COVID-19 KACST Response

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The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is closely monitoring the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We understand how critical the situation has gotten and are making it our highest priority to maintain the safety of our employees, the general public, medical staff, and humanity as a whole.

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COVID-19 KACST Response

The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is closely monitoring the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). KACST understands how critical the situation has become and has made it a priority to maintain the safety of its employees, the general public, medical staff, and humanity as a whole.

The urgent need to mitigate disruptions to the global supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies has become a paramount concern. As every country struggles to meet the demands of its emergency response teams, supplies are becoming less available worldwide by the day.

KACST is focusing its efforts to help fill the supply gap by enabling local manufacturing projects. KACST is prioritizing and intensifying Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) efforts to produce both better diagnostic tools and efficient epidemiological surveillance systems leading towards early detection and reducing the spread of the virus.

Research Support

Theme #1: Funding

The Fast Track Funding Path for COVID-19 Research Projects

In collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Saudi Health Council, and the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (SCDC), KACST has initiated an expedited research funding program (COVID-19 Research Grant Program). The aim is to support RDI on COVID-19 to better understand and elucidate the Coronavirus pandemic, through in-depth etiological and epidemiological studies, disease pathogenesis, data modeling, and developing rapid diagnostics. It is expected that the outcome of these efforts will lead to better overall understanding of COVID-19 biology and behavior. This will quickly advance the development of more efficient, accurate and rapid point-of-care diagnostics and detection tools. Eligible candidates are researchers from public and private educational and R&D institutions, nonprofit organizations and universities, and private industry.

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Theme #2: Support

Guidelines for Research in Epidemics/Pandemics and Emergencies

Research in emergencies and epidemics/pandemics takes place in situations that are marked by uncertainty, time constraints, and strong pressure to address heath care needs. The implications are magnified in cases where the impact has a global scale. Hence, effective research in epidemics/pandemics requires rapid response from all stakeholders. Ethical issues require careful review of research activities by all stakeholders (researchers, research institutions, institutional review boards/local ethics committees (IRB/LECs), healthcare organizations, funding agencies, and policy makers) to ensure that research activities take into account ethical principles while carefully managing the delicate balance between the common good and the private rights of participants. In general, the approved regulations of the NCBE (second version) should be strictly adhered to. At all levels, relevant biosafety standards must be rigorously followed and monitored.

Urgent Notification No. 17537

NCBE Guidelines 08/41 v 1.2.2

Support Distance Learning and Remote Working for Saudi Arabia's Universities and Hospitals

The Saudi Research & Innovation Network (Maeen) has been working to support the R&D community in many different ways. This includes: 1- An increase in bandwidth capacity for our connected members in cooperation with our Telecom partners, with up to 50% increase during the entire duration of this crisis without additional charge; 2- Unlimited access and resources to the Zoom collaboration service hosted on the Maeen Cloud Network https://maeen.zoom.us and 3- Unlimited bandwidth access to e-learning content providers in the Kingdom.

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Technology Development

Theme #1: Medical Diagnostics

In-House Development and Assembly Pipeline for COVID-19 Diagnostic Tools

To mitigate the acute worldwide shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic kits, KACST is focusing on the development and local manufacturing of diagnostic tools and products required for early SARS-CoV2 detection. In parallel, KACST is also developing a number of immunoassays to assess exposure to SARS-CoV2. In addition to large-scale population screening, these assays can be utilized at a later date to evaluate efficacy and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in the Saudi populations. Collectively, these efforts are expected to help achieve sustainability in providing in-country quick, accurate and readily available and reliable diagnostics, which are critical to identify COVID-19 presymptomatic, symptomatic, and previously-exposed patients. KACST has mobilized a group of scientists from diverse backgrounds to work on developing diagnostic tools, including: customized and improved RNA extraction kits; reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assays; production of polymerases recombinant enzymes; nanoparticles-based detection tools; viral colorimetric diagnostics assays, ELISA and immunoassay methods, and other innovative point of care rapid tests.

Theme #2: Bioinformatics and Epidemiology

High Throughput Genomics & Bioinformatics for SARS-CoV2 Active Surveillance & Vaccine Development

Large-scale genomics and in silico and high throughput Bioinformatics approaches for predicting B-cell and T-cell epitope candidates are now increasingly utilized for vaccine design, development of diagnostics and monitoring of undesirable immune responses against pathogens and biotherapeutics. The aim of this study is to establish a high throughput NGS pipeline for SARS-CoV2 and to develop customized bioinformatics tools to actively monitor any emerging genetic diversity of the virus. In addition, large-scale genomics, bioinformatics, reverse vaccinology and machine learning approaches will be utilized to predict COVID-19 epitope vaccines. The study will also use comparative genomics to explore molecular and clinical features of COVID-19 and the other coronaviruses strains that are prevalent in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Saudi Human Genome Program- saCOVIDhg: Host Genomic markers predicting the severity and susceptibility to COVID-19

Saudi Arabia has been seriously affected by COVID-19 and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), a pioneer leader in supporting research in the kingdom, has - since the beginning of the crisis – fostered many collaborations with different health institutions to enhance the knowledge and response to the infection. This project aims to create a National Host Genetics Consortium at KACST that will generate, share, and analyze data to learn the genetic determinants of COVID-19 susceptibility, severity, and outcomes. Such discoveries could help to generate hypotheses for drug repurposing, identify individuals at unusually high or low risk, and contribute to global knowledge of the biology of SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease.

Theme #3: Medical Equipment

Low-Cost Lung Ventilator Prototypes

In view of the pressure on health systems around the world, which are facing a global shortage of medical equipment, KACST’s Innovation Center for Industry will develop and manufacture several prototypes of low-cost pulmonary ventilation devices by using locally sourced materials and components that will be machined by additive and digital manufacturing. Necessary tests will be performed on these prototypes under the supervision of an accredited medical authority. All engineering and manufacturing product documentation will be made available to local factories, enabling them to manufacture the devices commercially. This is an extension of the Center's role in boosting the capabilities of local factories by providing them with design, prototyping and consulting services.

Full Body Sanitizing System

The Full Body Sanitizing System is a compact, reusable sanitization unit designed to increase comfort in living and working environments. It ensures ease of use and disinfection in most places, considering current and future virus hazards. The mobile unit uses technology developed and patented by KACST, known as Micro-Nano-Bubbles (MNB®) technology, which implements H2O2 and Ozone as a gas that’s dispensed as a spray-like, nano-bubble mist on surfaces and objects to be sanitized, such as skin, clothes, or other materials that may support the virus. The MNB® technology is used for disinfection by nano-size bubbles to guarantee their long-life stability.

Theme #4: Epidemic Modeling, Simulation, and Forecasting

COVID-19 Propagation Simulation Model

The aim of this project is to build a platform that uses AI, Data Analytics, and Statistics to augment, represent, and project the country’s data as needed by epidemic models to simulate possible stochastic dynamics of infectious diseases, in order to support decision-making processes in the event of an epidemic. In addition, an analytic front-end for these analytics will be developed to create a Policy Support and Recommendation System. This will test the implementation of different prevention policies and examine their effects on a country scale. The Initial implementation of this project will examine the COVID-19 pandemic within the city of Riyadh; however, the Policy Support and Recommendation System will be based on a generalized model, which can simulate any disease that may cause an outbreak.

Theme #5: Autonomous Systems for Surveillance

Drones for Pandemic Detection and Intervention

The objective of this project is to develop a drone system utilizing modern technologies to monitor, track and control pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak, via indoor and outdoor autonomous detection and tracking. To achieve such capabilities, the following developments need to be carried out: (1) Scalable command and control stations for remote monitoring using commercially available, off-the-shelf autonomous systems; (2) An AI-based platform to collect data from the drone with various variables of interest, such as time of day, crowd size, and body temperatures; (3) Integrated Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems for thermal detection.

Theme #6: Behavioral and Social Analytics

COVID-19 Social Analytics

Providing the MoH and COVID-19 crisis centers a daily analysis of tweets across the Kingdom could help them to determine the impact of their campaigns, whether related to health or economic behavior. In addition, setting up and maintaining an account for the MoH to access the SMAT tool could be necessary. This tool will be also configured to recognize different KSA accents and language usages. Subject matter experts and data scientists will help support the crisis center by providing insights about their findings.

Healthcare Chatbots

The Ministry of Health’s (MoH) 937 Call Center receives more than one million calls per month. In order to assist the MoH process these requests, KACST is developing a 937 chatbot that will help answer some of these calls automatically and alleviate the load on MoH medical services, especially during this pandemic. The system architecture comprises of three main units: (1) Understanding, (2) Memory, and (3) Response. The first unit extracts the intent and entries from the caller’s request. The second unit keeps track of the conversations. The third unit extracts the appropriate response, based on the caller’s interpreted request. 

Innovation

Theme #1: Support

Combating COVID-19 Accelerator

This is a virtual accelerator program to attract and support Entrepreneurs and SMEs to help address the COVID-19 crisis. The program will be implemented in three phases: (1) screening ideas, selecting promising projects and orientation; (2) technical support, training and coaching; and (3) industrialization and commercialization. The program will focus particularly on medical diagnostics, medical equipment, autonomous systems for surveillance, epidemic modelling, simulation, and behavioral and social analytics. Supported startups must be able to move quickly and have a significant impact in helping to mitigate the current crisis.

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SMEs Industry 4.0 and Manufacturing Support

As a consequence of pressure on health systems the world over, and the interruption of global supply chains in medical equipment and supplies, the KACST program helps local factories to address these urgent needs and support the Kingdom’s health care sector. KACST will boost the ability of small and medium size enterprises to produce medical supplies, by providing them with the following services: (1) Engineering design (CAD) and reverse engineering services; (2) Computer-aided manufacturing services (CAM); (3) Manufacturing services, by using additive manufacturing; and digital high-precision manufacturing (CNC), and (4) Technical and engineering consulting services for product development or manufacturing process development.