When it comes to an epidemic, time is of the essence. In order to be effective, prevention and control measures need to be put in place within a matter of days, if not hours. Not weeks or months.
Irene Bosch was set to take to the Main Stage at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit in March, to share with us her leading-edge discoveries in epidemiology. The covid-19 pandemic, however, has meant that the event has been postponed to October. Given these circumstances, it feels more important than ever to nonetheless turn the spotlight to Bosch, her company E25Bio, and the potential of their solution.
As you know, our mission at Hello Tomorrow is to leverage tomorrow’s tech to solve today’s toughest challenges. Within the context of a global health crisis, E25Bio and their solution present an incredible opportunity to do just this, once again highlighting the key role of deep tech in our future.
Read on to hear from Irene Bosch and discover E25Bio’s work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
In Europe, we’re seeing different countries respond differently to the pandemic. When it comes to our global response, can we or should we have a one size fits all approach?
The landscape is heterogeneous and capabilities definitely vary from country to country. Therefore, there is not one answer.
The first step would be to find out who is infected, and right now we don’t even know that. So it’s important to establish methods that allow you to easily determine who might be harbouring the virus, not just in the hospital but outside of the hospital as well.
Then you can begin to trace and isolate. And at any moment when you see a slight probability of it spreading, for which we have amazing predictors and models, then you activate all your emergency measures and you contain it. Fiercely. A one-size-fits-all approach would only be applicable if we had something like a universal test, something that is simple enough that it can be used everywhere. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a test yet.
If we look at the outcomes of each strategy, we can see that some countries are apparently responding more efficiently than others. Like Germany, for example, which has a much lower death toll. One thing that every country has in common though, is a lack of preparation and prevention. The countries that are the least prepared are inevitably the ones that are hit the hardest. Nonetheless, on the typical graph that we’re seeing everywhere in the media, there is a line to represent the point at which any hospital system in the world would become overwhelmed and incapable of treating everyone.
So, in order to avoid reaching this point, the world went into quarantine. That’s the one thing that applies to everyone, no matter where you live. At that point, it becomes the only option, rather than the best option.
Can you tell us a bit more about the response that E25bio is working on?
E25Bio has been doing academic research around tropical diseases for 10 years. Normally, the first slide in our presentations is “When will the next pandemic break out?”; now the first slide would probably be “We had a pandemic, so now what?” We were very much of the opinion that this would happen sooner or later, purely because of the irresponsible way in which humans continue to treat their environment. It was always going to bring things out of control.
All these diseases should be called zoonosis, which is a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans due to humans coming into the animal’s environment. This coronavirus might have come from bats. Those bats had their natural habitat destroyed, and so came into contact with humans and were domesticated.
These “zoonotic diseases” are continuously neglected. They are not at the forefront of industries, nor are they in the minds of investors or part of the finance world.
Here at E25Bio we want to be able to have the technology and the tools available to implement easy-to-apply solutions and be able to detect diseases that come about. So that’s our platform. And what we’re trying to do now is use it to respond to this particular epidemic.
Before tackling the current pandemic you were working on tropical diseases, is that right?
Yes, E25Bio was and is working on tropical diseases such as Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya. They’re diseases that are transmitted by mosquito bites as opposed to a virus that is transmitted when you cough. So they have an intermediary, the mosquito, which is everywhere. Again, this is because we domesticated them in bigger cities.
In fact, it’s important to remember that other epidemics are not on hold because of this coronavirus, and millions of people will still get dengue this year.
It’s fascinating to see the bigger perspective. You also raise a point that is key for us at Hello Tomorrow: positive impact. And during a time of crisis, it seems more pertinent than ever. At E25Bio what have you noticed about the process of scaling up an ‘impact-driven’ solution?
We want to bring solutions that are both meaningful as well as profitable for those who are financing them. When you want to bring about change, you can’t do it without VCs, despite the fact it can be hard to penetrate the venture capital world with ‘out of the box’ thinking. I do hope the VC world at large will start focusing on really meaningful solutions so that we will have a better world after this. But in any case, this is definitely going to be a hard lesson, for everybody.
In fact, one of the first things people said was “oh, you’ll never be able to respond to this epidemic, we don’t know how long this could take.” And I thought, “I’m going to do exactly that.” So we did the covid-19 test.
Our main message is simply “let’s be proactive instead of reactive.” The current pandemic is what happens when you’re reactive. Chaos, and an incredible amount of damage.
Indeed, a lot of things that were deemed impossible are happening! At Hello Tomorrow we’ve seen many examples of really interesting collaborations between big corporations and small startups that have developed super fast. In the ecosystem, people always talk about how hard corporate-startup collaboration is, but what we’re seeing right now is those who want it, make it work.
Exactly. And it’s important to be bold. So, any investor or anybody that wants to come forward, we’re ready. We have a structure to talk to them and see what we could do together.
I have one last question. The scientific community is working hard not only to find treatments for this coronavirus, but also a vaccine. I was wondering, as the CSO of E25Bio, what is your outlook on the progress being made? And can your method be used to help create a vaccine?
When it comes to immunity, there are two things to consider. First, natural immunity and second vaccines. However, the problem is the same for both. We don’t know how long the immunity is going to last. Vaccines are definitely essential, and they have to come soon. The sooner the better, so that we don’t get another pandemic straight away.
And then, how many boosts do you need? Do you need a boost every year? These are things that we will learn as the research becomes available. Anyway, I’m hopeful that the vaccine will come soon and I’m sure that all over the world, experts in vaccines will come forward and work together. Hopefully, this will be a much better world for health when we go back to work!