Beating COVID-19: Six companies that equipped India in the fight against the pandemic this year

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill. As researchers are now working towards developing vaccines for eliminating the disease, several tech entrepreneurs rose to the occasion to innovate products that would help us beat the virus.
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This year was extremely unprecedented for humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we knew it. While people across the world are now slowly learning to coexist with the disease, maintain a new normal, and develop vaccines to fight the virus, it was not easy in the beginning.

Sanitisers, masks, UV-sterilisers, air purifiers, and antimicrobial coatings were not items that were readily available in homes prior to COVID-19, but suddenly became the most important and urgent protective gear needed to fight the virus. At a time of despair and lack of resources, biotech, medtech, and diagnostic companies came to our aid.

From as early as March this year, Indian tech entrepreneurs, beating the odds, jumped into crisis mode and came out with necessary products like protective gears, developed test kits, and equipped us with necessities to keep ourselves safe. Now, along with pharmaceutical players and drug makers, technologists are helping scientists develop vaccines to eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic.

In November, while addressing the audience digitally at the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020, Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), GOI, said,

COVID-19 has brought biotech to the forefront. The whole diagnostic success story happened due to academic institutions and startup participation. We are today completely self-reliant in terms of diagnostic kits.”

As we come close to ending this year, YourStory brings to you stories of six such companies that came up with the first round of innovations to empower the country to beat the pandemic.

Representational Image

Mylab Discovery Solutions

Pune-based biotechnology and molecular diagnostics startup Mylab developed Mylab PathoDetect COVID-19 Qualitative PCR kit in April for faster diagnosis of COVID-19. It became the first company to receive commercial approval from Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO).

The Mylab test kits have been designed to diagnose COVID-19 patients within two and a half hours. A team of 10, led by Minal Dakhave Bhosale, a virologist and Mylab's Research and Development Chief, had developed the kit within six weeks.

Minal dedicated her time towards developing the test kit at a very crucial moment of her life. She began working on the kits in February, just a few days after being discharged from the hospital where she was being treated for a pregnancy complication. In order to equip the nation with means to combat the novel coronavirus, she succeeded in developing the kit and submitted it to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) for evaluation on March 18, just a day before delivering her baby daughter.

In July, the company also developed and received commercial approval from the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) for its antigen testing kit, Pathocatch COVID-19 Antigen Rapid testing kit.

"After bringing an affordable RT-PCR test to reduce dependence on foreign kits, we launched Compact XL to accelerate COVID-19 testing. Now, with the approval for an antigen testing kit, we will cover the whole spectrum of COVID-19 testing and leave no stone unturned to fight this pandemic," Mylab Discovery Solutions MD Hasmukh Rawal said in a statement.

Coeo Labs

Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) incubated Coeo Labs is trying to keep doctors and healthcare professionals safe from the infection.

In an earlier interaction with YourStory, Coeo Labs Co-founder Nitesh Kumar Jangir explained that healthcare providers who suction saliva and secretions from ventilated coronavirus patients are at higher risk of contracting the virus. Thus Coeo Labs’ product VAPcare is aimed at keeping them safe by doing the entire saliva suctioning process automatically without human intervention.

“VAPcare is a sensor-based device used to manage secretions and oral hygiene in the patient’s oral cavity, the oropharyngeal, and the subglottic areas. It goes inside the patient’s airway and automatically senses and removes all the infected saliva and secretions without human intervention and also ensures that the patient does not get any secondary infection,” Nitesh explained.

Apart from this, the company’s second product Saans, a neonatal CPAP machine, has been upgraded by changing the amount of air delivered through the machine to provide breathing support to coronavirus-affected patients.

Log 9 Materials

CoronaOven. Credit: Log 9 Materials

Bengaluru-based Log 9 Materials launched its plug-in disinfecting chamber, CoronaOven, to help people disinfect and sanitise daily objects.

CoronaOven, sized a little bigger than a microwave oven, can disinfect any materials that can fit into it such as ecommerce packages, grocery items, milk packets, wallets, electronic gadgets, masks, and gloves among others. It disinfects these items within 10 minutes.

In an earlier interaction with YourStory, co-founder Akshay Singhal explained that the machine uses in-built UV lamps for disinfection and has been designed in a way to disinfect objects from all angles. CoronaOven received ICMR certification, and has also been tested and verified at the laboratory of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.

Experts had earlier explained that a certain controlled amount of UV-C light can permanently damage the RNA sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. CoronaOven utilised this technique to disinfect daily use items. Different variants of the machine are available for purchase, which costs between Rs 11,000 to Rs 23,999.

Following the launch of CoronaOven, many companies entered into the growing UV-C disinfection market to meet the increasing demand.

For instance, Delhi-based TRU-V utilised the same technology and developed low-cost, lightweight, and portable UV disinfection bags, UVCare, to help people disinfect their daily items. Two variants of the product are available for Rs 2,499 and Rs 2,599.

Biodesign Innovation

Bengaluru-based startup Biodesign Innovation Labs developed a portable ventilator, RespirAID, to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to YourStory, co-founder Gautham Pasupuleti had explained that RespirAID is a mechanical ventilation assisting device, which addresses the inconsistency, unreliability, and exhaustion caused by an AMBU bag or manual ventilation.

The product has been designed to provide intermittent positive pressure ventilation. Also, its portable size enables healthcare workers to carry it during transportation and emergency situations.

“Our device fits into a situation where hospitals can use it in ambulances and emergency wards to stabilise the patient. The device provides intermittent positive pressure ventilation, and delivers a specific breath rate as set by the clinician or a paramedic. It can provide ventilation appropriately and stabilise the patient,” Gautham said.

Cardiac Design Labs

COVID-19 is a highly communicable disease. Healthcare workers tending to those patients needing regular monitoring are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. In order to keep the doctors and healthcare workers safe, there was a need for remote patient monitoring solutions.

Bengaluru-based Cardiac Design Labs developed a centralised vital monitoring system, Telemetric Patient Monitoring System, to monitor multiple patients remotely and simultaneously from a central location.

In an earlier interaction, Cardiac Design Labs founder Anand Madanagopal explained that the device has been designed to monitor ECG, respiration, SpO2, body temperature, and blood pressure of the patient.

“The system has wearable devices, put onto the chest of the patient. The data collected is then shared with the nursing station, located out of the COVID-19 wards. It also has algorithms to alert healthcare professionals if something goes wrong with any particular patient,” Anand said.

The data collected from patients can also be accessed by doctors through a mobile app, thereby reducing the need for them to go around the wards. They can enter the wards when the machine alerts them a patient whose symptoms might be worsening.

OmicsGen

Image Credit: OmicsGen

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of maintaining cleanliness and disinfection to avoid contracting COVID-19. Regular washing of hands, using sanitisers, and wearing masks have become the new normal amid the pandemic.

Earlier in March, people rushed to the medical stores to stock sanitisers and disinfectants fearing the pandemic. In order to meet the demand, Kerala-based OmicsGen, in April, launched a product line called SmartLyse, which included wipes for gadgets, surface sanitisers, and hand sanitisers to effectively kill microbes.

OmicsGen Life Sciences founder Dr Beena PS has explained that SmartLyse has been developed with very low alcohol content, but can still effectively fight coronavirus due to its protein-lysing (disintegration of a cell by rupturing the cell wall) capabilities.

“SmartLyse solution is eco-friendly, and has no harmful agents in it. All the components are FDA-approved. It is a combination of inorganic compounds that can lyse (break) the cell wall of organisms (bacteria, fungus and viruses), and thereby kill them,” Dr Beena said.

The founder had revealed that manufacturing a litre of the sanitiser costs the company around Rs 1,600, while a packet of 10 gadget wipes cost Rs 99.

New opportunities

The pandemic indeed impacted several businesses and sectors resulting in a declining economy and loss of jobs. However, the crisis also opened up new opportunities for many to find solutions to the pandemic.

Apart from the above-mentioned players, several companies and entrepreneurs pivoted from their initial business ventures and focused on developing face masks, sanitisers, face shields, disinfectants, antimicrobial coating, etc., to help meet the growing need for protective gears.

Now the researchers are also working towards finding a vaccine and cure to eliminate the disease.

It might be safe to say that along with the healthcare workers fighting tirelessly to treat affected patients, and the researchers working to find a cure, the year 2020 also belongs to all those entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators who are working day and night to equip us with daily solutions to stay safe from the virus.

Edited by Anju Narayanan