It’s one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In the intervening months, the world has been living under an ever-growing, globe-spanning cloud of health and economic woes created by the pandemic’s deadly rampage. Yet, every cloud has its silver lining, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. We look at nine COVID-19 inspired innovations that Australian businesses have developed, either in part or entirely, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Innovation 1: Hoods for hope
This has nothing to do with suburbs or clothing. It’s straight out of Melbourne from Western Health and is a personal ventilation hood to help contain the droplet spread of COVID-19 in intensive care units (ICU). Designed by intensive care physician Associate Professor Forbes McGain, Professor Jason Monty from the University’s Melbourne School of Engineering and other University of Melbourne researchers, the hood is transparent, movable, yet big enough to cover ICU equipment connected to patients. The ventilation hood works by sucking air away from the patient while creating an effective droplet containment barrier. Hoods for hope were deliberately designed with low-cost components to make them more affordable for hospitals in the developing world. During the pandemic, they have been used in hospitals around Australia, and they can also be used for patients suffering from other contagious respiratory ailments such as influenza and tuberculosis.
Innovation 2: Ellume at home
You’ve probably heard of the US movie classic Home Alone but not Home Ellume COVID-19 tests, which also have a US connection. That’s because although Ellume at-home tests are one of Australia’s COVID-inspired innovations, they were funded by a $30 million U.S. National Institutes of Health grant, so they’re not available in Australia. Pioneered and manufactured in Brisbane by Ellume Health, Ellume at-home tests are the first over-the-counter, at-home tests for COVID-19 to be approved for both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. The technology uses a low nasal swab sample — suitable for young children —and teams this with a smartphone app to step patients through the test process and deliver the results with 96% accuracy in 15 minutes. Ellume recently inked a $238 million deal with the US government to establish a US-manufacturing facility to scale-up production and deliver 8.5 million testing kits for US consumers.
Innovation 3: Synthetic anti-infectives
Sydney-based biotech Recce Pharmaceuticals has been developing a new class of synthetic antibiotics to target and treat superbug infections. But the arrival of the pandemic; and a fortuitous clinical trial using Recce® 327 to successfully treat Influenza A caused Recce to explore the anti-viral capabilities of its innovations. It wasn’t too long before Recce leaned into the battle to treat and defeat coronavirus, as well as the antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections critically ill COVID-19 patients contract. Fast-forward to March 2021, and Recce’s compounds are being put through their paces in US clinical trials. Closer to home, CSIRO and the Doherty Institute are assessing the efficacy of RECCE® 327 as a treatment for COVID-19 as part of an anti-viral screening program. The results to date are promising. But further testing will be required before a decision can be made about using RECCE® 327 as a COVID-19 treatment. However, with Recce’s anti-infectives, there’s every chance we could be looking at more Australian COVID-19 inspired innovations.
Innovation 4: NeedleCalm
Right on cue for Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, NeedleCalm Pty Ltd has recently launched its product of the same name. The NeedleCalm device is the brainchild of NeedleCalm Pty Ltd founder and registered nurse Lauren Barber. It’s an Australian innovation that improves the experience of needle-related procedures for both patients and healthcare practitioners. When working as a nurse, Lauren met people of all ages and from different walks of life who suffered anxiety from needle-based medical procedures. Her observations and personal experience of sustaining a needlestick injury at work inspired Lauren to help find a way to better support patients and healthcare professionals. The launch of NeedleCalm was years in the making and follows a particularly challenging 2020. But despite its challenges, the pandemic threw the spotlight on medical research and needle-related procedures like never before, supercharging investor interest and getting NeedleCalm to market faster.
Innovation 5: qDevices
Smart home technology leader and qDevices innovator, Quantify Technology, was initially left reeling by the emergence of COVID-19 and hit pause on plans to expand its sales overseas. But it wasn’t long before the business hit the accelerator to capitalise on opportunities the pandemic had created. COVID-19 highlighted the infection control benefits of Quantify’s voice-activated and sensor-control qDevice technology. Before coronavirus, it was making inroads into the aged-care and assisted-living sectors, but now its smart home technology is increasingly seen as a must-have. There is also growing interest in its products from consumers looking to retrofit their homes and businesses as the construction and housing market boom continues to gather pace across Australia. Quantify’s planned merger, announced in October 2020, with GSM Innovations will create Australia’s leading internet of things provider and unlock an additional $4 million of growth.
Innovation 6: Sovereign capability
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses in Australia’s supply chain and manufacturing capabilities. Some Australian businesses were able to pivot to meet new demand for sovereign capability created by the nation’s freshly-fractured supply chains. The trend became a national phenomenon from SA business Detmold Group and Victorian business Textor Technologies pivoting to make medical face masks for Australian healthcare workers to gin distilleries all across Australia starting to manufacture hand sanitiser. But the events of 2020 laid bare the need for government action. It came in the form of the new Modern Manufacturing Strategy. Sizeable grants are now up for grabs for businesses to collaborate, scale and commercialise their manufacturing if this aligns with the government’s manufacturing priorities. Unsurprisingly these priorities include medical products, food and beverages, defence, resources technology and critical minerals processing.
Innovation 7: sEntry
The Zappy sEntry has met the pandemic moment more than most COVID-19 inspired innovations. The device from the Sydney-based start-up, Zappy brings together a temperature sensor, automated hand sanitiser dispenser and AI facial recognition technology to combat the spread of infection in public places. With the potential to be used in several public and commercial settings, there’s every chance sEntry could become part of the new normal in a post-pandemic world.
Innovation 8: Plant-based food and lab-grown meats
One industry that is booming and is likely to have longevity after the pandemic is the plant-based food and lab-grown meat sectors. It seems consumers have noted the connection between meat and animal-borne viruses and the current pandemic. And a significant number are looking to change their eating habits as a result. So much so that Australia’s plant-based food industry is showing tremendous growth potential. The CSIRO estimates by 2030, Australia’s plant-based meat market will be worth more than $6 billion. For consumers wishing to consume cruelty-free meat and avoid the risk of animal-borne viruses, Australian emerging cell-based meat start-up, Vow is leading the way. In 2019, months before COVID-19 appeared, Vow achieved a world-first by producing a food product from the cells of an undomesticated animal. The result was a Kangaroo dumpling. Today, Vow is on a mission to make the paddock-to-plate journey for meat a thing of the past. Australia’s top venture capital funds, Square Peg, Blackbird and Grok, have come to the table with $7.7 million to help the start-up deliver on its 10-15 year plan to outperform traditional meat.
Innovation 9: Mr Yum
Melbourne start-up Mr Yum launched its food ordering platform in 2019 as the antidote to food envy in restaurants. Now almost two years and one pandemic later, it has more than 1 million users a month, and 650 venues around Australia swear by it. Mr Yum started life as a visual menu service that uses QR codes to let restaurant-goers preview dishes before ordering. Once the COVID-19 threat began to loom large in March 2020, Mr Yum began to pivot and hasn’t stopped since. Mr Yum’s first pivot helped restaurants maintain hygiene in the lead up to the first lockdown. The technology enabled restaurants to go digital for food orders, ditch menus and avoid the risk of menus becoming coronavirus fomites. When the lockdown arrived, Mr Yum quickly pivoted again, adding affordable takeaway and food delivery services that helped struggling venues stay afloat. With new lockdowns and new restrictions, Mr Yum responded with new features, including one that let Melbournians search for takeaway food within 5 kilometres of their home. Mr Yum’s pivots have continued into 2021 with a tab service, so patrons can now use Mr Yum to pay for food on pre-approved credit cards.
Turning inspiration into action
Capital oils the wheels of innovation, and in the hyper-dynamic era of the COVID-19 pandemic, having easy and fast access to funding for R&D has never been more important. So if you’ve got COVID-19 inspired innovations or other types of innovation, Radium Advances can help. With the correct paperwork in place, we will approve your financing within two business days and deposit funding into your account three days after you sign your loan documents. Don’t let cash flow constraints stop you from pursuing an opportunity. Schedule a call with one of Radium Capital’s R&D finance experts today.