With the high need for ventilators in the face of COVID-19, Ventec Life Systems, of Bothell, Wash., is stepping up with its multifunction ventilator, known as VOCSN, for ventilation, oxygen, cough, suction and nebulization.
The company recently closed $20 million in series E funding, bringing its total raised to $60 million. It expects to use the financing to expand the commercialization of the multifunction ventilator, boost its sales footprint, and develop additional product enhancements.
“Most ventilator patients are more than just their ventilator. They’re often using at least one, if not two or three of those additional devices to manage and support their respiratory system,” Chris Brooks, chief strategy officer of Ventec, told BioWorld. He noted that VOCSN is the first and only multifunction ventilator.
“The phone is ringing off the hook,” Brooks said when asked whether health systems were contacting the company as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. He added that the company has been contacted by its existing customer base, including hospitals and long-term facilities, as well as home health agencies that provide ventilators. There also have been conversations with government agencies tasked with addressing COVID-19.
Indeed, Brooks’ comments to BioWorld come as governments are working to deploy more ventilators. For example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said March 17 that his department is willing to distribute up to 2,000 operational, deployable ventilators to HHS, something he reiterated the following day during a White House press briefing on COVID-19.
The Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security noted Feb. 14 that U.S. acute care hospitals have about 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators, citing the most recent publicly available data from 2010.
The U.K. also is looking to boost its ventilator supply. To that end, it has issued a call for businesses to help make National Health Service ventilators in response to COVID-19. Interested parties are being asked to register their details online.
Friends and family
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Ventec experienced success in attracting funding – but through friends and family rather than via venture capital or private equity. “This team at Ventec has been part of bringing nearly 18 different ventilators to the market over the past few decades,” Brooks said. As a result, the investors have been involved with the engineers behind these devices over the years. “It’s been a very committed group that’s allowed us to continue to innovate in a space that really hasn’t seen a lot of innovation. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in respiratory care in at least a decade,” he added.
The company has regulatory nods in the U.S. and Japan and is considering other markets. Japan was chosen as one of the initial targets because of its reliance on cough therapy; for that reason, this device represents a far more convenient option. Cough therapy is used on those who cannot cough on their own and involves disconnecting the ventilator. The whole process can take 10 to 15 minutes and involve a lot of anxiety.
“In Japan … they invest in the additional time and caregiving required to do cough therapy,” Brooks explained. “[T]hey’re really excited about the integration of VOCSN specifically for the easy transition between ventilation and cough.”
And that’s not the only advantage the offering provides. According to the company, VOCSN is more than 70% lighter and smaller than existing machines. It also features a nine-hour on-board battery and is controlled through an intuitive touchscreen interface and user-friendly operating system. The company also highlighted that caregivers won’t have to spend as much time managing machines, allowing them to care for patients.
When asked about the next 12 to 18 months, Brooks said the company is focused on helping with the COVID-19 response. “VOCSN, because all of those therapies are at a touch of a button, you’re not managing multiple devices and multiple different patient circuits, it actually enables you to take care of more patients in less space and with less staff and resources. So, our focus right now is primarily on doing everything we can to support those who are responding to COVID.”
Another player in the ventilator space is Medtronic plc, of Dublin. During the March 11 Barclays Global Healthcare Virtual Conference, analyst Kristen Stewart asked Karen Parkhill, Medtronic's executive vice president and CFO, about the company’s latest thinking on COVID-19.
“Our manufacturing is up and running,” said Parkhill. “We are working with our suppliers to minimize disruption. We are also working to supply some of the things that are in greater need right now, like our ventilators, our pulse oximetries, our intubation equipment or products, ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] machines, so we're focused on that, too.
Resmed Inc. also is a player. During its Jan. 30 second-quarter earnings call that came earlier in the crisis, Andrew Goodsall, an analyst with MST Marquee, asked about the effects of COVID-19. Rob Douglas, company president and COO, said the company was watching China closely. “We would expect to see increased demand for ventilators, whether it's of the same relative scale to SARS or not, we don't know yet,” Douglas said. He added that the company was working on its local supply chain in that country. “Remember, we've got a really good team in China that is building good ventilators in China for China.”
Also serving as a big manufacturer of ventilators is Allied Healthcare Products Inc., of St. Louis, which sells its products under several brand names.