Fighting Covid on many fronts

Fighting Covid on many fronts

Start-ups incubated at IISc are coming up with products for a variety of functions

With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of abating, a slew of start-ups incubated at Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have turned their focus towards finding technology-based remedies to tackle the infection. While all of them are hopeful that they have hit upon the next big idea, it remains to be seen which of them will eventually taste success.

Many of the young companies have been at the campus for a few years, bubbling with ideas and trying out products as part and parcel of the institute’s Society for Innovation and Development (SID). Now, to understand the epidemic and stem its tide, they have decided to leverage their core competency and bring to the table innovative products. If these reach the marketplace, they have the potential to aid the medical community in the fight against the virus in a variety of functions — testing, abating, sanitising, and the most crucial, preventing its spread.

Mynvax, which is developing a vaccine for SARS-COV-2, is being watched with great interest as its product has reached animal testing stage.

The candidate vaccine is expected to provide significant protection to healthcare workers and elderly people, and those with other high-risk factors because of co-morbid conditions. “Unlike software companies, these start-ups actually build products and that takes time,” says CS Murali, Chairman of the Entrepreneurship Cell (STEM Cell) at IISc. “Mynvax was building vaccines for influenza. New strains of the influenza virus come into existence from time to time, so new vaccines have to be produced each time. When Covid-19 happened, the company started developing a vaccine for it and this is now at a promising stage. For all you know, it may be out in 12 to 18 months,” he adds.

Simpler, more efficient

Ventures experimenting on the testing and screening front are betting on the fact that their products will be simpler to use and have better efficacy than what exists today. With results from a coronavirus test often taking days to come, start-up Pathshodh Healthcare has created a strip-based handheld anti-bodies diagnostic device to enable easier Covid-19 testing. “They were working on a strip-based device for diabetes and other diseases and have now taken this challenge of developing a handheld detection device for the coronavirus,” explains Murali.

Equine Biotech too has developed two types of tests — one to detect the presence of antibodies to Covid-19 proteins from blood samples and the other to quantify the RTPCR test technique. RT-PCR is a test that detects the presence of the virus in the body from day one, but it is expensive and very few RT-PCR machines are available in the country.

Start-up Shanmukha Innovations is also working on a product that can replace the RT-PCR test and reduce testing time from days to hours. The solution lies in Thermal Cyclers and Fluorescence Readers that can be installed in vans. MicroX is working on a solution that will detect inflammation which, in turn, will help in tracking potential carriers and thus slow the spread of the disease. To aid in sanitisation, Sickle Innovation has created a UV-based disinfection device to enable re-use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns and gloves. This equipment is built with indigenous material and can be manufactured rapidly. Currently two prototypes are ready, one is a cabinet-style unit for hospitals and the other a box-style for homes.

Start-up General Aeronautics, which had developed drones for services such as quickly conveying a donor organ for transplant to hospital and spraying of agriculture insecticide, has tweaked the drone-based application to deliver disinfectants to sites in Bengaluru. The drones have already completed 200 missions.

Apart from the fledgling funds that the start-ups already have from angel investors and venture capitalists, IISc has been using government grants and corporate social responsibility aid from multinational company Honeywell to bolster the investment needed for projects dedicated to fight the coronavirus. Summing up the contribution being made by SID, Murali says, “Though they were doing something else, a large number of our incubated start-ups rose to the Covid-19 challenge and are doing their level best to produce effective products.”