Developing and bringing the world's first automatic throat swab robot to market for global health security
ASAP - Automatic Sampling of Pathogens
Bounce Back Ideas was created to look for innovative ideas that can aid our hard-hit society in recovery. The focus is to uncover how to adapt and thrive from a global crisis, as COVID-19 has been and still is. That mission fully resonated with Lifeline Robotics. The company was established by impact-driven founders who has a goal of learning from the crisis we are experiencing while actively contributing to strenghtening our socitety on the basis of the take-aways. The crisis has in that perspective been positive as it has shown us where our society has weaknesses. The concept of grasping that weakness and turning it into a strenght and resilience is the essense of Lifeline Robotics historty. The core of Bounce Back Ideas therefore appeals directly to Lifeline Robotics as the process of learning from and adapting to a crisis, while seeking for ways to invent or create new solutions for a long term impact, based on the takeaways from a current problem.
COVID-19 showcased a common lack of pandemic preparedness in a globalized world. It became evident in our failure to prevent a novel pathogen from spreading. Today, pathogenic diseases travel much faster around the world than previously. Respiratory pathogens spread the quickest, as they are very transmissible with high viral loads. Among the known threats are multiple strains of influenza, coronavirus, and vector-borne diseases. There is also the possibility of new zoonotic viruses, as there are more than 1.6 million of which 700.000 have the potential to infect humans. Only 250 have been identified in humans so far. Such pandemics are more frequent than recognized, and in the past 15 years we have faced at least five e.g. SARS and Ebola. All have put immense pressure on the healthcare system. Data from COVID-19 show that the fronline workers are more often infected that the general population, and that approx. 30% of the negative test results has been false due to sample quality.
The consequences of COVID-19 on human health justify the need for preventative and alleviating actions alone, but the economic aspects underline it. Pre-COVID-19 modelling shows a 20% risk of seeing 4 or more pandemics during the 21st century. Also, a World Bank-based scenario suggests that global pandemics could cost most than $6tr for the period. Today, we know the models underestimated the real costs of COVID-19. Unemployment rose, commercial flights drastically minimized, and the tourism sector crumbled. Ultimately, most countries are now in the same degree of recession as during the World Wars, with a total estimated loss of €23tn from 2020-2025. The costs will carry severe socio-economic consequences. The poor will become poorer and close to 90 million people are expected to fall into extreme deprivation during 2021. One reason that pandemics are so hard to predict, and their costs so hard to estimate, is that they are not discrete events, but represent the extreme end of a spectrum of infectious disease risks. New infectious diseases occur many times a year. Some evolve into epidemics; others are contained, eradicated, or become endemic. Even less turn into pandemics. But it is just a matter of time before the next novel pathogen creates a new crisis, if we do not increase GHS and create the next normal where the risk of a pandemic is greatly diminished and the capacity to handle one is greatly increased. Lifeline Robotics solution combines AI and robotics in a medical device to automize the monotonous, time-comsuming and dangerous task of collecting swab samples from citizens. The AI works uses data from a ToF camera to segment the mouth and locate the oropharynx. Here, it detects targets from which it want to sample. Then, robotics movements are calculated before it moves in to swab at the defined areas. Now a sample is ready for analysis, but how it should be analyzed is another story. It can be analyzed for many pathogens e.g. influenza and streptococcus.
Lifeline Robotics has developed the world's first automatic throat swab robot, as a quick response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are also looking post-COVID-19 by envisioning how our technology could be truly innovative and impact the world for the better. Firstly, the notion of automating task in the healthcare sector is innovative as it is rather new compared to the industry. Automation of logistics and aids to improve doctors work has been around for years, but the concept of automating their monontous and non-critical tasks with human contact leaving time for the critical ones are rather new. Secondly, Lifeline Robotics works to reinvent security - just as after 9/11 with airport security. Why not randomly but continously check for potential viral loads when people are crossing borders or attending big events every day? We believe our solution can innovate the security sector by detecting not only knives and guns, but also bigger threats to our global society such as pathogens.
The idea is currently at a very functional prototype stage. All initial development was carried out in record time to help as fast as possible, and the interest for the product was immense. However, the company experienced a tough barrier as the product classifies as a medical device which requires regulatory approval before being marketed. It is a long and costly process, but the team is convinced the technology can make a difference when it becomes available. Hence, the team decided to take a step back and look at the regulatory issues related to the prototype and work on optimizing while simplifying the entire product based on the existing development. Lifeline Robotics is in the process of hiring a new employee to lead the regulatory aspects of the medical device, while moving towards clinical trials. Several hospitals from different countries have already agreed to cooperate on the clinical trials and do pilot tests, but the regulatory aspects must be in order beforehand.
The core competencies of the team lies within software, robotics and many other aspects of the technological domain. Strong competencies within commercialisation and go-to-market strategies are also present among the team and board composition. The soon-to-be addition to the team in the form of regulatory and quality expertise will be the cherry on top to round of the inner core competencies. The team is developed to be lean, hence lacking competencies will be brought in the form of external services and consultants. One of the lacking skills is clearly in the medical aspects. Here, an ongoing conversation and collaboration has been established with the University Hospital of Odense, spanning across several of their wards to cover both the anatomical aspects of the throat as well as the microbiolical, hygienic and analysis aspects. As morefunding comes, Lifeline Robotics will scale the team on the technical side to speed up development. Currently, 2 student assistants has been hired.