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PhysioQ launches Neo to empower the public to contribute to the fight against COVID-19


As scientists around the world are working to develop treatments for COVID-19, a non-profit organization seeks to empower the general public to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus.

PhysioQ builds a software that helps researchers manage clinical trials with multiple participants outside the lab setting, and it has recently launched a new system called Neo to support COVID-19 research.

The system collects health data from wearable devices, including temperature, heart rate, and activities (exercise and sleep), and users can choose to opt in to donate these data to help medical researchers study the coronavirus and figure out how to treat it effectively.

“We aren’t looking for a vaccine,” Chris Peng, co-founder of PhysioQ, told Business Next. “What we are looking at is really how the disease progresses, how we detect it early on, which symptoms are important, and so on.”

The data from users will be anonymized -- stripped of personally identifiable information like name and age -- and aggregated into a massive database. All researchers are eligible to apply for free access as long as their research is compliant with regulations and institutional policies. Several scientists from UC San Diego and Harvard University have already been using this database for COVID-19 research.

With the same data, Neo also helps families monitor their health in real time. Based in Taipei, Peng said the system enables him to track the health of his family members living in the US at any time without making phone calls. To be precise, it analyzes the data and sends signals when a family member is sick or possibly infected with COVID-19.

For instance, if the pattern how a person’s blood oxygen drops is similar to that of other people with the virus, then it may be sufficient to say he/she is infected.

In comparison, the temperature gun widely used to screen for the coronavirus is highly unreliable, he said. “The mass majority of people who have a fever don’t have COVID-19.” By launching Neo, his team hopes to create new standards to detect the infected.

Within a month, 200 families from 15 countries have signed up for early access of the service. It will be open to everyone by the end of the next week (May 15).

They may use compatible devices, including Garmin wristbands and smartwatches and Polar heart rate sensors, or manually input their data into the system for this service, Peng said. Invalid data will be flagged for removal.

With Neo, PhysioQ won the first prize earlier last week in the Global Online Startup Weekend in Taipei, a 54-hour hackathon event where entrepreneurs and innovators came together to tackle the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.