In Brazil, the Ribeirão Preto innovation ecosystem launched a campaign to carry out massive tests on the population to identify COVID-19. The initiative is promoted by startups located in the Supera Parque de Inovação e Tecnologia, where several Brazilian startups are concentrated.
The municipality of Ribeirão Preto is located 310 kilometers from the capital of São Paulo. Massive tests began in this municipality at the end of last week thanks to an alliance between the public sector, the private initiative, the academy and the community to raise the necessary resources.
Startups to the rescue
This capacity for action is due, in part, thanks to the initiative of the municipality’s innovation ecosystem. As stated by the Business Manager of Supera Parque Eduardo Cicconi for Epoca Negócios magazine, “the city’s ecosystem is strong in the area of health. We have the tools to act to combat the disease.”
So far, 18 park startups participate in the initiative. The employers of these companies will donate work time to carry out the tests, in addition to freeing the use of equipment. People with experience in areas ranging from bioinformatics to genetics participate in these startups. In total, 50 people are involved in the first phase of the action, which foresees the performance of 5,000 tests, most of them to satisfy the demand of the Municipal Health Department, estimated, so far, in three thousand analyzes. The cost of each test is $ 19.
This initiative also includes the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo in Ribeirão Preto, a center recognized worldwide for its quality in research. The strategy of these startups follows the corollary said by the Brazilian Minister of Health Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who has mentioned that the response to the epidemic must be scientific.
The first stage of this initiative requires around $ 90,000. According to the Business Manager of the Park, so far more than 80% of the target has been raised. The resources have been obtained thanks to the contributions of the Public Ministry of Labor, the Municipal Health Department and thanks to the donations made by individuals and companies online. These resources will be used only to buy supplies because, according to Cicconi, “The workforce is completely voluntary.”
Innovate in screening tests
The first tests to be used in Ribeirão Preto were purchased by a Brazilian importer in countries such as the United States and China. The first stage of this initiative will use molecular tests, which collect secretions in the nose and mouth with a plastic rod, and the results are obtained between five and 72 hours.
In the second phase of the project, the park startups will do what they do best: innovate. It intends to provide agility in the tests.
“We will use different technology, with tests capable of giving the result, with the same efficiency, in 30 minutes,” says Cicconi. These tests require the use of antigens, substances that trigger the production of antibodies and, therefore, verify the presence of the virus in samples of secretion or blood.
The goal is to perform 25,000 of these tests. For this, Supera Parque needs to raise $ 500,000. “Local companies are interested in joining the project. We look for these resources ”, comments the manager.
Objective: To become a reference against the pandemic
Eduardo Cicconi comments that he wants the city to become a reference on how to react to COVID-19.
The project aims to evaluate about 5% of the population of Ribeirão Preto, estimated by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) at 700,000 inhabitants. For this, more volunteers are still required to carry out this initiative. Supera Parque is registering students, researchers and health professionals linked to private universities in the region.
Sampling will allow the creation of a database to study the epidemic: a better understanding of how it spreads evolves in the body and, of course, how it can be fought. In this third stage, the researchers will have access to the data and will add artificial intelligence technology to the analysis of the information, which will allow the crossing of data from the population with examinations of hospitalized patients due to the disease.
Scientific infrastructure must be used
Launched in March 2015, with investments of nearly $ 3 million, Supera is part of a network with 43 operating science parks in the country, according to data from the Ministry of Science, Technology, Communications, and Innovations (-MCTIC). These parks gather 1,300 companies and generate 38,000 qualified jobs. In addition to parks, the scientific system has research and innovation centers and institutes, universities and laboratories throughout the country. “Recruiting this infrastructure and labor can make a difference,” explains Cicconi.
According to him, there is an intense mobilization of the scientific community and an innovative entrepreneurial spirit to meet the country’s demands during the public health crisis. Among the indications, he cites the countless WhatsApp groups in which the participation of companies, researchers and new companies in the production of respiratory ventilators and protective equipment is articulated. The talks include members of the MCTIC and the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development (ABDI). “Startups are ready to put efforts into production,” says Cicconi.
As an example, he cites startups that use 3D printers to make plastic parts used in masks with acetate screens to protect healthcare professionals.
On April 1, Minister Marcos Pontes (MCTIC) recalled that Embrapa made its installed structure of equipment, products, and personnel available to the federal government to help carry out tests to identify 19). The institution has equipment commonly used in molecular biology studies capable of identifying the virus.
Ponte also emphasized that the MCTIC plans investments to face the epidemic. The resource was launched as a supplemental credit by the federal government and comes from the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (FNDCT). The strategy foresees several fronts. In the area of science, the highlight is a $ 10 million call to finance, through the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), projects in the areas of diagnosis, vaccines, clinical tests with patients, virus pathogenesis and other issues related to the fight against COVID-19.
Another $ 10 million will be contributed, through the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep), to attend to seven technological orders: sequencing of the genetic code of the virus, two protocols for clinical tests with patients who use drugs to combat COVID-19, one study using artificial intelligence to select molecules that can inhibit viral replication, research on innovation for diagnostic tests, vaccine development and social project. “We are also negotiating with the Albert Einstein Hospital and the Hospital das Clínicas in São Paulo to carry out studies on serological neutralization in patients who have already had the disease,” says Pontes.
The Brazilian Company for Industrial Research and Innovation (Embrapii) announced investments of $ 1.15 million for technological solutions capable of diagnosing, treating and monitoring the evolution of the disease. Of the total resources, $ 400 thousand will come from the coffers of the Brazilian Service of Support to Micro and Small Businesses (Sebrae). According to EMBRAPII, the focus will be on financing projects for startups and small entrepreneurs.