COVID-19 Testimonial Series | Abionic
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A rapid sepsis test, the key to saving lives
The following article is part of BioAlps’ testimonial series and was written by Mr Nicolas Durand, CEO and Founder of Abionic. Our series aims to provide a platform for the different life sciences actors from western Switzerland, who are active in finding and developing solutions to fight against the new coronavirus, to share their experience.
Presentation of Abionic’s COVID-19 related activities
Sepsis is one of the leading causes of death of Covid-19 patients. EPFL spin-off and Lausanne-based scale-up Abionic, specialised in the development of rapid in vitro diagnostic solutions, has developed a test that can detect early development of sepsis in five minutes from a drop of blood. Abionic’s technology could diagnose sepsis up to 24, 48 and even 72 hours before septic shock and even before the onset of fever. In the case of patients severely affected by Covid-19 and having developed an acute respiratory distress syndrome, Abionic’s test would save precious time in the diagnosis of sepsis allowing the early prescription of an antibiotic therapy.
Exogenous impact of COVID-19
Impact on the scale-up’s activities
Covid-19 has negatively impacted our company for different aspects. First, we were planning a fundraising closing in May 2020 and it has been delayed as most of the potential investors which were about to commit decided to withdraw to secure investments in other of their affected businesses. Secondly, our sepsis clinical trial in the US has been strongly affected as all participating hospital sites refocused exclusively in the management of Covid-19 patients. As of today, we estimate a 4 months delay that will have consequences on the final FDA application.
Our sales were also affected as we have more difficulties to access the hospitals and visit the physicians. More surprisingly, we have seen that many physicians were also very reluctant to try new technologies in a time of crisis, sticking to their well-established guidelines and processes. We had the strange feeling that innovation was somehow banned from Swiss deciders, both political and medical.
Impact on the scale-up’s visibility and relationship with partners
Our organisation’s visibility has been also affected by Covid-19, as media were exclusively focusing on Covid-19 matters. Therefore, until we were able to demonstrate a relation with the coronavirus, media were not keen to report news about our activities. Our industry was also reacting very strongly with a race to develop as fast as possible tests to identify SARS-Cov-2 and immunity among the population. Some IVD players used this pretext for publicity.
Scale-up’s future following COVID-19
On one hand, the Covid-19 situation is an opportunity to get our sepsis test adopted faster by hospitals, to help physicians identify sepsis due to Ventilator-associated pneumonia (very common with ventilated Covid-19 patients at ICU). However, we are observing that physicians in Switzerland are still considering the “old way” as the “only way” and not keen to even try a new technology, most probably to avoid being blamed for not following the rules in place.
The situation is also challenging because of the travel restrictions, which compromised our access to hospitals abroad but also the visits from potential partners at our headquarters.
Endogenous impact of COVID-19 on the scale-up
As every company, we have taken the situation very seriously from the very first day, implementing a range of internal measures to ensure the safety of our collaborators. Teleconference, home office and social distancing were the most significant actions we took. We have the chance to have very large premises and a very responsible team, so it was not a big deal to implement them.
We are currently keeping these internal measures and will most probably keep them for a long time. Travel restrictions were and will remain the most problematic point.
Cantonal and/or Federal support measures | Abionic’s feedback
We consider that the Cantonal (Vaud) measures were very good and very appreciated. The support offered through Innovaud and the Fondation pour l’Innovation Technologique (FIT) has been very efficient and we benefited from a loan.
On the Federal level, we consider that the support has been disappointing. We contacted the OFSP several times to offer our help in the fight against Covid-19, but never received any answer or confirmation of reception of our message. It has been very surprising to us as we had the potential to help save infected patients.
As scale-up, we were not eligible with the standard Covid-19 loan (based on a fraction of 2019 revenues), and thus did not have the opportunity to get federal funding to develop a Covid-19 serological test. This is a strange situation as we are one of the very few in Switzerland to have an ISO 13485 certified production facility and experience in the development of IVD tests. We concluded that there is a clear lack of courage, risk-averse policy and a culture of spending zero public money in private companies, even in crisis times.
Innovation has always been the key to solve major crisis. In the history of mankind, governments have always invested a lot of money to develop superior technologies that would give them an advantage over their opponents. In light of the above, it seems that in Switzerland, innovation is a “nice-to-have” concept that we like to emphasise when things are going well, but where we don’t want to invest when the situation demands it.