Necessity the Mother of Hungarian COVID Innovation

Innovation

Photo by Panchenko Vladimir / Shutterstock.com

“In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity,” said John F. Kennedy in his famous campaign speech in 1959. However, linguists later revealed that the second character in isolation means something more like “change point.” The saying is more relevant today than ever.

Besides its unambiguous and heavy burden on economies and societies, the coronavirus pandemic has also been a strong driver for Hungarian innovation in the field of healthcare and the medical industry.

Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics says that the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund (NKFIH) has earmarked more than HUF 182 billion in R&D funding for 2021, some 25% more than the amount last year.

This year’s budget will, however, have two special priority points of focus, namely healthcare and the defense sector. The NKFIH has allocated HUF 3 bln in its newly established COVID Fund to support 27 healthcare-related R&D projects this year, which have already yielded considerable results, such as the development of a Hungarian-made ventilator and the advances in mathematical virology.

In this article we have collected some of the most brilliant healthcare inventions, developed by Hungarian scientists as a response to the pandemic, showcasing the power of creativity, and innovative thinking in times of massive uncertainty.

MassVentil Project

Óbuda University and Semmelweis University

The concept of the MassVentil project was to develop a mass ventilator where patients are connected to a modular or monolithically designed centralized ventilator system. The system is designed for the combined management of inhalation and exhalation gases. The air is filtered in both directions in one or more steps, says massventil.org. The aim of the development is to create a system that, under critical circumstances, can be used to simultaneously ventilate a large number of coronavirus patients in a critical condition, adds masventil.org. The planned device can be used in an emergency camp environment as well.

Hungarian Ventilator

Budapest University of Technology and Economics

The ventilator, developed by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) is suitable for both invasive and non-invasive ventilation and has been designed for long term oxygen supply for any type of respiratory problem (chemical, bacterial, or viral, including COVID-19). The university had been commissioned to create a life-saving device but the research and innovation team of BME went far beyond the original plans and developed a ventilator that has an array of other advanced features as well. It offers ventilation profiles that are less stressful for both the patients and their lungs, beyond the traditional ventilation methods. Furthermore, the oxygen levels may be controlled much more precisely than in other currently available devices. The development is expected to be patented soon, the university website says.

Population Movement Monitoring

A joint study by Hungarian and international researchers, universities, and telecom operators

Dr. Miklós Szócska, dean of the Faculty of Health and Public Administration together with Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have recently published a study on a countrywide population movement monitoring system in which they use mobile device-generated big data. The two professionals created a “mobility-index” and a “stay-at-home/resting index” based on aggregated anonymous call detail records (CDR) of almost all mobile phone subscribers in Hungary. Research experience in Hungary has shown that CDR-based mobility and staying-at-home indices provide a means to monitor the effectiveness of restrictions on mobility and to highlight geographical areas where further measures are necessary.

Epidemiological Analysis and Modelling Response Team

Partnership of several universities and institutes of Hungary

Led by Gergely Röst, associate professor at the University of Szeged, and established by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, the Epidemiological Analysis and Modelling Response Team is using mathematical models to predict and project the development of the epidemic in Hungary, thus helping public health decision makers to define, evaluate and compare the best strategies to control the outbreak. These mathematical frameworks, which use systems of differential equations, can help decision makers to understand the speed and pace of the infection and the effectiveness of governmental measures.

Virus Detection from Municipal Wastewaters

University of Pannonia, University of Pécs and MOL Zrt.

The University of Pannonia, in partnership with the University of Pécs and Hungarian oil and gas firm MOL, developed a method which can estimate the extent of viral infection patterns in communities by detecting viruses in wastewater samples. Coronavirus can be detected in wastewater three days after the infection, even before the symptoms start. Scientist can warn public health professionals at an early stage of the infection, thus all the necessary measures can be taken on time before the widespread outbreak. The project develops a useful database to track and follow the spread of the COVID-19 infection and predict any potential re-emergence and hotbeds.

Hyperacute Anti-COVID–19 Serum

OrthoSera Kft.

According to latest studies, critically ill COVID–19 patients often suffer from a so-called “cytokine storm syndrome”, which is an overactivation of the immune system to the virus infection. It occurs when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells. According to studies, the cytokine storm syndrome is much milder in coronavirus survivors as their blood produces antibodies that defeat the virus. The blood and antibodies of survivors has often been used to support critically ill patients. The patented hyperacute serum technology of the OrthoSera Kft. might have further therapeutic effects in addition to the antiviral antibodies. The research team of OrthoSera Kft. suggests that their technology can counter the excessive cytokine response, as well.

Development and Clinical Testing of Favipiravir

Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH) Research Center for Natural Sciences, Első Vegyi Industria Zrt., Richter Gedeon Nyrt., MEDITOP Gyógyszeripari Kft., University of Pécs, INTEGRA Consulting Zrt.

The first phase of the project will develop pharmaceutical products containing an antiviral medication called “favipiravir.” It will also cover the creation of appropriate infrastructural background for manufacturing, such as laboratories and analytical processes. Various task forces will be established in the field of analytics and clinical tests to coordinate and manage the work of the project consortium. In the second phase, the University of Pécs will implement and monitor the testing, lead consultations, and ensure compliance with deadlines. Even though favipiravir is a simple molecule, its production is quite complicated. Researchers must find the best possible option in the shortest possible time to roll out manufacturing.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 9, 2021.

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