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Covid-19 update: 30 July 2020

30 Jul 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

Spurred on by the World Health Organization's warning it might take as long as four to five years to control Covid-19, a team of New Zealand and American scientists have commenced developing a rapid, high volume, low cost, and highly accurate quantitative immune testing platform.

The goal is for Covid19-immune individuals to bypass mandatory quarantine, with results authenticated to passports by identifying who is safe to travel without risk to themselves or others.

"Until a vaccine is widely distributed there are significant barriers to travel between countries which puts severe stress on economic recovery," commented Professor Cather Simpson, an American-New Zealand physicist and chemist at the University of Auckland. "Rapid point-of-need testing for immunity can enable a return to safe and quarantine-free international travel," she adds.

Orbis Diagnostics, co-founded by Professor Simpson and Professor David Williams, a leading authority in electrochemistry and chemical sensors, was a winner in the 2018 SPIE Startup Challenge. Its “Point of Cow” optical diagnostics approach enables dairy farmers to innovate by providing key data about core business – producing the best quality milk from the healthiest animals in the most sustainable way.

Orbis has now brought together an international team with significant depth in novel diagnostic development and deployment. Professor Williams, as Chief Scientist, led the development of Alere's globally leading Clearblue digital pregnancy and ovulation rapid strip tests and the first at-home fingerpick cardiac biomarker test. The Orbis-designed platform will provide simultaneous and quantitative testing for large groups of people to deliver medical laboratory ELISA (enzyme-linked immunoassay) precision results in under 15 minutes. A small finger prick of blood is drawn from each traveler for on-the-spot testing.

The goal is for Covid-immune individuals to bypass mandatory quarantine, with results authenticated to passports by identifying who is safe to travel without risk to themselves or others. The Orbis equipment is an automated centrifugal microfluidic system the size of a desktop printer. It can be deployed at entry points to key facilities such as airports, hospitals, and other locations critical to national and community infrastructure, and will provide a robust, portable, accurate immunoassay process. In addition, it was designed to be operated by non-technically qualified staff to allow its widespread deployment.

Funding sought

Orbis is seeking $10 million investment to adapt its platform system for the quantitative detection of the Covid-19 virus and antibodies produced after infection, to productize its system, to conduct clinical studies and begin deployment. The system is expected to commence commercial manufacturing within 12 months.

The Orbis Diagnostics team has been joined by NYC-based Dr. Allan Goldberg who will serve as a Board member. He is a biotechnology CEO and entrepreneur, who is experienced in the foundation, management, financing, governance, and sale of start-up companies. Dr. Goldberg was a professor of virology at The Rockefeller University where his lab focused on viral oncology.

The scientific and management teams have been brought together by Pacific Channel, an early-stage investment and development firm focused on building successful deep-tech ventures from New Zealand. Pacific Channel is chaired by La Jolla, C.A.-based Dr. Gary Pace, an experienced serial entrepreneur in large-scale life sciences ventures in Australia, New Zealand, and the USA.

Investigating aerosols in the spread of Covid-19

Prof. dr. Detlef Lohse and his team from the Physics of Fluids group at the University of Twente, Netherlands, is investigating the effect of aerosols in the spreading viruses such as the coronavirus. Together with University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and Rob Hagmeijer from the UT research group Technische Stromingsleer, they are starting a new project designed to increase the understanding of how respiratory droplet spread in various circumstances. Netherlands health research agency ZonMW is financing the project with €500,000.

Up until recently, the World Health Organization and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) have underestimated the role aerosols – droplets smaller than 200 µm – have in the spreading of viruses. The assumptions of the RIVM were based on an outdated model made by William F. Wells from the 1930s, who assumed that droplets with a diameter of 5-10 µm would evaporate too quickly to become a problem.

The lifetime of these aerosols is much longer than previously thought. “The droplets leave your body with the humidity of your breath. The humid environment makes it harder for the droplets to evaporate”, said Lohse. Inside, the risk of infection is very big. Especially when there is poor ventilation and you have to speak aloud.

Lohse and his team will analyze the lifetime of aerosols with both simulations and experiments in many different situations. Lohse says: “We will study the effect of coughing, speaking, screaming and facemasks in different environments on the lifetime of these droplets. If the corona pandemic makes one thing clear, it is that we still do not know enough about the fluid dynamics of sneezing, coughing, speaking and even simply breathing. Answers are urgently needed, and in times like this, the basic research on this subject is no longer a niche but a key discipline.”

The research project is a collaboration with UMCG in Groningen. In Groningen, they will analyze the number of viruses inside the droplets and whether that number is high enough for an infection. Together, the researchers want to learn about the role of aerosols in the spreading of Covid-19.

Remote monitoring for telehealth

Think Biosolution is expanding the capabilities of their QuasaR™ remote monitoring device for telehealth to include critical positioning data with help from Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system (GNSS).

Remote patient monitoring uses at-home point of care devices to remotely measure physical parameters that clinicians can review. This care model is increasingly popular, moving away from clinical settings to home-based care to increase efficiency, reduce cost and avoid clinical infection, a critical factor during this pandemic. However, point of care devices can typically only measure biometric information and lack locational information about the patient.

The QuasaR device, which integrates an optical biometric sensor, temperature sensor, motion sensor, GPS, Bluetooth, and haptic feedback system, will now include GNSS capability for increased reliability and accuracy down to one meter. Dr. Shourjya Sanyal, CEO of Think Biosolution Limited, explained, “Our remote patient monitoring platforms built on our QuasaR device is the only solution in the world that specifically addresses this problem of location information by using built-in GNSS technology.” GNSS enabled devices deliver increased receiver accuracy and reliability over GPS alone, down to an accuracy of one meter.

For geriatric patients or those living with chronic conditions, the QuasaR device can use Galileo-based GNSS to locate them in emergencies like falls or cardiac arrest. In healthy adults, the QuasaR™ device uses Galileo based GNSS to calculate the wearer’s exercise speed, running distance, and the number of calories burnt.

Ireland’s Tyndall National Institute leads the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre consortium for Ireland, through which Think Biosolution gained commercial access to Galileo. The consortium includes Athlone Institute of Technology, Maynooth University, and MaREI (Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy), and is funded jointly by ESA and Enterprise Ireland.

Working practices are changing, says Cisco report

New Cisco-commissioned research published on July 22nd reveals what the optical networking giant calls “forward-looking lessons for IT and business leaders as they navigate their return to office strategies.” The findings are covered in a report, entitled “A New Perspective on the Modern Workplace”.

The research upon which the report is based was conducted by IT industry analyst firm Freeform Dynamics. Input was gathered via three separate studies of working practices in eight industries across thirteen countries spanning the pre-pandemic to mid-pandemic period (late 2019 to May/June 2020).

Cisco stated, “the report covers six specific lessons that have emerged from the data gathered from Covid-19 experiences. The lessons highlight particular changes in mindset, attitude, direction, and behavior that will be particularly important.” Some of the key research findings are:

  • 74% of respondents said their business will in some ways emerge stronger from the crisis. Cisco commented that this optimism is indicative of “the ingenuity and innovation organizations have shown. It has been incredible to see how many initiatives around digital transformation and other forms of modernization scheduled for the medium to long-term, or deferred because of other competing priorities, have been accelerated."
  • Flexibility is here to stay, and it will benefit organizations as well as employees. Almost half (49%) of respondents indicated that flexible working hours are here to stay. And when it comes to hiring, 50% of survey respondents said increased remote work would lead to a more inclusive and extended talent pool.
  • The vast majority of managers (87%) have increased their emphasis on employee wellbeing and work-life balance. Of those managers reporting the increased emphasis, nearly half (47%) said they see this being maintained over the long term.
  • Study participants view the pandemic as a catalyst for major change. Cisco commented, “The obvious question remains as to whether this mindset shift can withstand the test of time, but participants were optimistic that workplace culture is transforming in the right direction.”

In the following video, Cisco's Aruna Ravichandran, VP and CMO for Webex Collaboration Business, shares the results of this “future of work study”.

• Also this week, Cisco Systems and Acacia Communications issued a joint statement on the status of the ongoing regulatory review for the pending $2.6 billion acquisition of Acacia by Cisco, currently being conducted by the State Administration for Market Regulation of the People’s Republic of China (SAMR). Cisco and Acacia say they remain actively engaged with SAMR and expect the acquisition to receive regulatory clearance.

Nobel Prize Week must adapt

The global pandemic and the Covid-19 situation will also affect the 2020 Nobel Prize Week, which will adopt new formats to celebrate and pay tribute to this year’s Laureates. Each December all the Laureates, their families and many other guests usually gather in Stockholm and Oslo for a week filled with events and various types of meetings. This year the Nobel Week will assume new formats, since so many uncertainties remain.

“The Nobel Week is a celebration of science, literature and peace efforts. This year, it feels especially important to highlight the achievements of the Laureates, which inspire us and give us hope for the future. The Nobel Week will not be as usual, due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Lars Heikensten, Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation.

The prize-awarding institutions expect to announce the Nobel Prizes as usual, this year during the period 5-12 October. There are also plans to hold the public events – Nobel Calling Stockholm – which will take place at the Nobel Prize Museum and other venues around Stockholm, in alternative formats to comply with social distancing restrictions during the announcement week.

Heikensten added, “We expect to be able to carry out the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies in Oslo and Stockholm on 10 December, using new formats that both comply with social distancing restrictions and take into account that only some or perhaps no Laureates will participate on site. However, the Nobel Foundation's Board of Directors has decided that the traditional Nobel Banquet at the Stockholm City Hall will not take place this year.”

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