Virgin Orbit has developed a new bridge ventilator that can be mass produced to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The Virgin Orbit team has been consulting with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium (BVC), led by the University of California Irvine (UCI) and the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). The group came together to design, develop and build simple ventilators to aid in the current COVID-19 crisis.
Pending clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Virgin Orbit aims to start production at its Long Beach manufacturing facility in early April, sprinting to deliver units into the hands of first responders and healthcare professionals as soon as possible.
As the COVID-19 crisis worsens and the shortages of medical equipment has become more and more clear, the Virgin Orbit team has been motivated to try and help. On a normal day, the team is building rockets for space launch. While they are not medical doctors or manufacturers of medical devices, they do have a team of incredibly innovative and agile thinkers — experts in designing, fabricating, programming, testing — who are eager to lend a hand.
Virgin Orbit contacted Governor Gavin Newsom last week to see what they could do, and were directed by his office to the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (CEMSA) and put in contact with the BVC.
The BVC is a team of brilliant doctors, medical device experts, and researchers at UCI and UT Austin who are working around the clock, sharing ideas across a broad national and international network to share best practices and design insights and to accelerate progress on solutions to this equipment shortage.
Today, complex, high-end, ICU-capable ventilators are sometimes the only option available for moderate cases — for people who don’t necessarily need intensive care or have partially recovered. By supplying “bridge” ventilators, Virgin Orbit’s device can free up those critical resources for the most ill.
“We are all heartbroken each night as we turn on the news and see the predicament facing doctors and nurses as they heroically work to save lives,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “I have never seen our team working harder. Never seen ideas moving quicker from design to prototype. We are hopeful that this device can help as we all prepare for the challenges ahead.”
Virgin Orbit engineers have taken rapid scaling into account from the beginning of the design process, taking advantage of the most common and robust manufacturing and assembly processes. The company’s aim is to have a functioning, deployable bridge ventilator in production in early April. Virgin Orbit would continue on to rapidly scale up to mass production in its Long Beach facility, in addition to potentially activating other manufacturers as soon as the new device is reproducible and production-ready.
“We face a slow-motion Dunkirk, and getting ventilators out there is very important to save lives,” said Dr Brian JF Wong, assistant chairman of otolaryngology at UCI. “The demand outstrips supply, so it is important the government, industry, academia, non-profits, and the community work together to identify solutions, and design and construct them as fast as possible.”