Mumbai-based KPO builds global coronavirus platform for researchers

A health-worker conducts thermal screening of residents in the Mudiali area which was sealed following detection of a COVID-19 positive case, during ongoing nationwide lockdown to contain the pandemic, in Kolkata. Photo: PTI
At a time when new business models are being driven by online delivery, web applications and software for communication, some companies are also building tools for entities that are trying to tackle the reasons behind what's disrupting the world today. A Mumbai-based knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) firm Cactus Communications just launched a global research platform driven by artificial intelligence​,​and geared for researche​​​rs of COVID-19.  

Specifically, the research available on the website,​ which went live two days ago, is directed at researchers across the world across different disciplines in healthcare. Virologists need to be aware of and work with public health experts, immunologists need to work with respiratory care specialists, and geneticists need to know about emergency care. Everyone in the different disciplines also needs to understand how they can cross-function for creating the best possible approach to cures, vaccines and solutions for the epidemic. 

The ​site which is in English and uses natural language processing to allow access for categorised, topical research from white papers, journals, and publication will also feature Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sources.

Abhishek Goel, co-founder od Cactus, says the site does not require log-ins or sign-up fee and is seeing as many as 200​0​ unique visitors daily since its ​beta launch ​four days ago. 

The site features around 70,000 unique papers that are on the coronavirus with around 5,000 papers that have been written after the virus became a global pandemic in the last couple months. Goel says that insights from one discipline may lead to a breakthrough in another. "We know that lessons from the past may have new relevance in new times. And we know that even the most specialist researcher working in isolation wants to learn these lessons, but it isn’t always easy to see how," he said.

How is Cactus' site different from the ones operated by WHO, or governments and universities across the world? Its executives say there are many sites around the world which aggregate data and provide a user interface, but lack human curation with goes in to synergize raw data and that which is harvested through AI. "Real-world researchers, recommending papers, sharing problems, and answering questions is what makes this site different," Goel says." Cactus is also looking into crowdfunding for research into Covid-19.

Sameer Sah, Partner at law firm Khaitan & Co with expertise in Lifesciences said," “Everyone is aware that data is the new oil and while collecting data is important, it is equally important to extract, refine and distribute that oil."

In these times of disruption and uncertainty, where there is seldom clarity on the problem and the solution, data analytics will provide the answer. The Covid-19 pandemic is global, and the solution can’t be achieved in a geographically restricted manner – and a free flow of research will help not only address information flow, it will also help address regulatory issues associated with clinical research, clinical efficacy, patient safety, Sah said. 

The platform for the site was built in around a month with a team of 30 people that included  employees from India, Japan and Denmark and China. The overarching objective is to "answer ​ questions where research is currently ‘stuck’" Goel says."We are asking researchers and practitioners to share problems where they have reached a dead end, or where they have specific problems around logistics or analysis that they need help on," he said. 

Cactus Life Sciences, a division of Cactus Communications, helps pharma, biotech, and medical device manufacturers with content strategy, development, and dissemination

There are other institutions which do similar work, from the WHO, US government as well as universities that include Johns Hopkins, Aspen. "Real-world researchers, recommending papers, sharing problems, and answering questions is the difference," Goel says. "We are analysing a specific subset of published research papers and preprints and enriching these sources with NLP and concept link;ing. AI is being used for extraction of concepts from papers—concepts that are occurring frequently in published research," he added. 

"Whether for off-label uses of medicines, effectiveness and approval of ventilators and alternatives, or PPE, or actual medicines,  glocal data collaboration is the key,” said Sah. 

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