Take 2: Additional Innovation Districts Advancing Research to Fight COVID-19
In late February 2020, The Global Institute on Innovation Districts sent letters to approximately 75 districts and other geographies of innovation to learn whether their innovation actors—research institutions, R&D labs, companies, and other actors—were advancing research on COVID-19. Based on the response, The Global Institute documented the research activities of seven innovation districts in a March 2020 article.
Since that time, 11 additional geographies of innovation have come forward to share their research, prompting an update of the original article.
In April 2020, nearly two months after we reached out to innovation district globally, the pandemic has intensified exponentially, now impacting at least 183 countries around the world. Since the outbreak in China, innovation geographies have been leveraging their assets to better understand and find solutions to COVID-19. Their assets include pools of highly trained academic researchers; essential innovation infrastructure, such as laboratories with specific biosafety standards; the advanced technologies and Big Data needed for modeling; and a network of peers, both local and global, that helps us better understand the complexities of COVID-19.
The novel virus continues to remind us that the science necessary to solve this latest challenge, and other global problems, increasingly doesn’t happen in isolation but through a network of small geographies of innovation—areas of advanced research, rapid prototyping, and commercialization. COVID-19 also reminds us that innovation geographies require intentional action and continuous investment in order to deliver accelerated market solutions to health and environmental crises.
Conservatively, there are now 18 innovation districts and other innovation geographies conducting intensive R&D activities to find viral and other solutions to COVID-19. The 11 districts listed in bold below are the recent additions to this article.
- Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (Buffalo, United States)
- Cleveland Health Tech Corridor (Cleveland, United States)
- Copenhagen Science City (Copenhagen, Denmark)
- The Cortex Innovation Community (St. Louis, United States)
- The Hagastaden Innovation District (Stockholm, Sweden)
- Halifax Innovation District (Halifax, Canada)
- Innovation Quarter (Winston-Salem, United States)
- The Knowledge Quarter and St Mary’s Hospital Campus (London, UK)
- Liverpool Innovation Precinct (Liverpool, Australia)
- MaRS Discovery District (Toronto, Canada)
- Medellín Innovation District (Medellín, Colombia)
- The Melbourne Innovation District (Melbourne, Australia)
- The Midtown Innovation District, which includes Technology Square (Atlanta, United States)
- The Milan Innovation District (Milan, Italy)
- Oslo Science City (Oslo, Norway)
- The Pittsburgh Innovation District (Pittsburgh, United States)
- Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, United States)
- University City District (Philadelphia, United States)
Described below are highlights of the research under way in these 11 additional innovation districts and other geographies of innovation.
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in Buffalo, New York, is an innovation district with strengths that include genomics, next-generation technologies in vascular medicine, Big Data, AI, and machine learning. Building on their research assets, Buffalo’s efforts to address the virus include the following:
- A clinical study launched by the University at Buffalo is investigating why the novel coronavirus has devastating effects on adults but barely affects most children.
- Critically ill patients at Buffalo hospitals will receive an experimental treatment involving an arthritis drug to help prevent or control the overactive inflammatory response in the lungs of patients. The trial is a collaboration between two district institutions, Roswell Park and the Jacobs School of Medicine.
- A BNMC-based start-up is helping address the nationwide ventilator shortage. The company will manufacture kits to convert commercial BiPAP and/or CPAP machines into emergency ventilators.
Cleveland Health Tech Corridor in Cleveland, Ohio, is a district with research specializations in health care and in biomedical and high-tech solutions. The district is anchored by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Cleveland State University. Specific research efforts related to COVID-19 are as follows:
- University Hospitals is conducting three clinical trials in its Cleveland Medical Center. Two trials focus on identifying the effects of an antiviral drug in adults. In collaboration with Case Western Reserve University and a local drug manufacturer, the third trial will determine whether a specific drug prevents airborne transmission of the virus. The drug will be tested on caregivers.
- A biotech company based in the district is working alongside the FDA to fast-track a stem cell therapy for treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the primary cause of death in COVID-19 patients. Trials were under way in January, and testing on patients will begin within weeks.
- The Cleveland Foundation, a community foundation moving its headquarters into the district, has partnered with a coalition of northeast Ohio philanthropies to create a Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund. Initial support of $3.95M is being deployed to nonprofit organizations working on the frontline of the pandemic.
Halifax Innovation District is a growing ocean tech, clean tech, and health- and life-sciences hub in Nova Scotia, Canada. A variety of efforts led by universities and companies are under way here to combat COVID-19.
- Research by Dalhousie University is developing a point-of-care device to enable emergency room doctors to quickly predict whether someone presenting with the disease will have a mild or a severe case.
- A global biopharmaceutical company is working with Dalhousie University, the IWK Health Center, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Canadian Immunization Research Network, Laval University, and Global Urgent and Advanced Research and Development to develop a vaccine candidate for a phase-one clinical study. Animal testing will begin in April and is expected to move on to human trials in the summer.
- At least four other companies connected to the Halifax Innovation District are advancing new technologies to detect and/or directly combat the virus. Their work includes the following:
- A platform internet of things (IoT) technology that allows nursing home residents to perform an average of 50 tasks a day with no need for previous intervention from care workers, significantly decreasing the points of contact;
- The development of a respiratory monitoring and predictive machine learning support algorithm and device for patients on ventilators, which provides real-time lung function data to physicians and patients; and
- The development of several COVID-19 virus-detecting, rapid-response tests.
Liverpool Innovation Precinct in Liverpool, Australia, is a health care and education precinct anchored by Liverpool Hospital, the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, the University of New South Wales, the University of Wollongong, and Western Sydney University. It is currently engaged in the fight against COVID-19 in several ways.
- Clinical trials across Liverpool Hospital and the Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research include:
- A device for home monitoring of COVID-19 positive patients;
- An interventional clinical trial in COVID-19 positive patients who are in ICU;
- An interventional study to access clinical, virological, and immunological outcomes in patients treated with lopinavir/ritonavir or hydroxychloroquine, compared to standard care; and
- An international interventional study for ICU patients.
- A peer group of experienced biomedical engineers at the University of Sydney and the Liverpool Innovation Precinct are working on a replicable design for a ventilator.
MaRS Discovery District is a Toronto-based innovation hub that works with 1,400 Canadian science and tech companies. The 1.5-million-square-foot MaRS Centre is home to 150 organizations that include research institutions, start-ups, and global technology and science companies. MaRS is part of the larger Toronto Discovery District, which includes nine teaching hospitals and three renowned universities. Many intensive efforts are under way at MaRS-supported ventures, district-based companies, and anchor institutions.
- Researchers from Sunnybrook, McMaster University, and the University of Toronto successfully isolated the agent responsible for the outbreak in early March. This research is vital to developing better diagnostic testing, treatments, and vaccines, as well as to gaining a better understanding of the virus biology.
- An AI start-up at MaRS sounded the alarm about the severity of the outbreak in December 2019 when the disease was localized in Wuhan, China.
- A neo biotechnology company at MaRS is working to discover antiviral drug candidates for COVID-19 through existing FDA-approved drugs to accelerate treatment.
- With backing from the government, a MaRS-based company is creating portable COVID-19 testing units that can deliver results in 30 minutes.
- MaRs-supported start-ups are banding together against the coronavirus, shifting their everyday business pursuits in hopes of bringing the crisis to a decisive end. From manufacturing ventilators to providing mental health therapy, these companies are using tech to help eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atlanta’s Midtown Innovation District is anchored by the Georgia Institute of Technology, Technology Square, and elements of Emory University and the Savannah College of Art and Design. The combined efforts of these innovation actors to combat the virus follow.
- Emory University has approval from the FDA to begin human clinical trials for a drug that researchers hope will effectively treat the novel coronavirus.
- Labs across Georgia Tech have pulled together tens of thousands of items that health care workers will be able to use as they diagnose and treat COVID-19.
- Georgia Tech, in collaboration with Emory University, is in the process of both building and testing a low-cost ventilator that builds on available resuscitation bags. The ventilator was designed at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom.
- Engineers from Georgia Tech have designed and produced protective gear such as face shields for medical workers and patients, using 3D printing and laser cutting.
- A number of start-ups based at Georgia Tech’s incubator the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) are tackling the COVID-19 crisis through an array of solutions, including:
- Telehealth and remote-monitoring technologies to treat patients at risk while they shelter in place;
- A nasal suction device to reduce the viral transmission from children;
- A COVID-19 triage, screening, and monitoring app; and
- A remote respiratory monitoring device that makes it possible to ease the burden on the medical staff.
Oslo Science City is Norway’s first innovation district. It includes approximately 7,500 scientists, a leading university and university hospital, the Oslo Science Park, and clusters of start-ups. The following research efforts to address the virus are under way.
- A study led by Oslo University Hospital is comparing the safety and effectiveness of four therapy treatments against COVID-19. Its work contributes to the World Health Organization’s global study SOLIDARITY, which aims to find treatments for the virus.
- Research led by Oslo University Hospital is revisiting the 100-years-old method used during the Spanish flu: treatment by transferring blood from those who have recovered from the virus into those still infected. This research aims to determine whether antibodies in the blood can contribute to improved recovery times.
- Several companies in the Oslo Science Park are working on multiple strands of research, including the development of an antiviral medicine to treat patients with COVID-19 and the development of a single-patient medical isolation and transport system.
Research Triangle Park is the largest science park in the United States, situated among the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill in North Carolina. This innovation geography includes Duke University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, along with over 300 companies. Unlike most science parks, RTP is actively increasing its connectivity, accessibility, and number of amenities. Research led by this geography of innovation is as follows:
- A biopharmaceutical company with a GMP manufacturing plant is developing a plant-based vaccine against the novel coronavirus. The company has created a virus-like particle that mimics the virus and prompts the body to create an immune response. The company was involved in H1N1-related research during the 2009 emergency and created an anti-Ebola antibody cocktail in 2015.
- A life sciences company has received the first FDA approval for an antibody test. The federal agency issued an “EUA” (emergency use authorization) to allow the company to manufacture and distribute the product.
- Another company is using its patented cell-based technology to develop a vaccine.
University City in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an innovation district anchored by the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the University City Science Center. uCity Square is a mixed-use innovation community within the University City neighborhood operated in partnership by the Science Center (a nonprofit economic development organization), Wexford Science + Technology (a real estate development and asset management company), and Ventas, Inc. (a real estate investment trust). The Science Center was established in 1963 by five educational and medical organizations. Examples of work under way at uCity Square and/or supported by the Science Center to combat the virus follow.
- As a member of the BARDA DRIVe Accelerator Network (a government-led network focused on the development and procurement of technologies to protect against biomedical threats such as viruses), the Science Center has connected nine early-stage technologies focused on COVID-19 to BARDA for potential support as they continue their development. These technologies were developed by the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, researchers in Ireland, and others.
- Scientists at the uCity Square-based Monell Chemical Senses Center (an independent, nonprofit scientific institute dedicated to basic research on taste and smell) will be involved in research by the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research to collect scientifically reliable data regarding taste and smell functions in patients with or recovering from COVID-19.
- Several companies that received investment and support from the Science Center are conducting multiple threads of research:
- The development of antiviral technology, originally developed for Ebola/Marburg/hemorrhagic viruses, that may be adaptable to COVID-19;
- Research on the human immune response to the virus and on identifying cellular receptors that explain how the virus has been able to spread so quickly;
- Research to develop a vaccine and the design of other protein-based approaches aimed at treating the disease; and
- The development of a therapeutic that enhances recovery from influenza and lower respiratory infections, which overlap broadly with symptoms related to COVID-19.
- In addition, a global biotechnology giant that regularly partners with the Science Center has offered to lend its expertise, technologies, and facilities to governments around the world in an effort to support the development of coronavirus vaccines and treatments. That biotech giant and a second biotherapeutics company recently announced a partnership in the rapid development of a COVID-19 therapeutic candidate on track for clinical evaluation by early summer.
Several other districts have launched efforts to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for protective personal equipment and ventilators. At the same time, these districts are developing new technologies to better understand and analyze the virus, as well as developing new support systems. For example:
Innovation Quarter, established by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is a mixed-use innovation district focused on life science and information technology. Its anchors include the Wake Forest School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, and Inmar Intelligence, and it comprises over 100 companies and start-ups. Their research includes the following:
- Wake Forest Baptist Health’s BestHealth department is collaborating with the School of Medicine’s biomedical engineering team, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and local manufacturers to design, prototype, and test a new, highly protective face mask.
- At the same time, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have tested samples of 13 different designs from approximately 400 masks made by community volunteers to determine which masks best removed particles 0.3 – 1.0 micron in diameter and how their performance compared to that of standard surgical masks and N95 respirators. This effort was covered by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, NBC News, and other national outlets.
- Wake Forest Baptist Health is also collaborating with a data analytics tenant, Inmar Intelligence, to expand direct-to-consumer communications capabilities in delivering real-time information related to COVID-19.
Medellín Innovation District, based in Medellín, Colombia, is anchored by two universities and four local hospitals. Its research is especially strong in the areas of information and communications technology (ICT), energy, and health care. Special projects include the following:
- Several mobile technology companies are gathering and analyzing data on how the virus is spreading, who gets infected and where, and how patient care is evolving.
- A group of other organizations are working on different prototypes of a ventilator for a cost of under $500. The effort, dubbed InnspiraMED, is open source, in the hope that it will be replicated to ease the strain on health care systems globally.
In conclusion, this account of research—though only a partial list—helps illustrate the power of innovation districts to combat this deadly virus. Our time dedicated to further understanding the intricacies of the research under way continued to surface the importance of collaborative research methods in solving highly complex challenges. Microbiologist and virologist Prof. Carlo Federico Perno, director of the Niguarda Laboratory of Analysis in Italy, perhaps best expressed the power of collaboration, when he observed that “Swift collaboration between researchers and clinicians from different institutions, locally and globally, has never been more important, both to understand and to contain the spread of this highly contagious virus.”
Finally, COVID-19 has heightened the urgency of the need for increased—and sustained—financial support for R&D, which now includes data-rich actors leading geospatial analysis, Big Data, and AI. Look no further than your own community to understand how important this is.