Beyond The Lab: Firing up the innovation engine during coronavirus pandemic

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Published: June 1, 2020 1:00 AM

Several IISc incubated startups have developed niche solutions to contain the Covid-19 outbreak and better prepare frontline workers to combat it.

While innovation has been a hot topic in some of India’s higher education institutes, it has become more relevant than ever during this pandemic.

While innovation has been a hot topic in some of India’s higher education institutes, it has become more relevant than ever during this pandemic. Take for instance, The Society for Innovation and Development (SID), a wing of Indian Institute of Science (IISc); this Bengaluru-based incubator is aiding a host of startups leading the fight against Covid-19.

“SID strives to bring the leading intellectuals of IISc and the fruits of their research and development efforts closer to industries and business establishments in a cordial way with prosperity of the nation as the ultimate goal,” says CS Murali, chairman of the Entrepreneurship Cell (STEM Cell) at SID. “Several of the startups have developed solutions for the current Covid-19 situation in order to aid society in dealing with the pandemic and equipping it with the right utilities to combat the outbreak and better prepare the government, medical personnel and citizens out there on the frontlines.”

Among these, General Aeronautics (GA) has developed a drone with the capability to spray pesticides on farms. When the Covid-19 pandemic happened, GA quickly repurposed its drone to spray disinfectants in public spaces for sanitisation of large areas.  The GA team has also repurposed a drone that it had developed for surveillance purposes, by adding a public address system on the drone through which audio messages (either recorded or live) can be transmitted, in addition to providing live video feeds.

The spraying-drone had been extensively used in Bengaluru, under the direction of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) at over 150 spraying missions. Says Abhishek Burman, CEO, GA: “We continue to receive requests from across the country to help city corporations and police forces through our drones.”

Then, there is AI Health Highway which  has a web-based app for Covid-19 self-screening. The utility is based on predictive analytics in order to determine likelihood of infection and recommends the optimum course of action. It was probably the only startup which launched the pre-screening and triage tool in mid-March which categorised risk assessment into Red/ Orange/ Green (high/ mid/ low risk) zones – a framework adopted by the government now to classify districts/zones to monitor. As it uses pincode and sequential screening on days 0,3,7,14 – it helps the health authorities to monitor zones for passive surveillance based on clinical presentation.

It is now testing the tool for tele-triage and remote clinical monitoring at private clinics offering telemedicine services. Satish Jeevannavar, founder, AI Health Highway, says, “Doctors can use this tool for effective screening and triage through tele-consultation so that the chances of cross-infection among suspected Covid-19 versus normal patients is better managed and only the high-risk patients are referred to Covid-19 designated hospitals.”

Azooka Life Sciences has developed reagents and kits for detection of trace quantities of nucleic acids. For RTPCR based testing, one of the reagents it supplies inactivates the virus and stabilises the RNA of the virus thus obviating the need for containment. Another startup, Equine Biotech, is leveraging its expertise to develop two types of tests. One is to detect the presence of antibodies to Covid-19 proteins from blood samples and the other to quantify the RTPCR test technique. Again, Pathshodh Healthcare has created a strip-based hand-held diagnostic device for Covid-19 testing, a concept that is unique to it.

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