Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group at forefront of British taskforce to create new ventilators to fight coronavirus pandemic
Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group is at the forefront of a British taskforce developing an alternative model of ventilator to support the drive to equip the NHS in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
The body of British citizen scientists, medical clinicians, academics and manufacturers have created a new model, the exovent, that uses a cutting-edge reinvention of the archetypal iron lung, which was used to save the lives of countless polio victims during the last century.
Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group is exploring the technical aspects of rapid production of the Negative Pressure Ventilator (NPV).
It has only a small number of moving parts so the components are readily available now in the UK, and are not required by other manufacturers currently commissioned by the government to build conventional Intermittent Positive Pressure Ventilators (IPPV).
The hope would be to build more types of ventilator simultaneously, with the aim of 5,000 exovents a week being produced, to give clinicians the choice of the most appropriate device for each patient.
The exovent concept is being supported by WMG at the University of Warwick, and representatives from Imperial NHS Trust and the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital.
Two leading intensive care units have agreed to trial the prototype ventilator support devices.
Dr Malcolm Coulthard, the taskforce’s leading clinician, said: "The team has been working flat out for the last 10 days.
“We started out looking at negative pressure ventilator technology thinking that it would allow us to produce literally thousands of ventilators very quickly and cheaply to cope with the tsunami of people with pneumonia that may be upon us because of the Covid-19 virus.
“However, as soon as we looked into the science and the literature it immediately became apparent that this will allow us to produce less-invasive devices than the conventional units in current use, possibly better for patients’ hearts, at a fraction of the price, using off-the-shelf parts.
“exovent can provide an alternative choice to using Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) by delivering continuous Negative End Expiratory Pressure (NEEP).
“This method does not require to be driven by pressurised air or oxygen, and additional oxygen that the patient needs can be provided with tubing or a face mask as required.”
As exovent is non-invasive, it means that patients would not need to be sedated or paralysed as windpipes would not need to be intubated.
They could therefore remain conscious, take medication and nutrition by mouth and it could be used on a normal ward, keeping patients out of intensive care.
The device works by being fitted over a patient’s torso to take over their breathing through gentle and repeated pressure, increasing the heart’s efficiency by up to 25 per cent compared to conventional ventilators.
Sir John Burn, the professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University who is leading the development of the Covid-19 antigen test, supports exovent.
“The exovent team has cleverly adapted the old concept of the iron lung which was used for treating polio,” he said.
“This device is cheap, simple and it will work. I am convinced it provides a real alternative and is worthy of support.”
The family of the late Professor Stephen Hawking have also given their support to the concept.
“As the family of a ventilated man, we know the life and death difference that access to this kind of medical technology makes,” they said.
“The Covid-19 epidemic has caused worldwide demand for ventilators vastly to outstrip supply.
“We are so proud to support the technological and manufacturing innovation involved in producing low cost, effective ventilators swiftly and in large numbers and hope the combined efforts of everyone who has answered this call will mean the NHS receives the equipment it needs to save lives at this terrible time.”
Margot James, executive chair of WMG University of Warwick, added: “We are delighted to be working with exovent to help scale up their non-invasive ventilator from prototype to volume manufacturing.
“Our engineers and researchers are collaborating with the exovent team on the design, engineering, component sourcing and assembly of the ventilator.
“I am extremely proud of the unstinting and dedicated efforts of our research team, led by Archie MacPherson at WMG, and glad that we are able to apply our expertise to this important project.”