Virgin Orbit gets FDA approval to distribute ‘bridge’ ventilators to hospitals

24 Apr 2020

The Virgin Orbit Ventilators. Image: Virgin Orbit

As demand for ventilators rises, Virgin Orbit has received FDA approval for a design that could cater to less severe Covid-19 cases.

Satellite launch firm Virgin Orbit is the latest tech company to rapidly pivot its production to develop vital equipment for hospitals in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, which is part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, announced that it had received regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to distribute its new ‘bridge’ ventilator on an emergency basis.

The Virgin Orbit Ventilator was produced with guidance by the Bridge Ventilator Consortium. The aim of the project is to quickly and safely develop ventilators that are simpler in design than standard hospital devices but could cater to moderate cases of respiratory failure in Covid-19 patients.

This would help free up existing, more sophisticated ventilators to be used on patients with the most severe symptoms.

Virgin Orbit said that it has already begun manufacturing the ventilator and is currently producing devices at a rate of more than 100 per week. It is currently in discussions with other manufacturers globally to increase capacity to meet demand.

‘Moment of extreme collaboration’

“Our team is so grateful to have the opportunity to channel our energies in a way that can hopefully make a difference in this crisis,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart.

“Additionally, we are experiencing a great sharing of ideas and capabilities internationally. As dark a time as this is, it’s also a moment of extreme motivation and collaboration unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”

It follows other efforts to create stop-gap solutions to meet the rising demand for ventilators globally, as the number of Covid-19 cases is now in the millions.

One such effort developed by a team in Galway allowed for one ventilator to be used by two patients. While described as “very much a last resort”, it’s hoped the system could help buy time for healthcare staff to source additional ventilators.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic