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Startups vs COVID-19: Chatting with the winners of the Headstart COVID-19 call

Within the Headstart Programme for COVID-19 solutions, EIT Health Germany awarded 4 grants to Climedo Health, RAMPmedical, Intrepida and ScintHealth to develop products and services that will help Europe to contain, treat and manage the COVID-19 outbreak.

This year EIT Health expanded the scope of the Headstart programme to assist in the immediate need for solutions to combat COVID-19 and EIT Health Germany was pleased to welcome 4 digital health startups into their community, Climedo Health, RAMPmedical, Intrepida and ScintHealth, by awarding them with € 50,000 grant. The grants will be used to develop solutions that can mitigate the everyday impacts of COVID-19 and the startups will receive access to mentoring and business support to complete their project in the next 6 months.

We decided to conduct a short interview with the winning teams and discuss further not only their solutions, but also the impact of the coronavirus on the startup scene and the what role can healthcare startups play in shaping the post-crisis healthcare systems. Enjoy the interview.

1. How did your startup respond to the global COVID pandemic or the circumstances surrounding the health crisis?

Climedo Health: We immediately thought about how we could support during the crisis. As a digital startup in healthcare, we felt we had the tools necessary to improve and digitalize certain aspects of the health sector which had been mostly analog so far. Therefore, we decided to offer our platform for clinical data capture free of charge to certain COVID-19-related projects which are non-profit or non-governmental.

Intrepida: We originally designed Ancora.ai to support oncology patients with clinical trial search and match, with an expansion plan to soon cover all other medical conditions as well. When the pandemic started we quickly realized that Ancora.ai could help. Currently COVID-19 trials need to recruit more than 800,000 patients. So, we spent March 2020 designing a COVID-19 specific algorithm, developing a tailored patient questionnaire and launching the product in the space of a few weeks.

RAMPmedical: We are working on a therapy decision support tool for COVID-19. We already have a version for antibacterial treatment for community acquired pneumonia, one of the biggest complications of coronavirus. We are adapting our current therapy decision support software to the pandemic: this means that if a patient has other diseases, doctors can treat them and treat COVID-19 at the same time, while considering all the possible comorbidities of the patient. We are also working on supporting all the possible complications and future treatments for COVID-19.

ScintHealth: Motivated by the rise of CoViD-19 cases in February, ScintHealth started a new line of research and development producing and testing within a month Ultraviolet C for the safe and fast inactivation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus both on surfaces as well as suspended in the air as aerosol. Given the positive results of these tests with SARS-CoV-2, performed at the Virology Department of Klinikum rechts der Isar, we forged the concept of “self-disinfecting rooms” and prototyped a first system. This fast development was in part only possible due to the open doors we found everywhere we went… Organizing UV-lamps, getting prototypes to be tested, jumping in to develop new things, etc.

2. What would be the major benefit of your solution for the healthcare system and the society?

Climedo Health: Conventional patient diaries and their associated information exchange rely heavily on manual work, which is time-consuming and error-prone for patients and researchers. To make good healthcare available to all patients, we need to implement faster, digitalized solutions and make informed health decisions based on real-world data. Climedo’s platform and eDiaires are web-based, so people anywhere in the world can access them on any device. We eliminate the need to travel to a clinical site, thus ensuring social distancing. Our solution is digital, so there is no need for printing or mailing paper, which alleviates environmental strains. Society as a whole benefits, since patients will get faster access to eDiaries and potential therapies, making healthcare systems more effective.

Intrepida: Even before the pandemic, recruitment for clinical trials is a huge barrier and every day that we can help to accelerate clinical trial progress means lives saved. Our founding team believes that everyone should have access to clinical trials. Patients stand to benefit from receiving innovative treatments as early as possible, and for free, but currently face many obstacles when looking for trials. Ancora.ai democratizes trials by removing these barriers. By diversifying clinical research new medicines will be safer for everyone.

RAMPmedical: Wrong medication is a common problem, according to the World Health Organization, and causes worldwide costs of 42 billion dollars per year. Our goal is to enable doctors to find the best available therapy for each patient. We tested our solution with over 100 patient cases solved by international doctors using and not using our software. Outcomes were that doctors using our software made significantly better therapy decisions than the others (89% optimal therapy decisions compared to 29% for doctors not using our software). This means that our solution helps doctors to make the best decision for their patients while avoiding possible contraindications and dangerous treatments.

ScinetHealth: Ultraviolet C has been proven in the past to be an effective method to disinfect surfaces and air from several viruses and also bacteria and fungus that cause hospital acquired diseases, in particular multi-drug resistant bacteria. Us showing experimentally that SARS-CoV-2 can be also inactivated with UVC adds up to the reasons to extend the use of this technology. At ScintHealth we envision to bring this a further step ahead by pioneering with systems enabling “self-disinfecting rooms”. This technology we first want to introduce in hospitals where CoViD-19 and similar diseases spread the most, but we can imagine to bring it to other areas, like public bathrooms, changing rooms, ambulances, public transportation, etc. In his way we can help the spread of contagious diseases beyond the current crisis and thus have a strong impact on society on the long term.

3. Given the short period of implementation of the Headstart grant, what’s ahead for your startup and when can we expect the first results?

Climedo Health: Luckily, we started promoting our offering for COVID-19 projects back in March and are already in touch with several startups, research groups and health authorities. Nevertheless, this is going to be an intensive period for our team. Our first milestone will be to fully adapt and expand our technical infrastructure to meet the needs of potentially hundred of thousands of new users. We also need to verify and make adjustments to the regulatory and legal aspects in order to ensure a smooth implementation and scaling of our solution with respect to the regulatory frameworks. The focus will be to align with all stakeholders early and build a coalition to support the COVID-19 projects cause. With the support of EIT Health’s grant and mentoring & coaching network, we will have an extra boost to move things forward more quickly and with expert advice. We hope to have some first interesting results by the late summer.

Intrepida: The pandemic has been a great stress test for our scalability, and we were able to launch COVID-19 on Ancora.ai within two weeks. We’ll bring the same energy to the Headstart program and we have set our first milestone for the end of September 2020, when we aim to launch additional geographic coverage in Europe.

RAMPmedical: We will have our first release of the COVID-19 version in July. As part of the Headstart grant we will offer our app for free to all healthcare professionals until the end of the year.

ScintHealth: Our first prototype is already available and is being tested and refined in our labs at Klinikum rechts der Isar. We expect it to be ready for installation in several rooms of the hospital as early as September. If the tests run as expected we will thrive to get several rooms installed in several Munich hospitals by the end of the year and schedule installations worldwide during 2021.

4. Digitalization of healthcare is now reaching a new level of awareness. How do you expect the sector to evolve?

Climedo Health: We believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has already shifted people’s perspective on the need for digitalization in healthcare. Many of the digital solutions that have been the norm in the banking or retail sectors for a long time are now finally becoming more common in the healthcare industry, too. Patients and healthcare providers are likely to become more and more open to digital solutions, e.g. consulting a doctor via a video call instead of visiting the practice, or answering an online survey about their healthcare status rather than filling in a paper form. Nevertheless, data security needs to remain a number one priority for all involved parties, so that patients feel they can trust healthcare providers with sensitive data.

Intrepida: The pandemic has definitely accelerated this already powerful trend and for clinical trials we hope this is good news. With Ancora.ai we provide patients with the digital tools to unlock clinical trial information on their own, quickly, and from anywhere, rather than relying on experts for first guidance. The more we can empower everyone to understand and access health information the better!

RAMPmedical: I think that the crisis has helped to bring awareness of the need for digitisation in the health sector a big step forward. In reality, there are still major challenges in terms of implementation and the spread of the idea, especially in remote regions or where hospitals suffer from financial problems. But I am optimistic that the current political, legal and subsidy measures will help to put the vision into practice and that innovation in the healthcare system can take off.

Scinthealth: We have seen at our hospital partners, the corona crisis accelerated major changes in the use and exchange of digital medical data. Developments in format standardization, data sharing and increased connection of medical devices is to be expected. Also changes towards data sharing complying data protection and data ownership are to be expected.

5. Lastly, the coronavirus has brought unprecedented pressure on the healthcare system. What role can startups play in the post-crisis healthcare system?

Climedo Health: Startups have the power to change the status quo by collaborating with established healthcare players and authorities. They offer a fresh perspective and specific skills which can help to improve outdated systems and accelerate existing processes. In our experience, startups are also very agile and thus able to quickly adapt to changes, as we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Established companies and bodies in healthcare should therefore embrace the skills these startups can bring to the industry and think about how to build powerful synergies with them to tackle some of the major challenges we face in healthcare.

Intrepida: The pandemic has taught us all how quickly things can change. One advantage that we have as a startup is our agility and speed. We were able to respond within 2 weeks to adapt our product and launch a COVID-19 solution, which would likely be impossible in more traditional companies . We’ve also been lucky enough to work with several corporates such as Almirall, through their Digital Garden, and WeFox and FinLeap through Gesund Zusammen. These partnerships have really shown us that bigger companies see the value in both helping but also learning from startups and we think that in the future these ecosystems involving both types of players will be critical in responding effectively to new challenges in healthcare.

RAMPmedical: The advantage of startups is that they can react quickly with innovative solutions, are unfortunately sensitive to crises, but also emerge again quickly. The crisis has exposed some of the problems of the health system, which are now strongly visible. Problems that startups have long been working to solve. I think that the startups can therefore now help to solve these problems quickly and contribute significantly to a faster stabilization of the economy.

Scinthealth: With an economic system in crisis, many aspects of society in terms of products and services are and will continue changing. To respond to such changes, start-ups are normally better suited than bigger companies. As such we expect start-ups playing a comparatively bigger role in the shaping of the economy post corona. In concrete we expect artificial intelligence based solutions to find a faster implementation in the clinical daily work. Also hygiene and personnel protection will gain on weight and technologies that were born out of necessity at garages and small labs will possibly find prosperous ground to grow.