A hand washing machine and facemasks that claim to kill coronavirus. Contact-free monitoring of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Proactive policies to prevent the spread of the virus. A possible vaccine on the horizon.
These are among the many ways Israel is responding with characteristic swift ingenuity to the raging coronavirus pandemic. (While tens of thousands of Israelis have been sent into quarantine already because of exposure to infected persons, the Israeli government also announced that anyone entering Israel would be compelled to enter a 14-day self-quarantine).
But even before anyone knew coronavirus would reach the Middle East, Israeli humanitarians sprang into action.
Tech for Corona
On the technology front, Israelis startups immediately began brainstorming how their inventions, some intended for different purposes entirely, could help in the current crisis.
Soapy introduced an antiviral soap for its automatic handwashing microstations already used in many countries. Testing done before the coronavirus outbreak proved that a special plant-based ingredient, also made in Israel, combined with the machine’s capabilities, kills a virus more resistant than corona.
Several organizations shipped protective gear to China, and IsraAID is offering remote stress-management courses for Chinese healthcare workers.
About 100 Israeli physicians volunteered to lead video Q&A sessions with quarantined COVID-19 patients in China through Israeli nonprofit Innonation.
CoughSync, developed at Jerusalem’s Alyn pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation hospital to help children unable to cough for themselves, is awaiting approval from China as a tool for treating COVID-19 patients with pneumonia and for reducing risks to healthcare providers.
One country has already bought treated fabric from Argaman to make one million Bio-Block masks. Labs in China and Singapore are testing Sonovia’s fabric.
And the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute quickly began reformulating a vaccine it’s been developing against poultry coronavirus over the past four years.
Though it was widely reported that MIGAL’s human vaccine could be ready within 90 days, an institute spokesperson tells ISRAEL21c that it’s the prototype of such a vaccine that may be ready quickly.
The prototype would have to be licensed to another company for human trials. If such trials satisfy regulatory requirements, then manufacturing would begin in a regulation-compliant facility. The whole process could take at least a year or two.
Whether MIGAL’s vaccine candidate ultimately succeeds or fails, the effort is emblematic of Israel’s can-do attitude to crisis management. It’s just one of many solutions for coronavirus care being piloted here.
Israeli Startups Help Today’s COVID-19 Patients
About 15 Israeli COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in isolation at Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Ramat Gan.
Sheba, the largest medical center in the Middle East, houses the ARC Innovation Center directed by Dr. Eyal Zimlichman, chief medical and innovation officer at the medical center.
“When we knew we were getting exposed people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan [in February], we reached out to the telemedicine startups we work with in ARC to see if they wanted to test their technologies,” Zimlichman tells ISRAEL21c.
The first ones were TytoCare, Datos, Uniper Care and EarlySense.
TytoCare’s remote examination device enabled Sheba doctors to assess Israelis on the cruise ship suspected of having the virus before they even disembarked.
The Datos automated remote care platform enabled Sheba’s first-of-its-kind coronavirus telemedicine program. Medical staff can monitor and supervise quarantined or mildly ill patients, avoiding unnecessary hospital trips and exposure.
Uniper lets quarantined patients participate in classes and social activities via an interactive video-communication platform designed for homebound elderly people.
EarlySense is an under-the-mattress, no-contact sensor system that monitors and analyzes patients’ breathing patterns for subtle changes and potential signs of respiratory infection.
Sheba is also using BioBeat’s wireless, noninvasive stickers, FDA approved for monitoring blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa has integrated BioBeat in its new coronavirus ward as well, to limit physical contact with patients.
“This is critically important,” says Zimlichman. “We know that about 30 percent of healthcare workers in Wuhan, China, have contracted the disease from patient contact.”
Hospitals in Southeast Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong are using another Israeli invention, the Temi personal robot, to minimize patient contact. The parent company is headquartered in New York and China with R&D in Tel Aviv.
Originally built to help busy people maintain contact with elders and children at home, Temi was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2019 and won a Best of CES Asia award.
Recently added features empower Temi to do tasks such as taking temperatures and carrying food to patients under quarantine. A handwashing sink can be attached too.
During the last week in February, ARC organized a coronavirus hackathon for which 25 participants registered in 24 hours. “It shows how people felt they wanted to contribute,” says Zimlichman.
The solutions proposed ranged from vaccines to therapeutics to remote monitoring technologies. ARC experts chose five that will develop their products with access to data and samples from Sheba’s COVID-19 patients.