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F1 team, university boost U.K. drive to make breathing aids

Mar 31. 2020
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By Syndication The Washington Post, Bloomberg · Jack Wittels, Alex Morales

The United Kingdom's effort to get more breathing aids into hospitals to help them cope with the coronavirus pandemic advanced on two fronts on Monday as the government's call for manufacturers to make as many as 30,000 ventilators started yielding results.

Engineers from a Mercedes Formula 1 team and University College London said in a statement they'd helped to develop a new breathing aid for patients that could free up ventilators for only the most critical cases. Separately, Smiths Group Plc said a consortium it's working with has received more than 10,000 "formal orders" from the government for a ventilator design that it expects to get regulatory sign-off.

The companies are among more than 3,000 to respond to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's call for help from corporate Britain to solve a looming shortage of breathing apparatuses to deal with an expected influx of coronavirus patients.

The announcements are a boost for the premier after his administration faced criticism for failing to buy ventilators on the international market when it could have, and manufacturers had expressed skepticism about how quickly they could make the devices.

The breathing aid devised by Mercedes-AMG HPP, University College London Hospitals and University College London has already been approved for use by the NHS, UCL said in a statement, adding that it expects "rapid rollout" before an anticipated surge in coronavirus cases. The devices will cut the need for invasive mechanical ventilation among patients, UCL said.

"These devices will help to save lives by ensuring that ventilators, a limited resource, are used only for the most severely ill," said Mervyn Singer, a critical care consultant at UCLH.

The U.K. team took an off-patent device and improved it to create a model suitable for mass production, according to Tim Baker of UCL. "We were able to reduce a process that could take years down to a matter of days," he said.

Known as Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, such devices have been used extensively in hospitals in China and Italy to help coronavirus patients with serious lung infections to breathe more easily when oxygen alone is insufficient.

Britain, like many other countries, is struggling with a shortage of life-saving ventilators as the deadly virus spreads. U.K. manufacturers have warned they might need months to respond to the government's call to ramp up production.

The NHS has less than a third of the ventilators it needs. The makers of the new device said 100 instruments will be delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with plans for a rapid roll-out to hospitals.

Smiths Group Plc said members of its consortium are working to fulfill an order for 10,000 portable ventilators from the U.K. government. The maker of medical devices is working as part of a consortium that includes Airbus SE, BAE Systems Plc, Ford Motor Co., Unilever and Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc to help supply the NHS.

"The consortium is now working at full speed to take the necessary steps in order to increase production of this design. Production will begin this week," according to the statement. "The regulator has been involved throughout and we anticipate a straightforward and very prompt regulatory sign off."

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