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COVID-Tech in Russia: technologies against the pandemic

May 28, 2020|
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Starting from mid-May, COVID-19 pandemic in Russia is continuously declining. The peak was on May 11 - 11 656 new cases in one day, and after that, as can be seen from the graphs of disease incidence, Russia has reached coronavirus plateau on this indicator. At the end of May, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had passed the peak. 

The exceptional nature of the disease highlighted the technological solutions in healthcare. The first to predict the spreading of new-type viral pneumonia was   the artificial intelligence of Bluedot company. At the beginning of April, the World Healthcare Organization (WHO) stated that “the pandemic has triggered an unprecedented demand for digital health technology solutions and has revealed successful solutions such as for population screening, tracking the infection, prioritizing the use and allocation of resources, and designing targeted responses”.

Analysts claim that, on the one hand, the pandemic hit the global IT sector: Enterprise Technology Research expects the reduction of IT budgets by 3.5-4%, and Juniper Research predicts supply losses in consumer electronics from $6.71 billion to $42.37 billion by the end of the year. Accenture experts believe that the pandemic will not only be a challenge for MedTech industry, but will also help to switch to new thinking and adjust to new principles of work. For Russian healthcare sector this is especially relevant.

To designate the technologies aimed at combating coronavirus, COVID-Tech neologism was created - by analogy with other spheres of technologies development and implementation (FinTech, PropTech, EdTech, HR-Tech, etc.). Starting from April, ICT.Moscow has been collecting different foreign and Russian practices in this sphere: you can find a detailed timeline in the COVID-Tech feed. The most remarkable practices were highlighted and presented on the map (in Russian). 

We also talked to experts from Care Mentor AI, Gero, Intellogic (Botkin.AI project), Megaputer Intelligence, Nanosemantics Lab, Socmedica (CoronaStop project) about the reasons why Russian practices are not so noticeable on the global stage, whether the pandemic provided startups with new opportunities for development and who is responsible for medical decisions made with the help of modern technologies.

The landscape of Russian COVID-Tech

COVID-19 diagnostics and screenings - for medical facilities and people

To help healthcare facilities with the diagnostics of COVID-19 and pneumonia caused by the virus, Russian AI developers became actively engaged in the process. The technology turned out to be very effective in conducting tests and interpreting the results: there were at least 8 cases in this segment.

At the end of April, AI system for detecting coronavirus in CT scans was integrated into the Unified Radiological Information Service. It allowed to reduce the workload of diagnosticians, and in two week 30 thousand tomograms were processed in Moscow. And in one month world largest base of chest CT scans of patients with confirmed COVID-19 was created.

Large companies, such as Sberbank and Rostelecom, also started to use their resources and solutions in AI. Specialized startups also became actively engaged. For example, Intellogic company, which was initially working in the field of medical images analysis, at the beginning of April adapted its Botkin.AI solutions to detect pneumonia and coronavirus. Third opinion company also announced it was working in this direction. At the end of May, Care Mentor AI presented a tool for intelligent analysis of chest CT scans Mentor: CovidCT.

In order to reduce the risks of infection, several services for home diagnostic tests for coronavirus were launched. This opportunity was provided by large IT market players - Sberbank (jointly with DocDoc) and Yandex. Sberbank and specialized companies Artezio and Socmedica created online questionnaires which allow to identify whether a person is possibly infected with coronavirus.

Finding a treatment  — for COVID-19 treatment and prevention

This category is represented by the smallest number of practices, because biomedicine is not taken into account for the map. The category includes Gero иand Insilico Medicine (a startup founded by Alex Zhavoronkov, a Russian scientist in the field of biomedicine). These companies were included on AI Venture Labs list of 100 world AI startups, that use technologies to combat COVID-19.

Gero, an AI company engaged in finding treatments for different diseases and anti-aging therapy, started to use the technology for analyzing compounds to treat COVID-19. The company has already found 9 potential COVID-19 drugs.

Data platforms, analytics and knowledge bases — for developers and users

COVID-19 pandemic stimulated companies not only to search for certain technological solutions, but also to actively collect and provide information related to the pandemic and the disease. In this regard large companies have an obvious advantage: the more data they have, the more opportunities to get new data there are.

The collaboration of large corporations with specialized companies is quite effective. VEB.RF United with Doktor ryadom (Doctor Next Door) to launch a telemedicine platform for supporting the population. Sberbank launched a service for supporting elderly people on the basis of DocDoc, which is a part of Sberbank’s ecosystem.

Analytics companies also became engaged  in tracking the spreading of coronavirus. We found six cases COVID-analytics into their IT services. Handysoft, for example, prepared dashboards with detailed up-to-date information about coronavirus. AT Consulting Vostok created an IT system for prevention and control of the virus spread designed for regional emergency response centers.

With the help of Yandex DataLens technology, a data lake was created using data from three significant sources: statistics of Rospotrebnadzor for Russia, similar data from around the world from Johns Hopkins University and the self-isolation index based on the data of Yandex services.

Monitoring of spread and distancing— for combating the pandemic

Most cases (27) were presented in “Monitoring of spread and social distancing” category. Yandex and 2GIS - companies that represent the largest Russian mapping services -  launched interactive maps showing coronavirus spread, and Yandex also started to monitor self-isolation index and provide information about the amount of people in shops.

The developers working in the field of intelligent video analytics became actively engaged in combating the virus. A remarkable practice in this sphere was provided by Third Opinion company  - it implemented an intelligent video surveillance system in one of Medsi clinics. With the consent of the patient, the system monitors his physical activity, checks whether the medical staff wears protective outerwear suits, and collects the necessary statistics and transfers it to nurses. Also, VisionLabs, which is a part of Sberbank’s ecosystem, presented a complex for identifying a person wearing a mask and contactless measurement of body temperature - TERMO.

One of COVID-19 symptoms is elevated body temperature, several companies provided solutions for contactless measurement of body temperature of passers-by. A pilot system developed by Shvabe holding was launched at the beginning of May at Leningradsky Railway terminal in Moscow.

RST-Invent, a part of RUSNANO, adapted the RFID technology to identify staff wearing protective suits and monitor the use of individual protective equipment.

Information support — for people, doctors and business

In total, we found 14 different measures of information support for people, doctors and business which were implemented by IT companies. In the middle of March, the government of the Russian Federation launched стопкоронавирус.рф website, which provides up-to-date information about COVID-19 spread. Mail.ru Group launched #Лучшедома (#BetterAtHome) platform to support citizens and business.

During the pandemic, special attention is paid to doctors. Rambler Group launched a social platform to support media staff called Help the doctor, which allows to provide remote assistance to doctors, including transferring money to help them. Mail.ru Group undertook a task to scale an AI system of medical images analysis Botkin.AI, which reduces the workload of medical staff, to the whole country.

Chatbots, which are a relatively new tool for supporting the population and business, are grouped in a separate category. Mos.ru chatbot was finalized, during the pandemic it not only allows to get up-to-date information, but also helps to get and check electronic passes.

In April, Dasha.AI, a developer of voice artificial intelligence, adapted its solution for business and enterprises to reduce the risk of infection among employees, who work under quarantine. The virtual assistant can make calls to employees, ask about their health condition and give recommendations depending on the answers. Voximplant voice assistant based on the speech synthesis and recognition system of Yandex is being used by the government of the Moscow region since mid-April to inform the population.

Smart equipment — for medical facilities and public areas

Another company that was included on the AI Venture Labs list is Promobot, a Russian developer of robots,  which presented a robot for fighting COVID-19 in the middle of April. Using the built-in equipment, the robot can conduct a medical survey, collect medical history, analyze and deliver test results.

Sberbank developed a disinfection robot, which can carry out UV disinfection using the built-in UV lamps. The company offers to use it in public institutions and transport.

At the beginning of April. BM GROUP presented IMMUNO kiosk for the preventing the spread of the virus. The functions of the kiosk include temperature measurement using an infrared sensor, dispensing masks and sanitizer and air ionization. The company believes that such devices installed in office and public places will ensure effective prevention of coronavirus spread.

Experts — about Russian COVID-Tech sphere

Why our companies are “invisible” abroad

If there are so many COVID-Tech practices in Russia, the question arises: why AI Venture Labs, which has counted 100 startups and companies worldwide in this sphere, found only three companies in Russia (Promobot, Gero and Insilico Medicine)? Even considering that only AI developers were taken into account, this is not a full picture: on the map Russian AI practices from different companies are marked with the abbreviation AI, there are more than 30 of them in total.

We decided to ask the experts, why Russian companies are so poorly represented in the international market.

Maxim Kholin, co-founder of Gero, which is on the list of AI Venture Labs, comments on this fact:

It is too soon to judge the outcome. Medicine and pharmacology in the 21st century are high-tech solutions and enormous costs. That is why the share of Russian solutions, unfortunately, is proportionate to the capabilities of our economy, including the capabilities of the national system of research financing and the capabilities of venture capital investment market.

Maxim Kholin

Co-founder of Gero

Stanislav Ashmanov, CEO of Nanosemanitcs Lab and Ashmanov Neural Networks, also believes that it will be possible to talk about the prospects of domestic solutions abroad later.

We are witnessing a complex, but interesting time. Russian developers have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills, focusing on research and development of new healthcare products using AI technologies. However, the achievements of Russian developers so far are primarily focused on satisfying the needs of Russian healthcare system.

Stanislav Ashmanov

CEO of Nanosemantics Lab and Ashmanov Neural Networks

The head of business area of the Megaputer Intelligence Dmitry Goltsov also notes that domestic developments in this sphere are based on the needs of internal user, and, in general, are oriented to the public sector.

The aspiration to international positioning among small Russian business is weakly expressed, and without it, world ratings just ignore us.

Dmitry Goltsov

Head of business area of Megaputer Intelligence

CEO of “Socmedica” company Gevorg Bledzhyants believes that ratings are not a big deal, since the work of a doctor even behind the computer is to save lives, and not to be recognized.

The startup concept itself is based on the application of the best international developments and knowledge. Of course, we aim to communicate with colleagues around the world. But, as you understand, ratings are different.

Gevorg Bledzhyants

CEO of Socmedica (CoronaStop project)

About new opportunities for startups

We asked industry representatives, whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to combat it contribute to the development of technology startups in Russia.

Co-founder of Care Mentor AI Pavel Roytberg believes that this process in general is quite complex, the chances of being noticed and to put their developments into practice have increased only for those companies, that have a product and a strong development team.

Sergey Sorokin, CEO of Intellogic (Botkin.AI project), believes, that startups do have a chance to attract attention thanks to the pandemic, but it can be not only a positive thing.

The startups that create COVID-19 solutions have chances to be noticed, but it does not increase their chances to implement their solutions in practice, because quality products of companies stood out and were in demand even before the pandemic, and the pandemic is not able to influence quality improvement.

Sergey Sorokin

CEO of Intellogic (Botkin.AI project)

Maxim Kholin from Gero mentions a British company Benevolent AI as an example of a foreign IT company that has managed to make a name for itself. It proposed a solution - a cure for COVID-19 (more precisely, for complications of this disease) and licensed a molecule ready for clinical research in the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company.

Stanislav Ashmanov, however, assumes that the pandemic will increase the demand for solutions that do not require the participation of people.

Many funds are willing to financially support strong projects that can solve acute problems with the help of IT, for example: digitalization of business processes, online learning. The pandemic has provoked the emergence of a significant number of tasks in various fields, and they are waiting for their solutions. This is a fertile ground for the development of startups.

Stanislav Ashmanov

CEO of Nanosemanitcs Lab and Ashmanov Neural Networks

CEO of Socmedica Gevorg Bledzhyants claims that adaptation to relevant topics is inherent in the nature of startups.

The nature of a successful startup is to meet the demands of society and the state for the most relevant and necessary products. Our developments have been incredibly popular over the past few weeks among both the professional community - our colleagues - and ordinary citizens.

Gevorg Bledzhyants

CEO of Socmedica (CoronaStop project)

Dmitry Goltsov from Megaputer Intelligence agrees with this point of view.

In my opinion, domestic developers have demonstrated impressive productivity both in the field of combating the coronavirus epidemic and in implementing technological means of adapting the state, business and population to quarantine realities. After Combining a lot of research and development of domestic experts, we get the most objective information about the spread of infection. The combination of work results of such models is used in planning their activities by both government and business representatives. It is safe to say that Russia definitely does not fall behind in this direction.

Dmitry Goltsov

Head of business area of Megaputer Intelligence

About responsibility for decision-making

One of the key questions in the field of MedTech in general and COVID-Tech in particular is who is responsible if the program is incorrect (for example, in making a diagnosis).

A startup can take standard responsibility based on common sense. If you offer services to deliver food as a volunteer in a personal car, and get in an accident, you’re probably responsible for all the damage caused.

Pavel Roytberg

Co-founder of Care Mentor AI

Gevorg Bledzhyants considers that regardless of the technology used, the doctor is always responsible.

The aim of any system that supports medical decision-making, as indicated in the definition itself, is primarily to provide support, not the ultimate truth. Of course, we offer complete, up-to-date databases and civil-law modules. This is done to make the doctor feel comfortable working, even in extreme situations. But in any case, all decisions remain solely up to him.

Gevorg Bledzhyants

CEO of Socmedica (CoronaStop project)

Stanislav Ashmanov also says that the main task of IT startups in the field of medicine is only to supplement information and help a doctor, whereas the professional conclusion of a specialist is indispensable for the treatment itself. The main advantage of modern technologies, including AI, is the expansion of the limits of medical resources, but not the replacement of doctors.

Maxim Kholin emphasizes that when it comes to diagnosis and treatment, any solution, including a technological one, must undergo registration procedures.

More often it includes decisions of ethical committees and patient trials. In this sense, there are significant but reasonable legal and regulatory barriers. Existing requirements are absolutely justified, as they protect all market participants: patients, developers and doctors.

Maxim Kholin

Co-founder of Gero

Original (in Russian)

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