The Covid-19 crisis has brought out the best in Irish companies, which are facing the crisis with a range of innovative solutions.
Repurposing production lines to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE)and hand sanitiser, new digital healthcare apps, and the rapid development of new test kit componentsare just a few of the many highly innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis that have emerged from Irish companies in recent months.
“It’s amazing how resourceful and creative people become when they are challenged,” says Enterprise Ireland, Divisional Manager for Innovation & Competitiveness, Tom Kelly. “We are seeing companies innovating, adapting and creating new solutions and product lines in response to the crisis.”
Pivoting business to address a need
He points to the shortage of hand sanitiser products as an example. “The need for a massive increase in supplies was one of the earliest instances. Several companies repurposed their existing systems to manufacture them. Mervue in Cork partnered with Irish Distillers and is selling directly into the HSE. EPC in Clara, Co Offaly manufactures medicated toothpaste, but has set up a completely new line for sanitisers; it went to Grants in Tullamore to secure a supply of alcohol. EPC is also selling into the HSE and other markets. That story has been repeated by other companies like Univet, Chanelle and Ovelle.”
The shortage of PPE is also being addressed. “Irema Ireland ramped up production to increase supplies of high-quality surgical and respiratory masks,” says Kelly. “Other companies are looking at aprons and gowns, but that’s still at an early stage.”
“From a standing start, we have seen a number of companies like Key Plastics step up to manufacture face shields for use in the health service. The engineering sector has been particularly responsive” says Kelly.
Moving into the lab, Aalto Bio Reagents is manufacturing a nucleocapsid protein for diagnostic tests. This is known as a lysis buffer, which is used for the purpose of breaking open cells. “Aalto Bio Reagents worked very closely with the HSE and the National Virus Reference Laboratory and came up with a formulation within a week. Serosep is another company that is manufacturing test kits. You have to recognise the courage and capability of companies like that. What they are doing is the result of an innovative mindset, which is serving the country very well at present.”
It is not only established companies that are making a contribution. Enterprise Ireland-supported high potential start-up (HPSUs) are also playing their part. “CALT Dynamics in Wicklow, a 3D printing start-up in Ireland, are printing 3D printable protective visors that could help to bridge the shortfall of PPE both in Ireland and overseas,” says Enterprise Ireland, HPSU Manager, Industrial & Lifesciences Alan Hobbs. “It has linked up with Automatic Plastics in Tinahely and is now supplying products to a number of hospitals.”
These early-stage companies are making a particular mark in the digital health realm. “We’ve been seeing a distinct uptick in that area,” says Hobbs. “A number of Irish companies have secured contracts with the HSE, and with other health services. We now have a cohort of innovative young Irish start-ups that have just secured their first reference sites in the domestic market. This is very important, because when they go abroad, they will get asked about sales at home.”
One such company is practice management software developer Wellola. It has launched a secure patient communication portal for the HSE that enables GPs to treat people remotely if possible.
Meanwhile, all appointments at Covid-19 urgent test centres are scheduled using software from another innovative Irish firm, Swiftqueue. “Patients don’t realise that this is being done on Irish-developed software,” says Hobbs.
These are just a few among many new healthcare solutions being brought to market by Irish firms, according to Hobbs. “PMD Solutions is trialling new respiratory monitoring technology with Beaumont Hospital at the moment. This fits in with the HSE strategy of shifting care into the community, and it takes a lot of the stress off hospitals. Jinga Life’s technology for the e-transfer of CT scans means less handling of CDs and so on, and it also reduces risk of infection. Finally, patientMpower provides the tools for patients with lung complaints to be followed remotely with integrated medication management. The company is also providing a new remote triage service for Covid-19 patients in the home.
“There is also an impact on supply chains. Having companies doing these things locally makes a huge difference to delivery times.” says Hobbs.
Looking to the future, Kelly says the Covid-19 crisis is likely to change the way we think about healthcare supply chains. “We already recognise the need for food security and energy security. It is becoming increasingly obvious that healthcare security has to be viewed in the same way.”