COVID-19 Crisis – A technology providing unconventional supply relief

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

When the full-scale effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to be understood in early 2020, the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, as part of the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, began collaborating with Spiez Laboratory on an online Platform - Academic Resources for COVID-19 (ARC). In a paper published in Frontiers for Public Health, the authors explain how the ARC Platform was set up to be a service to support Swiss diagnostic laboratories that are testing for SARS-CoV-2. The ARC Platform matched requests for critical equipment, reagents and consumable goods required by Swiss diagnostic laboratories involved in combating COVID-19 with supplies available from Swiss academic groups. Since then, with further input from Swiss startup Apptitude SA, the Platform has evolved with the needs of the epidemiological situation and the technology has been open sourced with the purpose to serve public health as a response solution for other countries and communities in the current COVID-19 crisis or in future crises.

In the beginning of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland, diagnostic testing had to be ramped up in a very short time, but even basic molecular biology laboratory equipment previously easily ordered from a catalogue, was suddenly no longer available. This threatened to put a stop to testing workflows at individual sites or prevent the ramp up. “However, with the ARC Platform we were able to communicate the critical resources that were needed, to academic research groups at universities, where at least limited quantities of these specialized resources could be found, providing vital temporary relief,” explains Prof. Roman Stocker, ETH Zurich. “During the first wave, in Switzerland, the ARC Platform handled close to 300 requests and 400 offers from 150 unique users. 55% of these offers ‘matched’ with requests thereby providing a crucial solution in the time of crisis.”

In parallel to this immediate response effort, investment was made into developing a more tailor-made version of the ARC Platform. This proved valuable when the second wave of COVID-19 became evident in Switzerland with the monitoring and operation of the Platform now more streamlined and requiring less expert support. “The ARC Platform had thus evolved into an easy to use and efficient bridging measure that was immediately on-hand to remedy shortages of specialized components, resources and skills typically found in the academic sector”, explains Dr. César Metzger, member of the management board at Spiez Laboratory and appointed Lead of the COVID-19 Laboratory Coordination efforts. “One salient ongoing example being the current worldwide shortage in pipette tips, a simple laboratory supply that is often stocked in large quantities in academic laboratories and which is currently being successfully made available to diagnostic laboratories through the ARC Platform.”

A bridge to provide relief in other countries affected by COVID-19

Looking ahead, Axel Pasqualini, from EPFL Startup Apptitude SA who contributed their previous ‘match-making’ technology experience in conjunction with the computing expertise of the Blue Brain, believes that “Deploying the ARC Platform technology can provide quick relief in other countries affected by COVID-19. In particular, in the sourcing of specialized resources such as essential material goods, infrastructure and personnel from the academic sector. The operation of such a Platform benefits from the streamlining of the workflows as described in this study and can be operated by a small team working part-time. Only when large numbers of requests (hundreds plus) need to be matched or if the types of requests are changing rapidly may a larger team be required,” he concludes. 

Beyond COVID-19 – a response tool in humanitarian crises

Ultimately, summarizes Prof. Felix Schürmann, Director of Computing at Blue Brain, “The importance of the open source ARC Platform technology is that, it is not limited to its current use in Switzerland or, its use in the on-going COVID-19 crisis. It offers a way to respond to unconventional circumstances, in particular when the normal supply chain cannot be used. For example, due to its modifiable ontology the technology can also be applied within other contexts, such as the exchange of hospital equipment or, of humanitarian relief supplies. Furthermore, suppliers and requestors can be of the same origin i.e. communities or healthcare networks. We have already seen the life-saving capacity of the ARC Platform technology and hope it will be used by others throughout the world to continue to make a vital difference to combat this crisis and future crises.”

Contact us

Questions with regard to ARC - [email protected]

Media enquiries – [email protected]

Note – This technology is a bridging remedy for sudden shortages in times of crisis and for sustained high-throughput testing, intact supply chains are ultimately required.

Read the paper - Courcol, J.D., Invernizzi, C.F., Landry, Z.C., Minisini, M., Baumgartner, D.A., Bonhoefer, S., Chabriw, B., Clerc, E.E., Daniels, M., Getta, P., Girod,M., Kazala,K., Markram, H., Pasqualini, A., Martínez-Pérez, C., Peaudecerf,F.J., Peaudecerf, M.S., Pfreundt, U., Roller, B.R.K, Słomka, J., Vasse, M., Wheeler, J.D., Metzger, C.M., Stocker, R., and Schürmann, F. (2021) ARC: An open web-platform for request/supply matching for a prioritized and controlled COVID-19 response. Front. Public Health doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.607677

About EPFL’s Blue Brain Project
The aim of the EPFL Blue Brain Project, a Swiss brain research initiative founded and directed by Professor Henry Markram, is to establish simulation neuroscience as a complementary approach alongside experimental, theoretical and clinical neuroscience to understanding the brain, by building the world’s first biologically detailed digital reconstructions and simulations of the mouse brain. Blue Brain deployed its computing expertise and resources to support the Academic Resources Platform initiative, as part of Blue Brain’s COVID-19 effort.

About ETH Zurich
Established in 1855 by the founders of modern-day Switzerland, ETH Zurich was created as a center of innovation and knowledge. Since then, the science and technology university has continued to build on the Swiss values that lie at its heart: freedom and individual responsibility, entrepreneurial spirit and open-mindedness. These values have produced a university culture that fosters students’ independent thinking and researchers’ top performance. Situated in the heart of Europe and connected all over the world, ETH Zurich is pioneering effective solutions to the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

About EPFL
EPFL one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, based in Lausanne, is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

About Spiez Laboratory
Spiez Laboratory, the Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-Protection, is a division of the Federal Office for Civil Protection. It provides services relating to arms control, protection measures, health and incident management for international organizations, authorities and the general population. In this way, it contributes scientifically to peace support and to the safety of humans and the environment. In the efforts to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, Spiez Laboratory has been entrusted by the Federal Council with the monitoring of the laboratory situation and in supporting the Swiss COVID-19 laboratories with respect to their supply chain.

About Apptitude SA
Founded in 2012 at the EPFL Innovation Park, Apptitude is a successful digital agency built on strong values of design excellence and state of the art development. With a collaborative approach and focusing on user-centered methodologies, their team of engineers and designers have translated hundreds of ideas into robust and efficient digital solutions. Ranging from mobile applications to manage agro-robots to fully integrated ecosystems for the digital transformation in the chemical industry, Apptitude’s sharp technical skills and innovative thinking are praised by both clients and partners


Author: Kate Mullins