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3D-printed swabs to disinfectant robots: How these 9 S’pore firms are helping to fight Covid-19

The onset of Covid-19 has rocked healthcare systems worldwide and left governments all over the world scrambling to combat the pandemic. It’s been tough, and there is still a long road ahead of us. If there is any positive outcome out of this, it is how it served as a catalyst for innovation, especially for the medical technology (MedTech) sector.

In light of celebrating the wins from all the losses we have incurred from the pandemic, here is a list of homegrown MedTech innovations that have helped to fight the good fight against Covid-19:

1. Fortitude test kit by MiRXES

Covid-19 innovations, A*STAR/ MiRXES
Image Credit: A*STAR/ MiRXES

MiRXES is a homegrown biotechnology company co-founded by Dr Zhou Lihan in 2014. The company has recently raised US$77 million in a Series C round in June to speed research into cancer detection tests. 

The team of scientists and entrepreneurs also developed a new multi-virus test kit that can detect both Covid-19 and the seasonal flu.

Building on the existing Fortitude Kit, which tests only for Covid-19, this new kit has additional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers — short genetic sequences — designed to detect influenza A and B.

The test uses PCR to look for viruses that cause either Covid-19 or the flu and gives two readouts. Since patients with Covid-19 or flu exhibit similar symptoms, it can be difficult for healthcare professionals to differentiate between the two.

These kits will assist healthcare professionals in making a more accurate and timely diagnosis.

Since February last year, more than five million Fortitude Kit tests have been sold locally and globally. The kits have been deployed in 13 local hospitals and labs and exported to more than 40 countries worldwide, including the United States.

2. iThermo by KroniKare

Covid-19 innovations, iThermo
Image Credit: Kronikare

Temperature screening is all part of the new normal that comes with the Covid-19. Temperature screening needs to be fast and accurate. After all, no one likes a bottleneck on the way to the mall. The AI-powered iThermo speeds up temperature screening by five times.

KroniKare is a healthcare startup behind iThermo. Based on Kronikare’s Wound Scanner, the startup co-created this solution through a public-private collaboration in just two weeks. The firm worked with Singapore’s Integrated Health Information System (IHiS) and national accelerator AI Singapore to scale, validate and obtain deployment approval.

The best part: the iThermo is cheaper and more portable than airport screeners. It is a compact device that measures 25cm by 12cm by 5cm and features a smartphone camera, a thermal camera, and a laser camera, which can be mounted on a stand.

Weighing only 650g, the iThermo can be easily deployed at entrances of places like office buildings and shopping malls.

3. Accredify START app by Accredify

Covid-19 innovations, Accredify START app
Image Credit: Accredify

It seems the applications of blockchain are endless. Local startup Accredify has devised the Accredify START app in addition to the Digital Health Passport they created.

The Accredify START app is a blockchain-based mobile app that allows users to conveniently access and store digital Covid-19 test results.

One of the biggest problems of self-tests is there is no way to validate results. This new app records and verifies results for at-home self-test kits.

The Accredify START app allows others to authenticate a self-test result instantly. The process is quite simple — all you have to do is drag and drop the health records onto a verifier or scan a QR code of the test result.

The app even guides users on conducting the self-test, recording the results, and sharing them.

It also features a timer for the test’s incubation period, so users don’t check their results too early and end up with an inconclusive test.

The Accredify START app is particularly useful as employees bring staff back to offices on a larger scale. The app combines the national digital ID system SingPass to provide a secure login method. This way, employers can get a ‘bird’s eye view’ of all of their employees’ health statuses.

4. C-pass by Duke NUS-Medical School

genscript
Image Credit: GenScript

When it comes to Covid-19 testing, time is of the essence. cPass is the world’s first rapid serology test kit to detect antibodies and diagnose even recovered patients within an hour.

Duke-NUS Medical School initially invented this test kit. The team co-developed and manufactured the kit with GenScript Biotech Corporation and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Diagnostics Development Hub.

The cPass is the first SARS-CoV-2 surrogate virus neutralisation test (sVNT) kit capable of measuring functional neutralising antibodies (NAbs). NAbs are the specific antibodies in the serum of COVID-19 patients responsible for clearing, blocking, and neutralising the viral infection.

NAbs are well-established biomarkers for protein in most viral infections. Therefore, the sVNT kit is a better measure for potential resilience to re-infection.

Apart from working with local biotech companies to increase production, cPass is launching worldwide with its kit available for purchase and research use globally. The cPass test is already available for in vitro diagnostics use in Singapore and has obtained provisional authorisation by Singapore’s Health Science Authority.

5. Novel nasopharyngeal swab by NUS

Novel nasopharyngeal swab by NUS
(From left to right) Dr Alfred Chia, Associate Professor David Allen, Professor Freddy Boey, and Associate Professor Yen Ching-Chiuan / Image Credit: NUS

A key component of PCR tests is the swabs. They are extremely important, as uncomfortable as they might be. Given how much testing has to be done and supply chain disruptions, there has been a major shortage of these swabs everywhere.

Singapore, being the overachiever that she often is, has found an ingenious solution to the problem.

A collaboration between the National University of Singapore, National University Hospital and an industry consortium headed by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster has successfully developed a patient-trialled, cost-effective and manufacturable 3D-printed NP swab named ‘Python’.

After considering the clinical requirements of the swab in relation to its mechanical, material and biological properties, a double helix structure was used for the swab tip. The new nasal swab has excellent fluid absorption and causes minimal discomfort to the patient.

With the ease of 3D printing, Singapore can produce up to 40 million swabs in the coming months.

6. TY027- by Tychan

tychan
Image Credit: Tychan

In the early days of the pandemic, the priority was to create vaccines to lessen the effect of the virus. Now that most of the world’s population is vaccinated, we can focus on a cure.

The Singapore-based company, Tychan is in partnership with the Singapore Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Health, and Economic Development Board to develop a cure for Covid-19.

Dubbed TY027, it is a monoclonal antibody that specifically targets Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The treatment is meant to slow down the progression of the disease and speed up recovery.

As of October 2020, Tychan has obtained approval from the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore (HSA) to begin Phase 3 clinical trials as part of the progression of the antibody development.

The trial will start in Singapore at partner hospitals Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital, with Changi General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital as referral sites.

7. Anti-body treatments by Proteona

proteana
Image Credit: Proteona

While vaccines have been instrumental in our fight with Covid-19, they have limitations, especially with immuno-comprised individuals.

To combat this, local startup Proteona is formulating Covid-19 antibody treatments for these individuals.

In partnership with Australia-based Vaxine and Flinders Medical Centre, Proteona taps on its proprietary ESCAPE technology to profile immune responses. If successful, this will help vulnerable patients fight against the strain of coronavirus responsible for the current outbreak and future virus variants.

8. eXtreme Disinfection roBot by NTU

disinfection robot covid-19 ntu
Image Credit: NTU

One of the best ways to control the spread of covid-19 ensure surfaces are clean and sterilised. Meet the eXtreme Disinfection roBot or XDBot by Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Built at a lighting speed of six weeks, the XDBot robot disinfects large surfaces semi-autonomously. This dramatically reduces the risk for users in contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

This project is headed by Professor Chen I-Ming, CEO of Transforma Robotics. The eXtreme Disinfection roBOT or XDBOT can be controlled wirelessly through a laptop or a tablet.

The eXtreme Disinfection roBOT or XDBOT is a rechargeable robot. It can operate for four hours continuously and is also equipped with an 8.5 litres tank.

9. Hiro (Healthcare Assistive Robot for Frontline Infection Control) by Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Image Credit: Nanyang Polytechnic

In these Covid-19 times, robots have helped lessen the load for our healthcare professionals.

Meet HIRO, which stands for Healthcare Assistive Robot for Frontline Infection Control. It was built by researchers at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and is currently on trial at Tampines polyclinic.

The robot uses UV-C light to kill bacteria and viruses and can direct visitors to service points. Given the recent rise in cases, HIRO helps to reduce the rate of infection and lessens the burden on healthcare professionals on doing laborious tasks like cleaning hard-to-reach areas and temperature screening.

The future might be looking up

It’s hard to say when Covid-19 will come to an end or whether we will ever reach an endemic status with the virus.

If this strange time is also marked by these Medtech achievements and strides by our homegrown scientists, I think we might be okay after all.


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Featured Image Credit: NTU, Tychan, Proteona, NUS

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