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Smiths paraPAC ventilator being tested

UK government drops four Ventilator Challenge projects

Image credit: UK Cabinet Office/Handout via Reuters

Four teams, which have been designing ventilators to meet demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, have been told that their designs will no longer be supported.

The demand for invasive ventilators – complex medical devices which mechanically support the breathing of patients – has exploded amid the spread of Covid-19, which causes severe respiratory difficulties in some cases.

The UK government called on the engineering community to design new ventilators, adapt existing ventilators, and scale-up manufacturing to meet a target of 18,000 ventilators (more than doubling the pre-pandemic NHS supply). Since the start of the pandemic, the NHS has acquired an additional 2,400 invasive ventilators, including 250 from the 'Ventilator Challenge', bringing the NHS supply up to 10,900.

Despite the increased demand, it has been suggested that the NHS may not require these devices in the vast numbers initially predicted; the government has said that every patient who requires a ventilator has had access to one.

According to a government statement, an expert panel has decided to proceed with 11 of the 15 designs in the Ventilator Challenge judged most likely to meet the needs of the NHS. The selection process involved testing for effectiveness and safety, projection for demand, availability of other devices, and progress so far on each design’s development.

The designs which will not progress further are EVA (made by Team and Cogent), Helix (made by Diamedica and Plexus), OxVent (made by KCl, Oxford University and Smith+Nephew), and InVicto (made by JFD).

“The innovation, teamwork, and commitment shown by manufacturers involved in the Ventilator Challenge has been inspirational,” said Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister. “While the government will be ending support for four of the devices in the Ventilator Challenge today, I want to put on record my sincere thanks to everyone involved.”

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Since we launched the Ventilator Challenge, the ingenuity and innovation shown by so many companies has been truly awe-inspiring and has helped us to continue to get ventilators to the frontline and keep capacity ahead of demand.

“Technology and innovation, operating hand in hand with the care and dedication of our fantastic health and social care staff, will help us overcome this virus.”

Designs remaining in the Ventilator Challenge will be reassessed by the panel.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has not yet approved a ventilator designed from scratch. The 'BlueSky' ventilator designed by a group including some F1 teams was rejected due to its failure to meet specifications, which have been adapted as understanding of Covid-19’s effect on the body has developed. Dyson announced this week that the government has cancelled a provisional order of 10,000 ventilators designed by its engineers in a matter of days.

However, an adapted ventilator design, the Penlon Prima ESO2, has received regulatory approval and an order for 15,000 units. Smiths paraPAC ventilators – tried-and-tested mobile ventilators – are also being manufactured “at speed and at scale” as part of the Ventilator Challenge.

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