The PandemicTech Newsletter: May 2020

PandemicTech
8 min readMay 23, 2020

by Andrew Nerlinger and Lisa McDonald

A deserted cityscape on the normally crowded Barton Springs Road in Austin, Texas, during the COVID-19 pandemic; March 2020

When we launched PandemicTech in 2016 we knew that there was a very real chance that a pandemic would arrive within the decade, but we could never have imagined the true impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have both globally and in our own communities. We envisioned PandemicTech as a means to encourage and support “hot zone” innovators to create locally developed solutions to infectious disease challenges by launching projects halfway around the world, never expecting that the next pandemic would turn New York City in to the most critical hot zone in the world.

While events like the 2014–2016 Ebola virus outbreak and 2015–2016 Zika virus outbreak were formative for PandemicTech, the COVID-19 pandemic has been transformative for our company and its mission. It has brought the issue of pandemic infectious disease home for us and many of our team members. As we write this, the U.S. has suffered almost 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, a figure greater than the number of American lives lost during the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. The cost of COVID-19 to the U.S. economy is projected to have already exceeded $1.7 trillion, and nearly 39 million Americans have sought jobless aid during the pandemic.

The devastation of COVID-19 on the U.S. moved us to consider how we could leverage our core competencies in global health security and innovation ecosystem development alongside the PandemicTech network to make a positive impact at home. PandemicTech is thrilled to have provided seed funding for the establishment of the Texas Global Health Security (TEXGHS) Innovation Consortium, a collaborative effort launched in May 2020 in Austin organized by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), the startup incubator of the University of Texas at Austin. We also launched the “PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship 2020” in February at the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this program has remained a central part of our long term strategy to build a global community of innovators dedicated to fighting pandemic infectious disease threats. On the international front, we would like to highlight our support for the World Health Organization (WHO) as this critical UN agency guides the international response to COVID-19.

We are excited to share our progress building PandemicTech in this first edition of our newsletter, and we would also like to take this opportunity to thank our many supporters and welcome several new partners to the PandemicTech team!

Introducing: PandemicTech Fellow Angel Desai

Angel Desai of the International Society of Infectious Disease; PandemicTech Innovation Fellow 2020

Angel Desai has been awarded a PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship for 2020–2021 to work with ISID’s ProMED using digital epidemic surveillance data to produce AI-guided, actionable forecasts in real time in support of outbreak response and humanitarian health emergency activities across the globe. With the support of this fellowship, Dr. Desai will work with the ProMED team, with colleagues at Imperial College London and at Harvard’s HealthMap to incorporate data from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic into the forecasting models.

Dr. Desai is an infectious disease physician and researcher interested in leveraging informal surveillance methodologies to discern epidemiological trends on emerging diseases and outbreaks. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in 2007 and M.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2013. She received her Master’s of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is an Emerging Leader in Biosecurity Initiative Fellow through the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Emerging Leader in International Infectious Diseases through ISID.

Texas Global Health Security Innovation Consortium

PandemicTech has provided seed funding for the formation of the Texas Global Heath Security (TEXGHS) Innovation Consortium. Launched in May 2020 and organized by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) at the University of Texas at Austin, TEXGHS is designed to bring together the many parts of the Texas innovation ecosystem creating and scaling technologies that prevent and respond to pandemic infectious disease outbreaks. PandemicTech co-founder Lisa McDonald, Director of Healthcare at ATI, has led the organization of TEXGHS in collaboration with partners that include the Austin Community College (ACC) Bioscience Incubator, Capital City Innovation, and numerous other key stakeholders in the Austin technology innovation ecosystem.

World Health Organization

World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva

We are truly excited to report that PandemicTech has successfully received World Health Organization designation as a non-state donor, a status that enables PandemicTech to provide direct support for WHO programs!

Our collaboration with the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) has been extraordinarily fulfilling. Following our marshaling of support for the WHO Africa Innovation Challenge in 2019, we recently provided a grant to WHO AFRO to support its uniquely impactful innovation platform. We were honored to serve as judges for the WHO Africa COVID-19 Hackathon in April 2020, a virtual event that brought together many of the #WHOTop30Innovators identified and recognized during the Innovation Challenge to collaborate on creating new approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early morning judging (4am Austin, 10am Brazzaville) for the April 2020 WHO Africa COVID-19 Hackathon

Global Health Security Conference 2021

The Sydney Statement of Global Health Security from the 2019 GHS Conference

We are thrilled to announce that PandemicTech is sponsoring the 2021 Global Health Security Conference in Sydney, Australia! We attended the 2019 GHS Conference in Sydney and expect that the 2021 event will attract an even more impressive and diverse audience due to COVID-19. For more information:

Introducing: New Advisors

We would like to introduce the following new advisors and welcome them to the PandemicTech community!

Dennis Boyle (Palo Alto, California) is a partner and founding member of IDEO, the renowned San Francisco-based global design firm. Dennis currently leads IDEO’s Health and Wellness Practice and is a consulting assistant professor for the Design Division of Stanford University’s Mechanical Engineering School. Dennis holds an MS in product design from Stanford University and a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

Jun Lu (Houston, Texas; San Diego, California) is a healthcare technology investor who currently serves as advisor for Ansun Biopharma, a San Diego pharmaceutical company currently developing novel antiviral therapeutics. Jun previously served as Vice President at Vesalius Ventures, an early stage venture capital investment firm in Houston focused on telemedicine and digital health. Jun holds an MBA from Rice University, an MS in biomedical science from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and a BS in ecology from Nanjing University.

Bob LiVolsi (Austin, Texas) is a healthcare technology entrepreneur who is currently the CEO and Founder of Vaccine Systems, an Austin-based startup developing a novel technology for vaccine distribution. Bob is a three-time startup founder and has been a senior executive through two IPOs. He previously served as a Vice President at Hewlett Packard, and is the author of the “Public Offerings” series of fiction novels about pandemic infectious disease. Bob holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Kent State University.

John Weatherspoon (Houston, Texas) is an intellectual property lawyer, pharmacologist, and biotechnology entrepreneur who is currently the Co-founder of pharmaceutical startup Affirmed Pharma. John holds positions as IP Counsel for Immunophotonics and has serves as a U.S. patent attorney. John earned his JD in intellectual property law from George Mason University, his PhD in pharmacology from the George Washington University, and a BS in neuroscience from Duke University

In the News

PandemicTech was featured in Crunchbase News:

Lisa McDonald was profiled by Heath Tech Austin:

Andrew Nerlinger appeared on the Austin Business Journal’s “Texas Business Minds” Podcast:

Oyewale Tomori is the head of Nigeria’s Committee of Experts on COVID-19 and has been interviewed and quoted in numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Trust

Luis Ochoa Carrera has served as a spokesperson for Mexico’s Institute of Social Security on COVID-19 issues and has also helped organize donations in support of Mexico’s first responders:

Andrew Nerlinger was interviewed for RiseUp’s Survive and Thrive Series:

The Way Forward

This is volume one, issue one of the PandemicTech Newsletter, and we plan to continue monthly updates on PandemicTech and on the members of our quickly growing team. Please send us any updates (news, links, photos, videos, etc.) that you would like us to highlight in future issues of this newsletter.

The PandemicTech Innovation Fellowship has attracted numerous applications from around the globe, and expect to shortly announce several additions to our fellowship program. We will begin a series of circa monthly virtual forums for the fellows and our advisor group in July 2020, and we expect that these meetings will help facilitate networking and potential collaborations given the diversity of experience and expertise of our community.

We would like to encourage additional applications for the fellowship program; the link to information and application instructions is:

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

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PandemicTech

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