The PandemicTech Newsletter: July 2020

by Andrew Nerlinger and Lisa McDonald

Street Art: “Wear a Mask” at the South Austin Little League. Media: string on fence. July 2020.

Greetings from Austin, Texas, where it appears we may be returning towards another shutdown — a situation that highlights the need to maintain a long term outlook towards fighting COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics. Despite the setbacks in recent months in confronting the pandemic, it has been wonderful to see so many people from diverse backgrounds come together to face this challenge both within the PandemicTech community and within the broader global health security space.

PandemicTech is thrilled to welcome three highly accomplished new PandemicTech Innovation Fellows for 2020: Dr. Amal Kasry (Director of the Nanotechnology Centre at the British University in Egypt), Dr. Ikpeme Neto (CEO and Founder of Nigerian fintech company Wella Health), and Blaine Doyle (CEO and Founder of Mexico-based infectious disease testing company GlowDx). Additional information on their fascinating work is included below:

Introducing: PandemicTech Fellow Amal Kasry

Dr. Amal Kasry, Director of the Nanotechnology Research Centre at the British University in Egypt and PandemicTech Innovation Fellow for 2020

Dr. Amal Kasry has been awarded a PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship for 2020 in support of a joint project between the British University in Egypt (BUE) and the American University in Cairo (AUC), together with their industrial partner Nano Gate, to create a novel optical sensor that can be used for earlier detection and diagnosis of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has shown to be a highly infectious virus in comparison with other known strains of coronaviruses. Current techniques to detect the virus mainly rely on the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, which requires having a sample carefully taken from the throat of the patient, can take days to be analyzed, and does not always provide highly accurate results. Together with her colleagues from AUC, Dr. Kasry’s aim is to develop a specific and sensitive optical sensor to identify COVID-19 by detecting its Spike protein. Both teams have long experience in developing optical biosensors, and their work will target the development of a sensor that can give results in less than one hour and would help detect the virus at early stage, potentially even before showing any symptoms.

Dr. Kasry is currently the Director of the Nanotechnology Research Centre (NTRC) at the British University in Egypt. She is a physicist who has been fascinated by developing high sensitivity biosensors to detect diseases at their earliest stages. After earning Bachelor and MSc degrees in Physics from Cairo and Ain Shams Universities, she won a fellowship from the Max Planck Society and obtained her PhD in Materials Science and Biophysics from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Her research group focuses on biosensing technologies, protein interactions, and nanomaterials and their applications in the field of biotechnology. She maintains several ongoing international projects with partners in Australia and Austria.

Introducing: PandemicTech Fellow Blaine Doyle

Blaine Doyle, CEO and Founder of GlowDx and PandemicTech Innovation Fellow 2020

Blaine Doyle has been awarded a PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship for 2020 to continue scaling his company, GlowDx, and its testing efforts across Latin America in the battle against COVID-19. Currently GlowDx is focused on adapting their home testing model to COVID-19, enabling people to get access to testing for COVID-19 while sheltering in place. This will also take significant pressure off of healthcare centres by reducing patient traffic and reducing nosocomial transmission of COVID-19.

Blaine is a molecular biologist turned entrepreneur focused on democratising access to diagnostics in emerging markets. He is an alum of Biotechnology DCU & Molecular Cell Biology with Bioinnovation UCC. He also considers himself an alum of IndieBio, Séan O’Sullivan’s Biotech Accelerator, which he states “changed my perception of the world and technologies place in our future.” Blaine is a board member of the Irish Mexican Chamber, bridging business from Ireland to Latin America.

Introducing: PandemicTech Fellow Ikpeme Neto

Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wella Health and PandemicTech Innovation Fellow 2020

Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wella Health, has been awarded a PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship for 2020 to support his company’s work creating epidemiological data collection and visualization tools that support Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is leading the development of a technology solution that provides a near real-time view of COVID-19 case management resource availability and utilization that will enable authorities to anticipate shortages and target interventions appropriately through actionable insights and advice.

Dr. Neto is an internal medicine physician and digital health entrepreneur focused on providing cost-effective technology solutions to improve the quality and affordability of healthcare across Africa. He founded Wella Health in 2017 with the goal of providing healthcare financing for the next billion via affordable micro-insurance health products, including its first offering aimed at malaria. Wella Health was selected for the 2019 Techstars Impact accelerator in Austin and is part of the Catalyst Fund’s Inclusive FinTech portfolio. Dr. Neto is also the founder of Digital Health Nigeria, a community focused on promoting the development and use of digital health and telemedicine technologies in Nigeria. He earned his medical degree from Trinity College, Dublin.

Global Health Security Network

PandemicTech is excited to be a bronze sponsor of the recently-launched Global Health Security Network, a new multidisciplinary professional association dedicated to facilitating evidence-informed policy for the detection, prevention and control of infectious disease threats, irrespective of origin or source. Following the inaugural Global Health Security Conference held in Sydney (18–20 June 2019), the Global Health Security Network was created to provide a space where global health academics, scientists and policy-makers from across multiple sectors and around the world have a platform to share their thoughts, ideas, research and innovations with other professionals. The Association was then founded in October 2019 by Adam Kamradt-Scott (University of Sydney), Rebecca Katz (Georgetown University) and Sara Davies (Griffith University).

PandemicTech is able to support GHSN membership for interested advisors and fellows; please contact us if you would like to join the network and participate in its events like the virtual talk on “Advancing Biosecurity in the age of COVID-19” (link below):

TEXGHS

We are inspired to see the incredible response from within the Texas technology innovation ecosystem for the Texas Global Health Security Innovation Consortium (TEXGHS). TEXGHS is spearheading the creation and long-term success of a health security innovation ecosystem in Texas where equitable, inclusive solutions launch locally and grow globally. TEXGHS has clearly tapped into an extraordinarily high level of interest within the Texas innovation community to coalesce around a shared goal of confronting COVID-19 and preventing future pandemics, and we are thrilled to sponsor and to be a part of this rapidly emerging ecosystem.

In the News

Ikpeme Neto and Wella Health were selected to join the Catalyst Fund portfolio:

Amal Kasry is a scientific advisor of the “Breathe” initiative at the British University in Egypt Nanotechnology Centre to produce ventilators to support the fight against COVID-19:

Lisa McDonald has joined the Board of Advisors of the Nursing Innovation Hub (NIHUB):

Oyewale Tomori has been at the forefront of leading Nigeria’s successful efforts to eradicate polio; WHO declared Nigeria polio-free in June 2020:

Oyewale Tomori discussed how lessons learned from polio eradication can support the fight against COVID-19:

Andrew Nerlinger was the keynote speaker for the Technology Advisors Group (TAG) June 2020 meeting:

Andrew Nerlinger lectured at an online symposium of the Egyptian Materials Research Society:

Blaine Doyle’s company GlowDx is featured in Mexico press reports on private sector testing for COVID-19:

https://heraldodemexico.com.mx/mer-k-2/pruebas-covid19-compra-deteccion-sars-cov2-nueva-normalidad-reapertura-empresas-medidas-sanitarias/

Blaine Doyle joined a June 2020 virtual panel entitled “Perspectives from Ireland and Mexico on the way back to work” organized by the Irish Embassy in Mexico and the Irish Mexican Chamber of Commerce:

The Way Forward

The PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship has been highly popular and we greatly appreciate the efforts of our advisors to review the many impressive applications we have received for the program. We are in the process of selecting several additional fellows who we believe will complement the expertise and experience of our current advisors and fellows, and it has been wonderful to see the enthusiasm of our advisors for working closely with several of our new fellows and fellowship applicants as they launch or fine tune their projects. As we continue to grow this community, we appreciate any suggestions, recommendations, or connections to persons or organizations who may be a valuable addition to our community as a fellow, advisor, or partner.

We are also beginning the process of scheduling our first virtual PandemicTech forum. We envision that the virtual forums will provide our team with opportunities to present their work, discuss their interests, and network. The virtual forums will specifically include a lead speaker and brief 5-minute lightning talks about individual projects; we welcome feedback on this model and interest in getting involved with organizing these events. Stay tuned for more information about the first virtual forum and about several exciting developments to come in the next few weeks!

Acknowledgements

We would like to greatly thank our key sponsors — Bill Wood Ventures (Austin, Texas) and the Laura and John Arnold family (Houston, Texas) — for their ongoing support for PandemicTech. Thank you also to all of our team members and advisors for your support as we continue to build PandemicTech as a vehicle for innovation in the fight against pandemic infectious disease!

— Andrew Nerlinger and Lisa McDonald

PandemicTech (Austin, Texas, USA) is a virtual technology incubator confronting pandemic infectious disease threats

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