In late January the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic officially arrived and started spreading across Germany. Since then – like in almost every other country globally - every new day feels completely new, uncertain and presents previously unknown challenges, both for public health as well as the healthcare industry.
Many companies are facing big challenges in terms of operations. Hospitals have been preparing themselves consistently over the first weeks and are still facing challenges with high-risk patients. Scientists are working feverishly on vaccines and therapy options, in many hospitals, elective procedures have been scaled down and intensive care capacities in the whole city have been increased: Within only a few weeks, a provisional hospital with initially 500 beds was built on Berlin´s trade fair area. It is intended to ensure the care of corona patients as soon as it can no longer be fulfilled by the 50 emergency clinics in Berlin.
During the pandemic, the capital region Berlin-Brandenburg not only shows a high degree of solidarity with one another, but also echoes its international reputation as a life science region in the fight against corona. As soon as the public healthcare situation was manageable, Berlin-Brandenburg supported its EU partners Italy and France in the treatment of seriously affected corona patients. Foreign emergency patients who need respiratory care, since at their home, intensive care units in hospitals were completely overloaded in some places due to the pandemic, were brought in several clinics to receive treatment.
Furthermore, numerous initiatives by and for companies have emerged to make urgently needed supplies and personnel available and distribute them efficiently and brought a few „hidden champions“ of the Berlin based biotech industry to light. Companies such as Biotechrabbit and TIB Molbiol were among the first who were able to ship a reliable testing solution globally, based on Polymerase-Chain-Reaction, to detect the novel virus in the human body while Mobiolab developed the first mobile lab-solution for biomolecular diagnosis of infectious diseases caused by SARS-CoV-2, based on maritime containers.
An Urge for Innovation
In the race not only to diagnose but also get a better medical understanding of COVID19 for a suitable treatment, the international renowned research landscape of Berlin-Brandenburg combined forces and resources with new initiatives, and a particular focus on single-cell-analysis. Alongside those initiatives from Charité, BIH, Max-Delbrück-Centrum, Hasso-Plattner-Institute (i.a.), academic institutions like the Beuth University of Applied Sciences and the University of Potsdam are using fields of innovation such as artificial intelligence and Big Data to develop new computing models and intelligent platforms in order to further improve the risk assessment of the virus.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the crisis has been a boost for change for the capital region. COVID-19 is changing the face of healthcare globally, with more and more diverse technological solutions, experiments and open-source-based collaborations flowing into the industry. Motivated by delivering better health outcomes at a lower cost and supporting those on the frontline has sparked numerous virtual health-innovation competitions such as hackathons to develop quickly applicable solutions for clinics, (high-risk) patient groups and work forces. Supported by the federal health ministry, research institutions and big global healthcare agents like Bayer and Pfizer dozens of applicable prototypes from hundreds of participants were created over the last few weeks alone and are now in further development – underlining outstanding network effects of the life science region. T
The high degree of knowledge transfer and collaboration is also apparent on an international level. For the upcoming “Beat the Pandemic II” Hackathon, initiated and hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from the life science metropolis Boston, 50 applicants from the Capital Region with both industry and research backgrounds, will contribute their expertise in finding innovative solutions against the CoVID19 crisis.
Aftermath and „Pandemic Preparedness“
These days – although the first waves of deregulation in terms of social distancing are already in place - it is too early to speak of a normalisation of the situation, but one thing can be said with certainty: the Capital Region and the German healthcare system as a whole is about to see much change in the aftermath of COVID19. While research and development activities for the diagnosis and treatment of SARS-CoV-2, as well as targeted strategic partnerships for care in the region are making progress, the topic of "pandemic preparedness" is increasingly coming into focus. The outbreak of the corona wave has proven that a pandemic systemically affects all areas of work and life. The next step must now be to improve the health care industry and supply in the region in advance of exceptional situations such as this.
One of the many key takeaways however is the rapid increase and public acceptance of digital health solutions. Since the beginning of the corona wave, Berlin-based health start-ups witnessed a significant growth in digital solutions and telemedical care services. Many new patients see the future advantages of digital applications in medicine without wanting to do without the human element. A learning curve that will have a strong impact even after the Corona pandemic and leaves a lot of investment and innovation potential.
Last but not least it was not only the early political measures and broad nationwide testing that contributed to make this crisis quickly manageable, but also the outstanding scientific communication work of single key influencers like Charité´s Director of Virology, Prof. Christian Drosten – together with Berlin´s Federal Corona Research Center, on which he holds a seat at the steering committee –, clinics and healthcare associations across the country. A regular and dependable news flow about the state of knowledge about COVID19 and necessary measures was a crucial part not only to educate the general public but also to manifest opinion leadership.