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PEI bioscience industry answers the call to battle COVID-19

Zahra Merchant, pharmaceutical formulation scientist, holding BioVectra’s gel sanitizer

As essential service staff work long hours and families distance themselves from others by hunkering down in their homes, bioscience companies and their employees are flexing their research, development and manufacturing muscle to help in the fight against COVID-19.

“Islanders will be amazed at the range and sophistication of the technologies that our bioscience companies are using to assist in the fight to detect, contain, and treat the virus and its impacts,” said Rory Francis, Chief Executive Officer, Prince Edward Island BioAlliance. “While it’s not business as usual for any business owner, our bioscience cluster members and other specialized manufacturers are not only maintaining their regular operations, but are literally part of Canada’s response to the crisis.”

PEI companies and research teams are developing protective equipment and medical devices, products to strengthen human resistance to diseases, technologies to test if someone is or has been infected by COVID-19, and technologies to give specialists an online view for remote diagnoses. Eleven examples are provided below.

  • PEI’s largest bioscience company BioVectra is manufacturing critical ingredients necessary for COVID-19 diagnostic kits across Canada. They are also producing surface and hand sanitizer for PEI’s health system and other essential services in need. The company’s existing fermentation, biological protein testing and manufacturing capability could also support future vaccine development and other drug therapies.
  • Summerside’s Quannessence Skincare has created QuannShield, a pocket-sized hand sanitizer that’s a Health Canada-compliant sanitizing spray. Recognizing that hand sanitizers can lead to dry hands, Quannessence has included in its formulation, skin-hydrating characteristics making the product unique compared to other sanitizers. Their products are available in Murphy’s Pharmacies across PEI, and from the soon-to-be online store
  • Charlottetown’s Avivagen is better known for its animal health technologies, such as its OxC Beta supplement that boosts immunity and reduces inflammation in livestock and companion animals, minimizing the need for antibiotic use. Now, Avivagen is evaluating OxC Beta’s potential to boost the human immune system and help people afflicted by respiratory problems from lung inflammation due to COVID-19 or other illnesses.
  • AffinityImmuno in Charlottetown is part of an international consortium currently testing a rapid diagnostic test to screen for the virus in bodily fluids. Additionally, AffinityImmuno is developing a lab test to identify biomarkers that indicate protection against infection or reinfection by COVID-19.
  • Charlottetown’s Fieldetect Inc, co-founded by UPEI professors, recently received $355K from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to modify its handheld LabAnywhere technology for the COVID-19 cause. Initially designed to quickly detect viruses in animals, the Fieldetect technology shows promise for testing viruses like COVID-19 in humans.
  • Charlottetown’s Somru BioScience is drawing on its antibody platform technology to assist in developing therapeutic and diagnostic solutions for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Their experience in immunoassay development will enable them to provide diagnostic and research solutions for future infectious disease outbreaks. Somru’s plans include shortening the development time of diagnostic kits for future infectious diseases by 50 percent.
  • TerraVerdae Bioworks in Charlottetown is leveraging its core capabilities in functional biomaterials and bioactives to develop enhanced antiviral protection products for front line workers working in infectious disease response.
  • In Central Bedeque, Top Dog Manufacturing makes protective clothing and curtains that can be used in all kinds of industries, like food processing and hospitality. Since Top Dog’s products are health-safe, their personal protective equipment is now in demand for use in hospitals and long-term care facilities as well as by paramedics, firefighters, dentists and other frontline workers worldwide.
  • Summerside’s Tronosjet Maintenance Inc (TJM) has turned its 3D printing, manufacturing and design expertise toward producing titanium dividers (splitter manifolds), so that in emergency situations, multiple patients can receive breathing assistance from a single ventilator. TJM has also developed a 3D printed rubber strap to assist in converting sleep apnea masks for treating patients before they need a ventilator. Working with Respiratory Therapy experts in PEI and Alberta, in a project facilitated by the BioAlliance, both products are ready to be produced and shipped while TJM waits for federal manufacturing licensing.
  • VetNOW‘s telemedicine technology has received new prominence under pandemic conditions, allowing local veterinarians to reach veterinary specialists at a distance through their online platform, providing improved care for food animals and companion animals. A new partnership with Elanco Animal Health has made the VetNOW’s technology available for free for two months for veterinarians who enroll in Canada and the United States.
  • Faculty and staff at UPEI‘s Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering are designing and producing personal protective equipment that can be sterilized and reused to keep provincial healthcare workers safe.

The BioAlliance has reported that over 1300 of 1500 private sector employees in the sector are working, as essential businesses in the bioscience sector have carefully developed protocols and screening tools that have allowed their workforce to continue to work safely on the job.

“Islanders can be proud of the collective efforts of PEI’s bioscience community in helping Islanders and Canadians get through the current COVID-19 situation and better prepare us to prevent and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks,” added Francis.


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