New EIT Health funding fast-tracks COVID-19 innovation projects

As 14 European health innovation projects receive more than €6 million in funding from EIT Health, CEO Jan-Philipp Beck says the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate the speed of change enabled by digital healthcare and telemedicine – and not before time.
By Piers Ford
08:23 am
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EIT Health is to fund 14 health innovation projects across Europe in the latest phase of its contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

The projects – which have been allocated more than €6 million between them - were selected through EIT Health’s Rapid Response initiative, which aims to fast-track the development of tools and systems that could have an immediate impact on management of the pandemic. All of them will be completed by the end of 2020.

They cover biotechnology, diagnostics, digital health and med tech, and will be run by 36 partners, with the direct involvement of healthcare services to ensure that tools can be built in line with clinical needs and implemented as quickly as possible.

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Selected projects include the Imperial College London-led development of an ultrasensitive diagnostic test for COVID-19, which will be able to detect low concentrations of the virus and enable earlier diagnosis, and TU Munich’s FastRAI teleradiology and AI-based solution to enable COVID-19 identification for clinical triaging.

Another project, Covidom Community, led by AP-HP in France, will create a web application that can facilitate the management of patients infected with the virus at home using telemonitoring – raising an alert if hospital admission is required when a patient’s condition deteriorates.

“COVID-19 has highlighted our vulnerability but it also allows us the opportunity to come together and collaborate to find new ways of strengthening our health systems and create solutions to better equip the healthcare professionals working tirelessly to get us through this extremely difficult time,” said Jan-Philipp Beck, CEO, EIT Health.

“The projects that we have selected all show great potential using the power of the EIT Health network to develop cutting edge solutions.”

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Beck said that while much of the immediate response to the pandemic was national, the need to move to a European response in order to learn from mistakes made during the initial stages – and improve preparedness at an international level in order to manage future outbreaks – was clear.

EIT Health’s approach has been to develop additional support instruments for startups, leverage the EIT Health network itself with the Making Connections platform – created to match frontline clinical needs with researchers and product developers who might be able to help, and enabled by local taskforces – and expand funding for rapid response activities.

Beck said that it is essential for learnings from the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic to be consolidated at a European level, in order to make improvements in preparedness.

“To be really honest, the way this has hit us compared with SARS and other pandemics before is so dramatically different that I cannot imagine that anyone would just let this slip so easily,” he said. “Also, the economic consequences are so dramatic now that we all have to react.”

WHAT'S THE TREND

Beck said COVID-19 will accelerate change in digital healthcare, where urgency was already needed before the pandemic.

“In future we will see a dramatic acceleration in eHealth and telemedicine that was overdue – and this is something that should move forward much faster,” he said.

“There is always a moment in such a crisis when the different parts of the puzzle – from the regulatory side, the investment side, the innovations side – all get on one page together. On the regulatory side you now see that this is top of the agenda. It will have a consequence in sustainable and lasting change.”

Collaboration and the value of shared experience have already been demonstrated by Making Connections, which Beck said generated more than 200 offers of technology and expertise.

The Ministry of Health of the Community of Madrid was an early user of the local Making Connections taskforce, when it sought expertise in sharing ventilator systems among multiple COVID-19 patients. The ministry was linked up with experts in France and at King’s College Hospital in London.

Teresa Chavarría Giménez, director general of planning, research and training, said that while the knowledge wasn’t used in the end due to the lack of time for testing new systems, the benefit of sharing expertise to plan ahead was invaluable.

ON THE RECORD

“Time is gold in the age of COVID-19, so the earlier you know the next step, the better you’re going to fight against the pandemic,” she said.

“In the end, the success of these initiatives and this taskforce is not only [whether or not] you use the innovation or the innovation process. It’s [whether] the knowledge that you share helps you to plan the next step.”