Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic did not help with organizing events this year. To support networking and exchanges, bringing together much sought-after healthcare and medical laboratory professionals with scientists and industry representatives – the very goal of the Swiss Symposium in POC Diagnostics – was a formidable task, particularly due to travel restrictions, quarantine rules and the onset of the 2nd infection wave in early fall.
However, testing and especially rapid POC testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection have become important tools to contain the spread and experienced such a broad attention in society, that postponing the event was out of question for the HES-SO and CSEM joint organizing committee. We felt to have the responsibility to showcase efforts and progress being made in this field by the different stakeholders.
Originally planned to take place in the town of Visp – not far from the new Swiss vaccine production site – the symposium with its packed program of 16 expert speakers was converted into an online event with real-time video presentation and Q&A sessions. A good 170 attendees registered for the event, which highlights a strong interest in relevant topics and a multifaceted program.
Innovative solutions must be fit for purpose, that is particularly true in the medical field and so it was perfectly adequate that Dr. Michel Rossier, Head of the ICH Laboratories in Sion, kicked off the medical session with the presentation entitled “Are POCT devices suitable for medical diagnosis?”.
The first keynote speaker, Dr. Matthias Essenpreis, CTO of Roche Diagnostics, then inquired, more from a patient perspective and intentionally equivocally whether the future of diagnostics would be “in the hands of patients?”. Indeed, new solutions for disease management are emerging, for instance sensor technologies built into smart phones or wearable devices, many of which will eventually find their way into routing therapy. Opportunities for linking rapid diagnostic tests with smartphone-based software build a strong alliance, especially when integrated seamlessly into physicians’ workflows.
The second keynote lecture given jointly by Dr. Jonathan Gootenberg and Dr. Omar Abudayyeh from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discussed the new engineering biology possibilities for gene therapy and diagnostics, especially the CRISPR-Cas toolbox that was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The new In Vitro Diagnostic Regulation (2017/746 EU) represents a major challenge for startups as well as established companies. Thus, the session on regulatory challenges was a useful complement to the main program. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about issues relative to device software and smartphone apps used for diagnostic purposes and the assessment of the Technical Documentation, in particular Clinical Evidence.
Enabling technologies such as device miniaturization, digitalization/connectivity, flexible lifestyles, mobility and patient empowerment as well as the need for rapid results, also in case of future infectious disease threats, will continue to drive the development of POC diagnostics. The landmark Swiss Symposium in POC Diagnostics is your venue to share your experiences and to learn of important advancements being made in this dynamic field. See you next year in Davos!
Denis Prim and Marc E. Pfeifer
Institute of Life Technologies, School of Engineering, HES-SO Valais-Wallis