Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, funding agencies are launching several calls both national and international to do research and to innovate treatments, products. The aim is to fund applied research project near the market because results are needed urgently.
One example of success is the creation and production of cheaper ventilators, made possible through an innovation project. Researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP) developed a mechanical lung ventilator that can be produced by authorized manufacturers, rapidly and at low cost, to supply emergency units for patients affected by COVID-19. While a conventional respirator has a market price of around BRL 15,000 (USD 3,000), the ventilator designed by USP could be sold for around BRL 1,000 (USD 200).
CNPq and the Ministry of Health (MS)
The Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication (MCTIC) received BRL 100 million to finance research network, research and public calls from the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Funding Authority for Studies and Projects (Finep).
A joint public call was launched between CNPq and the Ministry of Health (MS) of BRL 50 million (USD 10 million) for seven categories of research: (i) treatments; (ii) vaccines; (iii) diagnosis; (iv) pathogenesis and natural history of the disease; (v) disease burden; (vi) health care; and (VII) prevention and control.
Improved market solutions
MCTIC launched a public call to accelerate and improve market solutions related to both collective and personal protection equipment systems, systems for the safety of health workers and backup staff in the hospital and medical care chain combating coronavirus. The target audience for this public call are companies of all sizes that manufacture medical and hospital supplies and related chains or others that have applicable technologies related to such equipment and systems. The call includes interested startups and other technology-based companies. Projects should preferably be conducted in partnership with research and development centers and institutes and universities.
The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) launched an online platform to allow access to surveys, situational maps and epidemiological reports, which is available to researchers and a podcast for the public.
The Ministry of Health (MS) has a website to provide information about the pandemic and has developed an application for iOS and Android, called CoronavirusSUS (Coronavírus – SUS – Apps no Google Play), which provides information and recommendations to the public based on self-assessment of the health conditions.
The World Creativity Day initiative and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) joined efforts to launch a platform that maps innovative solutions that support Brazil’s response to the pandemic. The mapping will be open and available for free with the intention of speeding up the connection and making possible the potential acquisitions, purchases and distribution of products and services that help in combating the problems caused by the new coronavirus.
The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) announced the first two projects that were approved by the call issued in March for the use of drugs to combat COVID-19. One of the projects aims to evaluate the effectiveness of two drugs in combating lung inflammation in critically ill COVID-19 patients. The other intends to evaluate the transmission dynamics of the new coronavirus in an Amazonian city which is endemic for malaria.
The Minas Gerais Research Foundation (FAPEMIG) launched an emergency call, with a budget of BRL 2 million (USD 400,000), to finance research on COVID-19. FAPEMIG also directed resources to the Vaccine Technology Center (CT-Vacinas), a laboratory of the National Institute of Science and Technology in Vaccines installed at the Belo Horizonte Technology Park (BH-TEC).
The Federal District Research Foundation (FAPDF) and the Foundation for Scientific and Technological Enterprises (Finatec) established a partnership for the development and implementation of research, innovation and extension projects to combat COVID-19. BRL 30 million (USD 6 million) will be directed to three areas: (i) research calls launched by the University of Brasília (UnB); (ii) solutions for requests from the Health Department of the Federal District; and (iii) fostering of innovative productive sectors.
FAPDF and others FAPs are also participating in Horizon2020 Innovative Medicines Initiative calls toward COVID-19. The focus is on the Development of therapeutics and diagnostics combatting coronavirus infections.
An Innovation call was published with Senai, Embrapii and Brazilian Industrial Development Agency (ABDI) selected 25 projects. Between those selected 10 proposals are to prevent, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
Senai is also repairing broken respirator equipment (crucial for the treatment of some COVID-19 patients), with the assistance of automobile producers.
The private funding institution Serrapilheira known to support basic science is now funding applied science projects linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. Three projects have been selected so far. The first on is an epidemiological study regarding the southern part of Brazil. The second is about the immunological response to the the corona virus infection and the last one is a mathematic modelling of the potential COVID-19 development in Brazil.
Development of diagnostic test kits
The Amazon Biotechnology Center (CBA) has also joined the efforts related to the production diagnostic test kits by developing antibodies and antigens for the kits. The test is based on immunochromatographic technology, similar to the one used on rapid tests for detection of dengue or HIV, in which a few drops of blood or human secretion, such as saliva, are placed on the kit tape and the result comes out in a few minutes.
The distinguishing feature of the test produced by the CBA is the use of domestic antibodies and antigens, which can better identify the virus mutations in Brazil than it could have done using imported antibodies and antigens. Upon approval of the regulatory bodies, CBA intends to supply the market with enough antibodies and antigens in 4 months, so that Brazilian companies can produce 30 thousand quick tests per day.
The 100 Open Startups program, an international platform that focus on stimulating business between large companies and startups, launched the COVID-19 Challenge. The program invites companies to present their needs to startup companies for the development of solutions to combat the pandemic in the following areas: remote work (home office), health and care; retail, trade and logistics; education, information and awareness-raising; culture and entertainment; mobility; services for the elderly; access to laboratory supplies; mental, emotional and physical health; financial management; and support for communities.
Ana Carolina Bussacos & Jacob Paulsen