Seeking new ideas and solutions from science and implementing them on the market is of vital importance in times of crisis. Swiss innovators from all parts of the country are helping to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and its social and economic consequences with their innovations. Many of these start-ups or innovation projects are being supported by Innosuisse.
On 16 March, the Federal Council declared that the COVID-19 pandemic was an “extraordinary situation” and imposed a partial lockdown. The number of applications for short-time work and bridging loans being provided by commercial banks reached an all-time high.
But did the pandemic also paralyse the ability of Swiss companies to act?
Quite the opposite: the past few weeks have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has given an extra boost to innovation and that many start-ups and companies supported by Innosuisse are countering the crisis situation with new ideas or product innovations.
Monitoring of infected persons and digital companions
Many start-ups participating in the Innosuisse coaching programme are at the forefront of tackling the pandemic through their science-based innovations. Examples of this include developments in the field of medicine, such as the solution from UniSieve whose membrane platform technology used for the processing of oxygen in artificial air helps people with Covid-19-related breathing difficulties. Another good example is the start-up Oncobit whose highly sensitive test for monitoring cancer patients can also be used to confirm whether people infected with Covid-19 are contagious and still present a risk to their environment. “Were considering adapting the existing technology and have already taken the initial steps with a partner”, says CEO Seline Eisenring.
Further examples can be found in the field of IoT. These innovations include CARU made by the Zurich-based start-up of the same name. “For many elderly people, the fear of being alone is greater than the fear of Covid-19. Our digital companion CARU aims to create a sense of closeness despite physical distance.”, says Co-CEO Susanne Dröscher, explaining the product which was launched six months earlier than planned for families due to the outbreak of the pandemic. Another solution is Akenza: instead of developing software for new IoT projects of cities and for the private sector, this start-up is providing an automated people counting system for retailers and staff canteens during the Covid-19 crisis.
3D nanofibres for full-body protective suits
There is also great potential for combatting Covid-19 through products and services developed as part of innovation projects between research institutions and companies. This is underlined by a whole host of projects currently being supported by Innosuisse. The SME TB-Safety AG, based in Frick, is conducting research into the development of 3D nanofibres for use in full-body protective suits for medical staff during pandemic outbreaks like this one as part of an innovation project with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), the Spiez Laboratory and the University Hospital of Basel. Another prime example is the cooperation between the start-up Global ID and the three specialist laboratories of the IDIAP Research Institute in Martigny, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland (HES-SO) in Valais. This has produced contactless technology for scanning finger veins which can be used to reliably identify people and to protect sensitive data. “The development of this new contactless technology meets the requirements of the hospital sector which we have been focusing on for months. It would obviously be extremely beneficial to ensure the reliable identification of people while at the same time protecting security (of people and their data) in a pandemic situation like the one we are experiencing with Covid-19.”, says Lambert Sonna, CEO of Global ID.
Annalise Eggimann, Director of Innosuisse, believes there are also positives to be taken from the crisis in the shape of new ideas. “Focusing on innovation during times of turmoil pays off. We are improving our future outlook through innovation.”
An overview of the start-ups and innovation projects funded by Innosuisse which could make a significant contribution to combatting the Covid-19 pandemic (not exhaustive):
- leadXpro AG – the start-up, together with other organisations from research and industry, is supporting the Swiss government's National COVID-19 Science Task Force and contributing its extensive expertise in working with challenging membrane proteins for pharmaceutical studies
- Creoptix AG – the Wädenswil-based company is focusing on next-generation bioanalytical instruments and applying its expertise to better understand and characterise the immunological reactions to COVID-19, in collaboration with the University of Zurich
- Memo Therapeutics AG – the start-up, which is being supported by Innosuisse in a number of projects, is specialised in the production of antibodies and is now using this knowledge to develop antibodies targeted at neutralising COVID-19
- Oncobit AG – a highly sensitive and cost-efficient test for monitoring cancer patients could also be used to confirm whether persons infected with Covid-19 are still contagious.
- UniSieve Ltd – the membrane platform technology used to increase oxygen levels in natural air could be deployed to help people with Covid-19-related breathing difficulties.
- Ava Women – the fertility bracelet could also be used as a detection and monitoring system for people with Covid-19 by measuring breathing rate, pulse and skin temperature and moisture.
- Innovation project of docdok.health with IBM Research, USZ and ETH Zurich – the app developed through the project is used to track and study the healing process, lung function and quality of life of COVID-19 patients discharged from hospital.
- The innovation project between greenTEG and the Inselspital Bern and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) is conducting research into new solutions for the non-invasive detection of fever as an early-warning sign of Covid-19 infection amongst risk groups and medical staff.
- An innovation cheque for Juvabis to test the effectiveness of an existing drug on secondary pneumonia in Covid-19 patients.
- Visionary AG – docbox, which is already widely used by doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, could help the parties involved exchange data quickly and securely, including with the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
- W-line – an online platform where tasks, documents and inventories can be stored and shared, providing support for disaster management, ambulances and municipalities (already partially in use in Ticino).
- DOT Health (dThx) – voluntary tracking of Covid-19 symptoms enables the identification of global risk zones with high prevalence.
- Innovation project of Renuo AG with the FHS St.Gallen, the city of St.Gallen and Pro City St.Gallen - the City Messenger App enables a simple and uncomplicated contact with the St.Gallen city centre businesses in order to make the best possible use of the existing offers.
- "ReMask” innovation project by Empa with EPFL Lausanne, ETH Zurich and the Spiez Laboratory – in collaboration with the textile industry, work was carried out on technologies and quality standards for community masks. The medium and long-term goals of the project are the development and production of novel masks and mask parts for the current crisis as well as for upcoming pandemics.
- An innovation project between TB-Safety AG and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), the Spiez Laboratory and the University Hospital of Basel on the development of 3D nanofibres for integration into full-body protective suits for medical staff during pandemic outbreaks, such as Covid-19.
- HeiQ has launched HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03, an anti-viral and anti-microbial textile treatment which tests have shown to be effective against coronaviruses.
- Caru AG – Caru, the digital companion for elderly people, brings the family closer together during these times of isolation and makes it easier for them to raise the alarm in an emergency.
- Innovation project between Global ID and the IDIAP Research Institute in Martigny – contactless technology for scanning finger veins to identify people reliably and for data security purposes.
- PXL Vision – free digital identity verification for SMEs badly hit by the Covid-19 crisis.
- Akenza – instead of developing software for new IoT projects of cities and companies, the start-up is providing an automated people counting system for retailers and staff canteens during the Covid-19 crisis.
Last modification 22.06.2020