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Poznan scientists, academics and regional government join forces in the fight against COVID-19

 DSF8175 minScientists and academics from Poznań have been actively mobilising to devise and implement initiatives aimed at multiple aspects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań, Poznań University of Medical Sciences and Poznań University of Economics and Business are some of the institutions that are engaged in efforts to counter COVID-19. The Government of the Wielkopolska Region is also taking concrete action.

The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań developed a new prototype test for COVID-19.

Willing to strengthen the coronavirus diagnostic efforts in Wielkopolska Region, the Institute formed a „virus support group” which involves around 40 people working in shifts on a volunteer basis in the Institute’s laboratories. On 19 March there were 180 tests carried out every 24 hours, with a potential to achieve a number of 270 tests every 24 hours.

In order to support the supply of virus isolation and detection kits, the Institute decided to develop its own test based on reagents coming exclusively from Polish manufacturers and Institute’s own production.

On 20 March, the Institute’s director, prof. Marek Figlerowicz, PhD, announced that the scientists managed to create a prototype test consisting of some universal and available elements, using reagents of the Institute’s own production. The effectiveness of the prototype was confirmed by comparing results with those offered by other currently available tests.

The Institute also underlined that in case of problems with availability it could produce tests on a larger scale through cooperation with two Polish manufacturers. The talks are now ongoing about 20.000 tests.

On 26 March the Government of the Wielkopolska Region announced that it will dedicate around EUR 22.087 (PLN 100.000) from its crisis management reserve for the activities of the Institute concerning the turning of the prototype into a test, starting a mass production and increasing test’s availability, which is one of WHO’s main recommendations.

Poznań University of Medical Sciences created a virus diagnostic unit and published research regarding COVID-19 therapy possibilities.

The university transformed the College Apparatus Centre into a virology unit tasked with conducting COVID-19 diagnostic tests for the Wielkopolska Region. Diagnostic tests have been performed since 20 March with the laboratory working in two shifts, including on the weekends. Experienced molecular biologists are supported there by student volunteers whose main task is administrative work. Part of the laboratory works will be automated in the coming days.

As far as COVID-19 therapy research is concerned, two university scientists, prof. Jarosław Walkowiak, PhD, and Jan Nowak, PhD, drafted a conceptual work on the potential use of lithium compounds in the therapy. The work was published in the F1000 Research journal in open-access mode and can be found on the website https://f1000research.com/articles/9-93

Poznań University of Medical Sciences is also working on several other projects including, e.g. an online video information campaign on YouTube focusing on scientific, preventive and clinical aspects of the pandemic. Other than that, two university scientists, prof. Michał Nowicki, PhD, and Piotr Rzymski, PhD, wrote an open letter to the academic world calling for development by the universities of policies countering discrimination related to COVID-19, which was published on 20 March by the Science Magazine https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6484/1313.1/. Piotr Rzymski, PhD, is also regularly sharing his expertise in national media, explaining the virus biology, refuting circulating myths, informing about infection prevention, vaccine and drug research.

Poznań University of Economics and Business formed a Virtual Crisis Institute (WIK) and an online platform Support for Hospital (WdS).

Virtual Crisis Institute (WIK) http://wik.edu.pl/ is an open internet platform created in the second half of March that gathers an interdisciplinary expert team around a common goal to support local and central administration in the fight against COVID-19. Currently the team counts around 70 scientists from 20 Polish academic centres dealing with epidemiology, economics, management, IT, logistics, psychology, communication and sociology. The works concentrate on developing socially and economically useful solutions, ranging from a support system for SMEs and a system for improving the flow of vehicles on Polish borders, to the development of simple apps allowing more efficient operations during crisis. There are currently over 20 project proposals submitted by the Institute.

WIK is a bottom-up initiative based on a principle of an academic think tank with the main premise of quickly generating effective and cheap solutions. It doesn’t have a commercial character and all the persons involved in the Institute work pro bono.
One of the practical projects created within the WIK was the Support for Hospital (WdS) platform which now has an independent website https://www.wsparciedlaszpitala.pl/. WdS is an advanced IT tool to coordinate assistance provided by society to hospitals, which was co-created by three university scientists, Przemysław Garsztka, PhD, Jakub Jasiczak, PhD, and prof. Jacek Trębecki, PhD. The WdS platform was created pro bono by programmers from the company Clorce, using a free license granted for the time of the fight against COVID-19 by Salesforce. Up to 27 March, more than 100 hospitals have benefitted from the online platform that facilitates donating gifts to hospitals, in the form and quantities that are actually needed during the epidemic.

WdS platform consists of two main modules. On the one hand, hospitals can easily report their needs: from small ones, such as meals or drinks for patients, to larger ones, such as masks and volunteering. On the other hand, anyone willing can submit their support for the hard work of medical staff, respond to appeals and offer help. The platform defines the type of assistance and the area in which it can be provided, as well as the time and specific conditions.

The Government of the Wielkopolska Region is taking measures to support the fight against COVID-19 and quickly react to arising needs by gathering data from medical and scientific institutions and cooperating with European Commission and central government representatives in the region.

Following consultations with the European Commission and its quick approval for moving funds within the Wielkopolska Regional Operational Fund 2014+ (WRPO 2014+), the Board of the Wielkopolska Region chaired by Marek Woźniak, President of the Wielkopolska Region, took a decision on 26 March to amend WRPO 2014+. This results in an immediate transfer of approx. EUR 13,8 mln (PLN 63 mln) of EU funds to investments in health care infrastructure and purchase of indispensable equipment for combatting the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic in Wielkopolska Region, as well as to activities related to the prevention and mitigation of the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. All hospitals in the region will receive support.

In addition, around EUR 574.158 (PLN 2,6 mln) from the EU funds available within the WRPO 2004+ will be dedicated to one hospital in Poznań, mainly to complete around 2000 COVID-19 tests and offer personal protection measures for the employees. Earlier, EUR 264.078 (PLN 1,2 mln) was passed to other regional hospitals, especially for decontamination equipment and specialist equipment for coronavirus testing.

The government also financially supports scientific centres. The Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań received around EUR 22.087 (PLN 100.000) to complete the works aiming to prepare the prototype diagnostic test for production and the Wielkopolska Centre of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery in Poznań was offered EUR 17.605 (PLN 20.000) for purchase of specialist equipment.

Besides sharing good practices from our region in Poland, Wielkopolska Region Brussels Office is also interested in knowing good practices from other parts of Europe. For example, if similar initiatives are undertaken by universities in your region, we can work together to facilitate expert networking. If you have any information or ideas that you would like to share with us in this context, please send an email to Ewa Chomicz, EU Policy Officer at Wielkopolska Region Brussels Office at ewa.chomicz@wielkopolska.eu.

Author: Wielkopolska Region Brussels Office based on information from the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań, Poznań University of Medical Sciences, Poznań University of Economics and Business and Government of the Wielkopolska Region.