KAUST and Industry Partners Step Up to Combat COVID-19

KAUST and Industry Partners Step Up to Combat COVID-19

As experts predicted, the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to impact countries around the world. Within Saudi Arabia and across the globe, citizens and industry are counting on innovators, scientists and leaders to step up and provide solutions to the challenges the pandemic poses. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is working closely with the Saudi Ministry of Health, industry partners and startups to keep the Kingdom safe.

The work that has emerged from KAUST partnerships is notable. Since the start of the pandemic, KAUST industry partners have made multiple breakthroughs in response to this global threat, focusing on everything from improved sanitization to the tracking of infected persons. KAUST actively supports partner companies creating groundbreaking solutions and technology to improve the lives of the citizens of Saudi Arabia and the world at large.

SABIC, Hrzz, SaudiVax and Wayakit are some of KAUST’s partners and startups in the battle against COVID-19. Each of them has developed critical weapons to fight the pandemic.

SABIC delivers essential medical supplies

Medical supply shortages marked one of the earliest and most critical failures of the COVID-19 response. SABIC, a global leader in chemicals, has proactively collaborated with social organizations, health authorities and local bodies to help alleviate the challenges posed by the pandemic right from the start. Their efforts focus on providing the necessary medical supplies, including medical equipment and preventative products for healthcare practitioners such as hand sanitizers and latex gloves.

SABIC Research Center at KAUST

In response to an urgent need for hand sanitizer production in Saudi Arabia, a task force was formed to evaluate options for producing isopropanol (IPA) — a key ingredient in these products. A team from the SABIC research center at KAUST, in collaboration with the company’s global technology, innovation and manufacturing teams, worked together to develop the technology.

Experimental lab work was conducted at the SABIC center at KAUST between April and May 2020. With the KAUST team’s support, SABIC was able to combat some challenges posed by the pandemic. This support was crucial to accelerating technological development within a short period, with their products ready for commercialization by the end of this year.

Hrzz slows the spread of COVID-19 with tracking app

Tracking and tracing have been essential in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in many countries, especially those that have seen the greatest success in containing the virus. However, the logistics of this are a struggle for many governments.

Hrzz, a KAUST startup spin-in company and the newest resident of the University’s research park, has created an app designed to notify community members, business owners and decision-makers in the medical community about the number of people infected with COVID-19. While it’s currently in development, the completed app can alert citizens if an infected person is nearby, helping them avoid contaminated areas or take extra precautions as needed.

Some Hrzz app features include:

  • Radar: a feature that enables users to avoid contact with people who’ve already contracted COVID-19. It will send a notification to the user’s phone when they’re in the vicinity of an infected person.
  • Map: an interactive map meant to make shopping safer. Using a map of shopping areas, users can see whether an infected person has passed through a particular store. If someone infected enters a district, the app sends precautionary directions to users.
  • Safe stores: a list of the safest stores in the area. Specialized hardware will be provided to the stores across Saudi Arabia that will automatically notify store workers about the status of a person that has entered their premises.
  • Epidemiological surveillance: allows the app to speedily obtain data on contracted cases. New data is updated every three seconds to ensure real-time information is available.

The plan is to release the first version of the app in Saudi Arabia. In the following months, after testing and adding more features, Hrzz aims to release an improved version of the app around the world.

SaudiVax neutralizes and diagnoses COVID-19

SaudiVax, a biopharmaceutical manufacturer and tenant at the KAUST Research & Technology Park for almost two years, was one of the first companies to start working on a COVID-19 preventative drug. According to SaudiVax Managing Director Dr Mazen Hassanain, “We began scouting for partners in January 2020, in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. We did not think that existing vaccines would work against the virus or be available in time. We decided that the next step would be to move from pure vaccine research to the field of monochrome antibodies.”

SaudiVax researchers teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh and KAUST scientists to create a COVID-19 preventative drug. The result of their collaboration is an antibody injection designed to combine itself with the virus and neutralize it in the process. The injection works both as a therapy for the coronavirus and a preventative measure. People that aren’t infected with the coronavirus are protected by the antibodies found in the drug, while those who already contracted it will have the virus neutralized.

SaudiVax recently signed a collaborative agreement with Sona Nanotech Inc. (Sona), the developer of a COVID-19 point-of-care antigen test. Sona’s test can detect the virus in patients with low viral loads in 10-15 minutes, whereas existing testing typically takes 24 to 48 hours. Sona and SaudiVax’s collaboration will focus on advancing technologies in the area of future infectious disease diagnostics and engage local manufacturers.

Wayakit disinfects surfaces in just 30 seconds

COVID-19 has significant staying power once it comes into contact with surfaces, with some harboring the virus for up to 28 days. KAUST spinout Wayakit designed an antiviral, non-toxic disinfectant formula to help curb the spread of viral pathogens.

Developed by Sandra Medina and Luisa Javier, co-founders of Wayakit and KAUST PhD students, the formula can eliminate 99.999 percent of a broad spectrum of bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus. Developed in the KAUST labs, Medina and Javier saw a critical need to create a disinfectant product that could work more quickly than others available on the market.

While typical commercially sold cleaning solutions take approximately 10-30 minutes to work, Wayakit is effective in only 30 seconds. This fast-action makes Wayakit a key solution for high-traffic public places like airports and banks. Earlier this year, Wayakit partnered with Swissport, which is using their novel disinfectant at Saudi Arabian airports in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam on airplanes and buses.

SABIC, Hrzz, SaudiVax and Wayakit are all tenants of KAUST’s Research and Technology Park, designed to foster links between the University and industry. Tenants have access to KAUST’s laboratories, faculty and student talent as well as a network of public spaces and facilities designed for creative collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

KAUST is continuously committed to the development of new and innovative products by partnering with and supporting companies working to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these industry collaborations, KAUST is determined to advance Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem and develop a knowledge-based economy that creates groundbreaking technologies.

Read more about KAUST’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

KAUST Coronavirus Portal
KAUST partner SaudiVax advances treatment for COVID-19
KAUST startup Wayakit partners with Swissport International AG to provide disinfectant solution at Saudi Airports in fight against COVID-19​