A Saanich-based design company has joined the nation-wide effort to produce 30,000 ventilators to help Canada save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that some 5,000 companies had come forward to assist in Canada’s fight against the virus. He added that four ventilator initiatives will be undertaken by Canadian organizations – including one led by StarFish Medical – to produce up to 30,000 devices.
StarFish is Canada’s leading producer of “high-technology medical equipment” and is headquartered in Saanich, said CEO Scott Philips. In March, the team was approached by the Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster – an Ontario-based, federally funded group that connects Canadian manufacturers with innovative technology – to rapidly produce life-saving ventilators in the face of the predicted shortage.
@JustinTrudeau just indicated govt of #Canada is working with @StarFishMedical here in #Saanich to help Canadians during the pandemic!
Way to go (and thank you!) Star Fish Medical. Pic on left is in @Saanich.https://t.co/x9w0e92sfc pic.twitter.com/eHAMZDVjFb
— Colin Plant (@ColinPlant2018) April 7, 2020
As there aren’t currently any mainstream ICU ventilator-producers in Canada, the StarFish team was then connected with a Winnipeg company led by renowned respiratory specialist Dr. Magdy Younes who developed a device called the Winnipeg Ventilator many years ago, explained Philips. The technology has already been used globally, he added, noting that the ventilators were even used in China during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
“He’s really the visionary here,” Philips emphasized, noting that Younes will be involved in the clinical aspects of the initiative.
“We are taking that technology from old prototypes and upgrading it to be produced in high volumes,” Philips said.
The complexity of the ventilators has been reduced to they can be produced quickly and can meet the immediate needs of those with COVID-19. In late March, it was estimated that Canada had around 5,000 ventilators already across the country. StarFish is using the “purpose-driven design for rapid manufacturing,” Philips said, noting that he expects the ventilators could be in clinics by May or June.
He noted the team – including 25 Saanich-based engineers – is working to complete two years of work in about a month. Conducting world-class engineering is what StarFish employees do for a living, Philips added, and producing these ventilators is now the top priority.
As StarFish doesn’t have the capacity to manufacture what Philips assumes will be a 7,500-ventilator quota – a quarter of the 30,000 goal – much of the production will be done by manufacturers in Manitoba and Ontario.
“Making things that sustain life is high-risk,” Philps said, pointing out that it’s a “great honour and responsibility” to be involved.
He’s grateful for the federal government’s leadership and said the StarFish team’s spirits are high.
“It’s like we’re the generals about to ride into battle,” Philips said.
–With files from Katya Slepian