know.