Backed by major players ranging from Mastercard to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Wellcome, the US$125 million project aims to identify, accelerate and scale potential COVID-19 treatments by coordinating R&D efforts. The most high-profile push for COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator has been to build factories for the seven most promising vaccine candidates—even though the group ultimately will likely pick two at max to produce.
1st Most Influential Project of 2020
Iceland’s government teamed up with homegrown biotech firm DeCode Genetics to launch a project that helped the nation virtually eliminate coronavirus infection within its borders by June. Both high tech and high touch, the project featured a smartphone app to identify those who had been in close proximity of anyone who was infected. There was also a 52-member tracing team to track down by phone anyone who had come in contact with an infected individual.
2nd Most Influential Project of 2020
Oxford University and biopharm giant AstraZeneca set the pace for developing the first COVID-19 vaccine, moving into trials a few months after the collaboration began 30 April. While there’s no guarantee that AZD1222 will become the miracle cure, the project began with an edge: Scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute had created a similar vaccine for another coronavirus—Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS—that proved to be safe in humans and induce a strong immune response. AstraZeneca says it has the capacity to produce 2 billion doses of the vaccine once approved.
6th Most Influential Project of 2020
Satellite launch company Virgin Orbit pivoted to build and distribute a so-called bridge ventilator. The device provides breathing support to patients with moderate COVID-19 symptoms. With guidance from the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, the Virgin team delivered its first prototype in just 15 hours. Months after the March launch, Virgin Orbit was churning out more than 100 ventilators per week and later produced the device in South Africa, too.
28th Most Influential Project of 2020
Scientists, doctors and healthcare officials from 57 U.S. organizations looked to an old remedy to fight a new disease. The National Convalescent Plasma Project team is working to collaborate, explore and accelerate the development of a possible treatment for those afflicted by the coronavirus. Blood plasma obtained from people who have recovered from a disease delivers antibodies to boost the body’s own disease-fighting capabilities, and project leaders have been conducting studies of patients receiving convalescent plasma to confirm the treatment’s safety and efficacy.
36th Most Influential Project of 2020
Medtronic upgraded the world’s smallest pacemaker so that it could treat more heart patients. Strong collaboration, mixing health science, intricate algorithms and deft electrical engineering helped the team give the device a stronger wireless signal so it can reach the right ventricle and the atria. Now 55 percent of pacemaker patients can use it.
44th Most Influential Project of 2020
Researchers at London, England’s Oxford VR, French insurer AXA and the Chinese University of Hong Kong set up a pilot program to use VR in treating patients diagnosed with social avoidance behavior issues. Patients travel through VR environments that reflect everyday social challenges—from visiting at a cafe to going to a doctor’s appointment—so they can build confidence and experience in a safe, risk-free environment.
U.S. delivery giant UPS showed the life-saving possibilities of drone delivery with a pilot that shuttled blood and other patient samples from a WakeMed office to its main lab in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. The payoff: UPS received the first U.S. federal approval of an unmanned aircraft fleet last October and has plans to expand.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, U.S. healthcare company OptumCare had limited telehealth capabilities that were mostly used on a local level. But within five weeks of the U.S. government declaring a national emergency because of the coronavirus, nearly 4,750 OptumCare providers were offering video visits, clocking more than 68,000 appointments. That meant 20 percent of patient appointments were happening over video.
Almost 15 years after coming up with the idea for the project, a team at the University of California Davis unveiled a radical new total-body positron emission tomography scanner that could transform the way doctors diagnose diseases. While traditional machines can only scan 20-centimeter (7.8-inch) segments at a time, the U.S. team’s device scans the entire human body all at once, delivering higher-quality images that can reveal more details—and still reduce a patient’s radiation exposure 40-fold.