17TH MARCH, 2020

How R&D Across The World Is Helping To Fight Coronavirus

From panic buying toilet roll to stock market jitters, the world waits with baited breath to see what the novel coronavirus COVID-19 will bring next. But there’s nothing like a serious global health concern to bring on a wave of innovation, not least in the hunt for a cure.

Although it may feel like panic is rife, research and development (R&D) offers the chance to not only fight the virus, but to learn from previous health scares over the last ten years in particular.

COVID-19, although its mortality rate appears mercifully low, will no doubt attract a large investment in R&D. From treating those already suffering with symptoms, to prevention and cure, here we look at how innovative steps have helped fight COVID-19 across the world.

Sequencing the genome

The first step in identifying a virus - and therefore in formulating a vaccine - is in sequencing its DNA to work out what it consists of. Only then can the virus be better understood in terms of who it’s most likely to affect and how, and what the mortality rate may be.

When SARS first hit the headlines in late 2002, sequencing the genome of the virus was slow going, taking scientists over a year to do it. The sequencing of COVID-19 however has been far quicker, taking only a month. Singapore-based company Veredus Laboratories is also working on releasing a commercially usable “Lab-on-Chip” detection kit, which tests and returns results for three coronavirus strains inside two hours.

Connectivity

The world is getting smaller and we’re more connected than ever. Data is everywhere, accessible by anyone, anywhere at any time. Where this can have a negative effect (such as raising public hype, panic buying and the spread of misinformation), it can also help scientists to quickly track the spread of the virus. It offers a wealth of information, for example Facebook has recently generated maps that show geographical pockets of infection, travel patterns and demographics. This in turn means researchers can see where to send medicine and supplies, and governments can decide when and where to close borders. Social media is also helpful in signposting users to reliable sources of COVID-19 information, for example the WHO website.

Detecting and disinfecting

Technology is now being fine-tuned for airports and hospitals that allow for the monitoring of people coming in, and for quicker more effective sanitisation. BioSticker is a new piece of kit which takes a patient’s temperature, as well as recording their heart and respiratory rates. It also looks at how many times a person coughs in the space of ten minutes (as frequent dry coughing fits are a classic coronavirus symptom). A germ-killing robot called GermFalcon has also been built with strategically placed ultraviolet-C lamps. It will soon be used on commercial aeroplanes as a way of disinfecting both the air and internal surfaces, making it much harder for the virus to spread.

Vaccines

This is perhaps the most obvious thing that comes to mind regarding R&D in fighting COVID-19. Indeed, ever since the genome of the virus was first identified the race has been on to create a reliable, marketable vaccine for immunity. To date, a Kaiser Permanente research facility in Seattle has already created a vaccine they are now testing on humans. Experts say it will still take many months to know if this vaccine, or others also in research, will work.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence is fast becoming a crucial public health tool. A Canadian company called BlueDot is already using AI to scan 100,000 online articles in 65 different languages for public health information and updates every day. This knowledge is then used to alert authorities worldwide about any changes in the types of people COVID-19 is affecting, and where. Chatbots and health apps are also gaining popularity with the public, who use them to chart and track any symptoms to see if they may require testing.

Telemedicine

A big concern regarding COVID-19 lies in protecting front line healthcare staff who are treating those who are sick. Telemedicine is about administering care and medication remotely, so reducing the risk to doctors. This type of 5G powered remote care is already in full use across the coronavirus epicentre Wuhan, where demand for treatment is high. Indeed, in the US state of Washington, one person is currently being treated by a new healthcare robot called Vici. Whilst the patient is in isolation, the robot allows for him to communicate with his family and care team, and even cleans up. A similar robot is also being used in China, called Little Peanut.

Drones

Typically seen in natural disasters and war zones, drones have for several years been used to drop off medicines and supplies to remote or dangerous areas of the world. They can move much more quickly than road vehicles like ambulances, and aren’t held back by traffic or crowds. With COVID-19, we could see them used in quarantined areas, or areas with a high concentration of patients.

Has your company undergone R&D projects involving technological or scientific research recently?

Then it could be eligible for financial help towards the cost in the form of R&D Tax Credits, a UK government-backed scheme for incentivising company innovation.

R&D Tax Credits are open to any UK company working in any field, and assist with the costs involved in things like hiring staff and contractors, buying materials and paying for overheads in relation to R&D work. No company is too big or small, and claims can be of any size. Profitable companies can enjoy a relief on their Corporation Tax of up to 33p in every £1 spent on R&D, whilst loss-making ones can receive a cash lump sum.

Find out more via our Tax Cloud portal for businesses to see what you could claim and start an application. You can also call our friendly team of experienced R&D accountants and advisors on 0207 118 6045 or use our contact page.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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