Below, we present a selection of Austrian research initiatives, products, services, and companies working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic – please note that this list is by no means exhaustive. We also cannot make any definitive statements about the current availability of these offers, or about the prospects of the development projects we refer to. This article is intended to inform you about what is being developed and, in part, produced in Austria. We hope it will offer some insight into the landscape of the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device and digital health industries, which have grown over the past decades with the support of the public sector. In addition to reading this page, please also have a look at the news items presented on our website.
Follow this link to the BASG website to learn more about clinical studies and COVID-19. The Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care prioritizes all initial applications, amendments and notifications concerning COVID-19. This applies to drugs, vaccines, compassionate use of drugs, medical devices and In-vitro diagnostics.
1. Drugs and vaccines
The first vaccines and therapeutics have entered the market and their roll-out is ongoing. Please read the European Medicine Agency's overview.
Details on Austria’s vaccination strategy are provided by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection.
Further vaccine candidates and potential therapeutically active substances are being developed around the world and medicines currently on the market are being tested for effectiveness against COVID-19. Already back in April 2020, the Austrian Institute for Health Technology Assessment (AIHTA) referred to a total of 155 drugs and 79 vaccines being under development worldwide. The AIHTA Horizon Scanning Documents provide updated insights. Several Austrian companies are participating in the development and manufacturing of drugs and vaccines, including:
APEIRON Biologics: APN01 is a recombinant human protein (ACE2) with a unique mode of action that prevents the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting human cells by direct binding of viral particles. At the same time, APN01 can protect the lung, blood vessels or the heart from injury via its enzyme function. This promising drug candidate is reducing the uncontrolled inflammation triggered by SARS-CoV-2 and is in advanced stage of clinical development. Additional information on the status quo is available here.
Apeptico’s Solnatide is a synthetically produced peptide that was developed for treating critically ill ARDS patients. It reduces pulmonary edemas and combats harmful reactive oxygen radicals. Solnatide has been approved for compassionate use treatment of severe COVID-19 patients with ARDS in various countries, and it is in advanced clinical development driven by Apeptico and the Medical University of Vienna. For additional information please follow this link.
- The Austrian biotech incubator and accelerator CEBINA has announced to join the global efforts to fight COVID-19. Several initiatives have started, including projects on drug repurposing, new anti-viral compounds to be used as food supplements and unique vaccine approaches.
September 2020: CEBINA reports positive findings on the potency of azelastine as anti-COVID-19 approach
February 2021: URSAPHARM Arzneimittel and CEBINA announce partnership to repurpose the antihistamine azelastine to combat COVID-19
December 2021: Cebina reports broad antiviral potency of azelastine
- Cyprumed, based in the Tyrol, develops an antiviral nose and throat spray based on an innovative formulation of auxiliary substances with antiviral activity that are already used in approved medical devices. In this way, the virus in the throat should be reduced or even inactivated. This might prevent serious illnesses and/or reduce the danger of infection.
- F4 Pharma: FX06 is a drug candidate that is supposed to preserve the integrity of the endothelium and to prevent the leakage of fluid from the blood vessel into the surrounding tissue. In addition, FX06 also has anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, it has the potential to become a novel therapeutic for the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients.
June 2020: FX06 shows promising results in named patient use
November 2020: Start of clinical trial
March 2021: Collaboration with Partner Therapeutics PTx to start
November 2021: EU invests in COVend project, F4 Pharma is part of the consortium
- G.ST Antivirals and Takeda have started a research collaboration on antiviral drugs against COVID-19. G.ST Antivirals is a spin-off from the MedUni Vienna and dedicated to the development of antiviral substances that lead to an intracellular starvation of the virus. The first product of G.ST Antiviral’s pipeline is 2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) against respiratory viruses, clinical trials are about to start.
- Innophore: The Graz-based bioinformatics company initiated the global FASTCURE (Fully Applied Structural Targeting of Coronavirus Using Repurposing Efforts) consortium. At FASTCURE the University of Graz is coordinating trials to find a cure for SARS-CoV-2. For this purpose, researchers are testing certain drugs which are already approved for the market, like HIV and malaria medications. Click here for updates.
- Marinomed: Carragelose has been developed in Vienna. This substance is widely effective against respiratory viruses, shortening illnesses caused by previously known coronaviruses by more than three days. Since Carragelose is well tolerated, preventative use may also be advisable. In Austria, Carragelose-based products are manufactured by Sigmapharm. These products are available for sale in more than 40 countries under their distributors’ own labels.
December 2021: New data on the antiviral efficiency of iota-carrageen against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern published
- Klosterneuburg-based Polymun Scientific is one of only a few companies worldwide with strong expertise in the liposomal formulation of drugs. Lipid nanoparticles can transport RNAs into cells which is a prerequisite of an immune response to RNA-vaccines. The company collaborates with several partners as regards SARS-CoV.2 vaccines, including Imperial College London, BioNTech/Pfizer, CureVac and Arcturus Therapeutics. Manufacturing processes have been upscaled.
- Valneva develops an inactivated, adjuvanted whole virus COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Topline results of Valneva’s Phase 3 trial released in October 2021 showed that VLA2001 induced high levels of neutralization antibody titers as well as broad T-cell response, and was well tolerated. Here you can access additional information on how the vaccine works, clinical trials and the approval process.
- Viravaxx has launched a project to develop an integrated immunodiagnostic and vaccination platform for Covid-19 together with MedUni Vienna. At the core of this project is the identification of neutralizing antibody signatures as a basis for the design of vaccine candidates triggering a potent and focused immune response. Additional information is provided here.
- Vivaldi Biosciences has started developing a combination nasal spray vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 and influenza virus. Follow this link and read additional information.
General information on drug development, on the function of vaccines and on treatment models for COVID-19 have been summarized by FOPI. This is the Forum of the Research-Based Pharmaceutical Industry (FOPI), Austria.
Please also have a look at the overview on projects that are part of the Pharmig-member-companies’ pipelines, that is the Association of the Austrian Pharmaceutical Industry. Furthermore, a map showing the pipeline projects in the German-speaking region is available.
2. Digital Health solutions for COVID-19
COVD-19 speeds up the development and use of digital health solutions around the globe. These examples from Austria only show a few of the many application areas related with the pandemic:
- Medicus AI provides the tool SafePlay. This is an end-to-end service that supports any local strategy of COVID-19 testing between mass and essential testing to ensure the continuity of public services and businesses.
- The healthtech startup Scarletred has developed eCOVID19, a coronavirus App to relieve the burden on hotlines. In order to manage the huge demand by people affected by the coronavirus, digitals tools have become part of the solution for an increasing number of public authorities and governments. eCOVID19 provides advice to people showing symptoms of COVID-19 in the most uncomplicated manner, and then refers them to the competent authority. New features and services are being developed for the platform. This includes the integration of wet lab diagnostics results that provide evidence on a person’s COVID-19 health status.
- Symptoma provides an AI-based chatbot for the fast and reliable assessment of an individual’s COVID-19 risk, while also considering over 20,000 other diseases. This tool is officially listed by the European Commission as a solution for the digital screening of citizens.
November 2020: City of Vienna to start using Symptoma’s Chatbot for COVID-19
3. Tests, tests, tests
Controlling the spread of the virus requires special molecular biological tests to confirm viral infections. If you think you may be infected, please also consult the digital Symptom-Checker Chatbot or call the telephone hotlines that have been set up for this purpose. We'd like to take this opportunity to emphatically remind you to take contact reduction, physical distancing and hygiene very seriously in order to minimize the spread of the virus. Several test centers have been set up in Vienna and the “Alles gurgelt” program allows you submit saliva samples for professional PCR tests free of charge.
Not all infected individuals are aware of their status, especially if their case is asymptomatic. From a tech standpoint, there are a few different approaches available to test for SARS-CoV-2 infections or antibodies resulting from these infections, and new approaches are under development. Several tests are intended for private use, others require appropriately qualified personnel and a laboratory. The Austrian Association of Laboratory Medicine and Clinical Chemistry (ÖGLMKC) has developed standards for lab diagnostics. A list with test labs is available at the BMSGPK website.
Coronavirus tests from Austria
In addition to large, international diagnostics giants, small and medium-sized operations in Austria are also developing helpful testing systems for use in research laboratories or in routine diagnostics. Here are a few examples:
- Attoquant Diagnostics specializes in the analysis of the Renin-Angiotensin system, a hormonal system that controls blood pressure. ACE2, the entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2, is part of this hormonal system. Attoquant is contributing special analyses that are required for the development of new substances to combat SARS-CoV-2 and participates in numerous national and international studies on the virus. In addition, a new test system will be developed.
- Enzyme specialists from EUCODIS Bioscience and diagnostics experts from Biosynth-Carbosynth have teamed up to develop a novel diagnostic tool for the fast and reliable detection of an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. Based on viral enzymatic activities and a novel enzymatic bioluminescence substrate, the diagnostic test should identify active as well as asymptomatic early infections within minutes.
September 2020: SARS-CoV-2 main protease now available at EUCODIS
- In Upper Austria, GENSPEED Biotech has developed a series of three rapid tests based on the company’s µELISA platform. The COVID-19 IgG xPOC antibody test is already available on the market. The Ag xPOC antigen test will be available soon. In addition, a combined antibody/antigen test will be launched as a world first, allowing the simultaneous detection of an acute infection and antibodies.
- Ingenetix has developed several SARS-CoV-2 tests based on one-step reverse transcription real-time PCR. The product portfolio includes kits to differentiate between SARS-CoV-2, SARS and influenza virus infections.
December 2020: Launch of the ViroReal Kit RT-LAMP SARS-CoV-2; works without RNA extraction for swabs in isotonic saline solution
November 2021: The company confirms that its tests detect new virus variants
- Vienna’s RNA expert and Next-Generation Sequencing company Lexogen provides products for SARS-CoV-2 sequencing to facilitate monitoring virus variants. The company also launched a sequencing-based ultra-high-throughput COVID-19 test that allows for mass screening. Tens of thousands of samples can be analyzed in one setup, and results are available in 24 hours. Information on Lexogen’s product portfolio for SARS-CoV-2 research is available here.
- The Salzburg-based biotech company Procomcure has introduced the PhoenixDx COVID-19 real-time RT-PCR test to the marketplace. In addition, PhoenixDx® Cofluenza 4-Plex IVD is available to differentiate between Influenza A, Influenza B and SARS-CoV-2 infections. The company’s product portfolio also includes the PhoenixDx® Gargling/Saliva Collection Kit. Procomcure’s PhoenixDx® Mutant Screen Portfolio allows to check for virus mutants. In addition, the company offers antibody test kits, antigen tests and operates a test center in Bergheim and test vendors at several locations.
- The University of Innsbruck spin-off Sinsoma has successfully developed a CEL-PCR test for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in patient samples. This approach uses the coupling of highly sensitive endpoint PCR and capillary electrophoresis (CE). The company also provides various lab services, sampling kits, qPCR or sequencing.
- In March 2021, the BOKU spin-off company TAmiRNA launched a CE-IVD SARS CoV-2 Antibody test for the rapid detection of neutralizing IgM and IgG antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein’s receptor binding domain. In addition, the Viennese company provides PCR and antigen test services.
- The Vienna-based company Technoclone has succeeded in developing a precise SARS-CoV-2 antibody test in close collaboration with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. Two different ELISA test kits have been designed with one showing more sensitivity in the early stage of the immune response and the other only responding in the main and late phase. Both tests are manufactured in Austria and available worldwide.
- ViennaLab Diagnostics developed and launched the CE/IVD labeled SARS-CoV-2 RealFast Assay, which is used by many national and international labs. Its advantages include high robustness (2 viral genes and a human control gene detected simultaneously), applicability on a broad range of PCR instruments and high sensitivity (10 virus copies detectable). Together with the Austrian Institute of Technology, protocols have been optimized for short PCR cycles and for the use on unpurified swab and gargling samples.
Vienna COVID-19 Detection Initiative (VCDI)
More than 200 highly qualified scientists based in various research institutions across Vienna have set up the Vienna COVID-19 Detection Initiative (VCDI) to increase the national testing capacity for COVID-19. Coordinated by the Max Perutz Labs, an automated pipeline for detecting viral RNA was established at the Vienna BioCenter, repurposing existing laboratory infrastructure and reagents. The VCDI Standard Operating Procedures for routine monitoring of COVID-19 infections is available online. The technically robust, cost-effective, and scalable RT-qPCR testing pipeline is based on standard laboratory equipment.
VCDI has accomplished its goals and the facility operation was ceased at the end of 2021.
RT-LAMP and SARSseq
Scientists from the Vienna BioCenter also developed an RT-LAMP lest. This is a new loop-mediated isothermal amplification-based SARS-CoV-2 detection method that is cheaper than PCR testing and achieves results with comparable sensitivity and specificity. An infection is recognizable even by laypersons via a simple color change in the sample.
In addition, VCDI scientists developed an alternative high-throughput method for detecting SARS-CoV-2 and other infections: SARSseq takes advantage of NGS technologies.
Imaging in research and for clinical applications
In addition to molecular biologic approaches, medical imaging solutions are important as regards dealing with COVID-19. Imaging techniques allow radiologists to examine the effects of the infection and of therapeutic measures in the lungs. The company 123sonography is supporting health care professionals around the globe with free educational videos and webinars to diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients, including lung ultrasound. The company contextflow is attempting to increase the usefulness of these medical images by using specialized image and text searches to quickly find comparable cases. The software has been specially optimized to accelerate the evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 scans for research purposes. The company also developed a tool for the identification of time-critical patients to allow doctors to prioritize these individuals based on preliminary scan results.
4. Personal protective equipment, 3D printing and disinfection
In our current situation, one of the most important things you can do in your daily life is trying to stay healthy. Not only do we all benefit from proper nutrition, enough sleep, regular exercise, physical distancing, hygiene and avoiding accidents, these precautions also reduce the burden on the health care system.
In very severe acute SARS-CoV-2 infections, the lungs simply fill up with edema fluid composed of blood fluid and particles and the patient risks suffocation. Delivering crucial oxygen to the body in these cases requires technical support. The Alveolar Liquid Clearance mechanism needs to be activated during the mechanical ventilation of the patient. This is where special medical devices come in, like the TwinStream or TwinStreamICU produced by the long-established Viennese company, Carl Reiner, which has expanded its production capacity in response to increased global demand.
In Austria, also new ventilators are being developed. The company AIT - Angewandte Informationstechnik Forschungsgesellschaft in Graz is creating a low-cost ventilator together with the Centre for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering of the Medical University of Vienna. The system is operated with a 3D-printed, space-saving rotary pump. A flexible software enables by means of a multitude of sensors all ventilation modes that can otherwise only be provided by high end devices.
Life-saving measures, medical treatments and hospital care come with great risk of infection for the clinical personnel involved. Therefore, large quantities of high-quality protective equipment and professional sanitizing are crucial.
Personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment for example includes mouth-nose-coverings, protective gear and protective gloves. Austria is home to a pioneer in the manufacturing of gloves, that is Semperit. For 100 years, Sempermed has manufactured top quality products – today for example in Wimpassing in Lower Austria or at international locations such as a manufacturing site in Kamunting, Malaysia. As there is a great demand, many companies have newly entered the personal protective equipment business.
In addition, additive manufacturing is used to produce personal protective equipment. HappyLab Vienna for example clusters the capacities from more than 800 private 3D printers in a large distributed factory for the manufacturing of masks, face shields and other products. 3D printing also allows to quickly design and manufacture components for other purposes than protection. Together with partners, the Viennese start-up Cubicure for example developed and manufactured a flow sensor for ventilators in a very short time.
Cleanliness and hygiene play an important role in preventing infection. The importance of good hand hygiene practices cannot be overemphasized. To keep surfaces and the air clean for example special decontamination devices such as those developed by Braincon in Vienna are used. Hydrogen peroxide deactivates bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores. This solution can also be applied for decontaminating personal protective equipment.
By providing various test and certification services concerning filter systems in air conditions, ventilation systems or air cleaning instruments, also OFI contributes to improved air quality.
6. Academic research initiatives in Austria
The life sciences rank among Austria’s most important research areas and Vienna is the country’s leading city in this field. As there are clear regional strengths in research on infectious diseases and immunology and funding bodies quickly issued calls, new research projects on SARS-CoV-2 and the pandemic have been launched quickly. Details on some of the projects that have been selected for funding are available here:
MedUni Vienna: Central Knowledge Hub
The Vienna General Hospital (AKH) campus is home to Austria's most advanced medical research and care. World-renowned doctors at MedUni Vienna lead research here, in addition to working in the clinics. All specializations, including virology, pulmonology, and epidemiology, are present at the hospital, with particular emphasis on immunology, oncology, neuroscience, cardiovascular medicine, medical imaging, and transplants. An in-house coordination center for clinical studies (KKS) handles the planning, implementation, and evaluation of clinical research projects about COVID-19 and other diseases. More than 150 research projects on COVID-19 are ongoing. These range from drug and vaccine development, clinical trials, analyses of the courses of disease and immunity, and the development of new diagnostic approaches to epidemiological studies, data analyses, and simulations. A special website provides insights on COVID-19 research projects at MedUni Vienna. Additional research locations on outstanding medical COVID-19 research in Austria include Graz, Innsbruck and Salzburg.
SARS-CoV-2 genome evolution in Austria
End of March 2020, CeMM – Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and MedUni Vienna have started investigating SARS-CoV-2 genome evolution in Austria. At the beginning, the project aimed at sequencing 1,000 viral genomes obtained from Austrian patient-derived samples, in order to increase the molecular understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and the causative pathogen. As of June 2021, the project has contributed the majority (>90%) of SARS-CoV-2 virus genomes from Austria deposited in the public database GISAID and, thereby, contributes to the international research to track SARS-CoV-2 variants and mutations worldwide. Additional information and research results are provided at https://www.sarscov2-austria.org/cemm/.
Research infrastructures speed up biomedical research
BBMRI.at (Biobanking and BioMolecular resources Research Infrastructure Austria) unites the Austrian biobanking expertise and is the national node of the respective European research infrastructure. Its partners in Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna provide access to samples from healthy people and patients with COVID-19, support for SARS-CoV-2 research, services at Austria’s most advanced biosecurity labs (BSL-3) and much more. Details and guidelines for handling SARS-CoV-2 samples are available here. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of research infrastructures has set up specific services, such as rapid or fast track access, to speed up research. This is a great resource to develop the solutions needed right now. Click here for an overview. The European COVID-19 Data Platform enables the rapid collection and sharing of research data from different sources for the European and global research communities.
Get inspired by acib
The Austrian Research Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib) is linking science and industry and connects about 200 partners in industrial biotechnology. This central hub and information broker allows to quickly access the broad expertise and methodological know-how in this area across Austria. As regards COVID-19, for example the production of recombinant proteins and efficient biotechnological manufacturing process are of interest. Because of the pandemic, acib-partners have phrased a set of project proposals to show, how the available expertise might help with solving the crisis. The virtual research marketplace also covers other topics including biotech-based approaches to address environmental issues.
Despite all the focus on curbing this pandemic, other diseases haven't disappeared in the meantime. That's why we want to extend our gratitude to the manufacturers of all life-saving medicines and medical products. The teams at companies like Boehringer Ingelheim, the Novartis Group, MED-EL, Octapharma, Ottobock, Pfizer, Takeda, and many others are doing amazing work in Austria and abroad to ensure supply. Apart from thanking the life sciences community, we want to thank the front-line health care workers, especially nurses and doctors, and all the other people involved in the process of solving the crisis tied to COVID-19.
Please follow these links to learn more about recently funded projects:
- EU: Coronavirus research and innovation
- FFG: Corona Emergency Call
- Vienna Business Agency: Innovate4Vienna