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In the midst of this pandemic, supportive Walloon entrepreneurs

(c) Solidfog Technologies.

Company bosses, sensitive to the situation of doctors and hospitals, have rolled up their sleeves to help them in these difficult times.

Whether in hospitals, home care situations or nursing homes, there were several equipment shortages (in addition to the lack of masks and ventilators) as from the beginning of March. Creative entrepreneurs, from Brussels to Liège or from Tournai to Charleroi, acted quickly to provide support and creative solutions to all of our caregivers. Some were temporarily unemployed, others changed their production line, such as the Any-Shape company, which specialises in aeronautics, space, defence and the automotive industry, and started making swabs for sample testing. 

Patient detection

A Mons-based company called D-tek has devised a serological diagnostic kit to detect the five specific antibodies in SARS-CoV-2, responsible for Covid-19. This entirely Walloon creation has received plenty of local support (Ambroise Paré, UMons, Materia Nova and University Hospital Centre Tivoli). As a world premiere, this kit from the company based in Initialis Science Parc in Mons is very specific, as the CEO,Benoît Autem, explains: “We are still in the research and development phase. COVIDOT 5 IgG is the first multiplex serological test capable of detecting five specific antibodies simultaneously. Some patients (who are PCR positive) do not develop all these antibodies. Therefore, they sometimes test negative with the current tests. This kit makes it possible to accurately determine whether or not their immune system has been in contact with Covid-19. Our product is a second-line product.

Recycling masks

This case is clearly not the only success achieved in Wallonia. In the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg, the companies SalamanderU (Aye) and Solidfog Technologies (Ciney) joined forces to find a solution for the decontamination of large quantities of FFP2 masks. For Yves Marée, CEO at Solidfog, this work was indispensable: “We were clearly keen to help and above all to find solutions.” With “CleanBubble”, an isolation unit which can be built in less than half an hour, with its decontamination unit “DosyMist”, which generates a mist of H2O2, and the digital solution “SmartReg”, it is possible to decontaminate up to 350 FFP2 masks in a 6-hour cycle. “We may have international market opportunities in the coming weeks and we are currently carrying out mask disinfection for dentist associations”, adds Yves Marée. A pitch shared by Claude Dedry, CEO at SalamanderU: “We had the chance to assist medical staff with our flexible and innovative solutions. We had to take action.” Clearly, economic development of this solution in the long term will depend on the recovery: “We are unable to count on the usual foreign trade fairs to discuss our solutions, yet we are still in contact with international bodies.

Gel and coverings

They have been busy in Charleroi as well. There, Lithcote, a company from Trazegnies has developed an anti-Covid-19 coating. Transparent, self-disinfecting, its CEO Christophe Leclercq is delighted with the work achieved by his teams:We have developed a coating which is fully virucide, bactericide and fungicide all-in-one. It is an achievement to be able to offer this treatment, which will undoubtedly revolutionise several sectors: the pharmaceutical industry, hospital sector, but also everyday objects. This technology draws on functional nanoceramics chemically linked to a polymer network.”

Research in Wallonia has risen to the challenge once again with Nicolas Manise, CEO of Riem, which has worked on a hydroalcoholic solution in aerosol format. “We were not making this product initially. However, given the lack of disinfectants, we worked on an aerosol solution, initially for our internal staff, and we then offered it to the general public. We have done many hours of overtime in order to keep up with the massive demand.” The company has also made several product donations to hospitals and nurses.

Still around, even after the lockdown

This lockdown has also had an impact on patients’ health. Vincent Keunen and his team proposed an improvement in follow-up with their application Andaman-7, which offers real interaction between patients and health workers (hospitals, doctors and public and private researchers). They have proposed“ a free module aimed at supporting patients, health professionals, call centres, hospitals and authorities in managing the crisis. This provides various functionalities toinform, to sort infected patients, conduct self tests to reduce the load on the medical  infrastructure and allow the collection of data for medical purposes... “

Once normal life began to be resumed, other Walloon players were very useful, such as Piximate. As a specialist in the analysis of movement of people in supermarkets, based on artificial intelligence, this start-up launched a “Covid” adaptation with “Piximate Safe”, to determine the maximum number of people who may enter a store. It has convinced companies such Bpost, Ikea and Leclercq. Even so, the company wishes to be very clear about privacy: “Data will not be recorded.”

This list is clearly not exhaustive. Both in Wallonia and in Brussels, plenty of businesses have joined in this effort to support caregivers and hospitals.

By Vincent Liévin

Note from the editor: We have only highlighted a selection of initiatives. However, other initiatives from other companies can be found on the site Wallonia.be.

This article is taken from the Revue W+B n°149.

The "Clean Bubble" developed by SalamanderU and Solidfog
The Lithcote company has developed an anti-Covid-19 coating
The Riem company worked on a hydroalcoholic solution in aerosol format
The mixing room for the production of aerosols
The Andaman7 application offers real interaction between patients and healthcare workers

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