Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Spiro Wave, a “bridge” ventilator that helps patients to breathe when they’re condition is not critical enough to require a standard ventilator. What’s remarkable is that the device was brought to market over the course of just a month, after New York City realized it was facing a critical shortage of ventilators. It’s a great story, and this account of its development in The New York Times is well worth reading.
The effort kicked off in March when warnings started coming in from Italy that the US would shortly be facing a critical shortage of ventilators. At first, it seemed impossible to develop such a complicated machine quickly enough.
“But they soon found a design for a basic ventilator that could serve as their core technology. Since then, they have orchestrated from New York a far-flung collaboration of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, physicians and regulatory experts and accomplished in a month what would normally take a year or more.”
The effort involved multiple groups, and was orchestrated by Scott Cohen and Marcel Botha. Cohen is the co-founder at a technology center for researchers and startups, and Botha is the chief executive of a product design and development company. But the project also involved the work of academics at MIT where the original design was created a decade ago, the New York City government which invested in the project, and companies like Honeywell that were able to provide scarce construction supplies at short notice.
“Producing thousands of machines means lining up sometimes scarce supplies. One of those parts was an air-pressure sensor to ensure that a patient’s lungs were not overinflated, which could cause damage. Mr. Cohen knew that Honeywell was a leading producer of the sensor, and he tapped his network of personal contacts to secure it in volume.
Late one night, Mr. Cohen called Kathryn Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a business group of the city’s top executives. Kevin Burke, a former chief executive of New York-based Con Edison, is a Honeywell board member. Introductions were made, and after a series of calls to Honeywell executives in America and Asia, a supply of the sensors was secured.”
The result of the project is a low cost ventilator that will be an “invaluable tool” according to New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The group behind the ventilator has been approached by companies and governments around the world, and plans to license the design of the ventilator for free. While The New York Times notes that the crisis in the city itself appears to be abating, the Spiro Wave should still be helpful in other areas of the country, particularly where there’s a lack of big medical centers.
You can read The New York Times’ report in full here.