The NIH (National Institute of Health) is set to invest $248.7 million in new COVID-19 testing technologies to better address the current pandemic. NIH’s newly developed Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative has earned contracts to seven different biomedical diagnostic companies to support a wide range of new lab-based and point of care tests that could significantly increase the type, avaialibility and number of tests by millions per week starting as soon as September 2020. Currently, national demand is estimated to be millions more tests per day higher than the current levels, these COVID-19 testing technologies are expected to make a significant impact on expanding the nations testing capabilities.
The seven technologies use various formats and methods and can be performed in a variety of settings to meet different needs. Four of the mentioned COVID-19 testing technologies include innovations in lab-based testing technologies that include CRISPR, next generation sequencing, and integrated microfluidic chips that have a huge potential to increase testing capacity and throughput while reducing testing result times. The other three technologies utilize platforms to provide nucleic acid and viral antigen tests that can produce rapid results at the point of care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been working with NIH and RADx external advisors to offer general advice on test validation and are also prioritizing the review of emergency use authorization (EUA) from tests made by the RADx,
NIH launched RADx on April 29, 2020, just days after receiving an emergency supplemental appropriation of $1.5 billion from Congress to support innovative technologies to make millions of rapid COVID-19 tests per week available to Americans by the fall.
Several experts from academia, government, and industry including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s (NIBIB) Point-of-Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN) are all contributing to the RADx process via evaluating applications, providing technical and clinical resources and by guiding project teams. NIH has selected approximately 100 of the best concepts to join in an intensive one-week “shark tank” technology evaluation process. 31 of these projects successfully made the cut and have moved to Phase 1, an intense four to six-week period of initial technology validation. The seven tests announced are the first to be selected for scale up, manufacturing, and delivery to marketplace via RADx.
Top 3 digital health technologies post- pandemic
It’s certain that the current pandemic will eventually come to an end. However, some of the digital health technologies we’ve adopted along the way have proven to be indispensable, and some technologies may not be so prominent after the crisis.
Here are top 3 digital health technologies that are likely to stick around post- pandemic.
1. Disinfectant robots
Ultraviolet (UV) lights, more specifically UV-C is a well-established digital disinfecting method that is commonly used in the healthcare world. It works by altering the virus’ genetic material, that way UV lights make sure that virus doesn’t replicate. However, if exposed to human skin, it can lead to sunburns, irritations, and in the worst case, skin cancer.
All that aside, the benefits of UV-C in effectively disinfecting hospitals is seriously attracting robotics engineers and healthcare workers alike. Companies such as YouiBot are reimagining and redesigning their current robots into UV disinfectant ones. Danish company UVD Robots has shipped hundreds of their existing disinfectant robots around the world during the pandemic.
In addition to saving valuable time and decreasing the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, these robots will also prevent hospitals from getting infections.
2. AI for predicting future pandemics
In an ideal tech world, AI can predict a viral outbreak weeks, if not months in advance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal tech world, but the good news is that we can work towards forecasting such a system with the help of current technologies.
AI company BlueDot has issued early first warnings, after scrutinizing massive data sets from news, airlines, and animal disease outbreaks. Their algorithim managed to detect a certain trend which Epidemiologists later analyzed further to confirm an outbreak.
But BlueDot is the exception and not the rule, so we must reverse the situation in order to better handle the next public health crisis. Given the massive predictive power that AI brings to the healthcare sector, the proper authorities should utilize its full potential and help in making it more commonplace in hospital settings.
3. Remote care via smartphones
It’s a sad reality that the pandemic kick-started telemedicine for mainstream adoption. Before the crisis, only 1 in 10 US patients used telemedicine services, the number has now increased up to 158% in the same country.
With lockdowns enforced globally, people are utilizing the power of their smartphones for their mental and physical wellbeing. These new digital health technologies greatly reduce the risk of cross infection all while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their own homes
These solutions greatly reduce the risk of cross-infection while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their homes. What’s more, they prove that face-to-face doctor-patient visits are unnecessary. A Global Markets Insights report from April this year, projects that the telemedicine market value will reach $175.5 billion by 2026, indicating the need for remote care in the coming years.
The glaring problem with COVID-19 vaccine deployment
As most of us already know, creating a vaccine is only half the challenge of beating the pandemic. Getting 7 billion people vaccinated is a colossal undertaking, the scale of which has never been seen in history. How will the world manage and sustain COVID-19 vaccine deployment, and ensure equitable access to everyone?
It is not an easy task, and many people in positions of responsibility may have to make some difficult decisions. In short, we will not have enough vaccines for everyone by the end of this year, even if a particular vaccine candidate is deemed adequate.
In a document by the CDC published as a rough skeletal guideline, four categories of people were prioritized with newly produced or procured vaccine doses. This is to strategically use the scarce resources available to minimize the loss of life and maximize equity.
The document classified four categories of people that would receive the vaccine at different times according to a number of factors:
– High risk healthcare workers. First responders
– High risk older adults in congregate or crowded settings
Workers in critical industries and those living in an environment of high risk such as prison.
Young adults and children, and workers of essential industries that were not included in phase 2.
In an Audio Interview “Guidelines for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment”, Eric J. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. concurred. “We do this in medicine all the time”, he said “in that we plan to treat everybody but those who get sicker are the ones who need the treatment first, while we are scaling up or making any assessment of deploying a treatment”.
This task becomes more difficult in areas were the data on who needs what is scarce. Numerous collectives and institutions however are finding ways to guide their communities using localized data tracking, remote monitoring and some forms of contact tracing. They will be able to identify where and how many people require vaccination, how many vaccines are available for the taking, when more is coming, etc.
Having a clear picture is essential for any major endeavor to succeed, and a type of “communal immunity” can be achieved, to break the back of community transmission” as Rubin put it.
The issue of Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment isn’t when the vaccine is coming, but “who gets it first”. The answer given by the CDC seems to be a good one, from the perspective of the scientist, who have accepted the reality that vaccine equity is no easy task, and hard decisions must be made.
Professional networking amid the pandemic
As the current pandemic lingers on, we see the effects come into full force. The pandemic has changed the way we learn, work and socialize.
The pandemic has had its fair share of effects on professional networking, as most of us are currently stuck at home with limited ways to make new professional connections, top CXOs and junior-mid level professionals are joining committed and specialized platforms to connect and talk with each other online. Some of these platforms include: CoffeMug, Grab Chai, and Lunchclub.
These AI-enabled platforms call themselves “AI Superconnectors” and are the latest trend in professional networking. In essence, they are matchmakers that employ an AI algorithm to set up one-one-one meetings that are based on users’ inserted objectives, interests, and preferred time slots. AI then connects the users on email through a concept known as “warm intros” and sends them through a calendar invite that is usually accompanied by a link for a video call.
Unlike LinkedIn, these professional networking platforms are gated communities, where a user can join only through invites from existing users or by applying on the platform to get registered. Once the person enters, users cannot simply send cold emails to one another to connect. The platform is smarter as you can only meet with one specific profile at a time. This eliminates the problem of spam messages flooding your inbox.
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