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UCL-Ventura: academics and clinicians join forces with industry to respond to COVID-19

Scientists and clinicians from across our partnership worked together with industry to create Continuous Positive Airway Pressure breathing devices to treat patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The challenge

As COVID-19 spread across Europe in the first few months of 2020, reports from Italy and China indicated that approximately 50% of patients given a breathing aid called CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) did not require invasive mechanical ventilation. 

CPAP systems work by pushing an air-oxygen mix into the patient’s mouth and nose at a continuous pressure, keeping airways open and increasing the amount of oxygen entering the blood stream.

However, such devices were in short supply in UK hospitals.

Scientists and clinicians from our Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) worked together with industry to fill the gap. The collaboration, supported by the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, demonstrated the way that universities, the NHS and industry are coming together to help the national response to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, by providing vital technologies to the NHS.

What we did

To respond to the shortage, mechanical engineers from at UCL and clinicians at UCLH working with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (Mercedes-AMG HPP) came together in March 2020 to reverse engineer an existing off-patent CPAP system.

They worked around the clock at UCL’s engineering hub MechSpace to create a device that could be produced rapidly by the thousands.

This breathing aid – called UCL-Ventura – was produced within a rapid timeframe: it took fewer than 100 hours from the initial meeting to production of the first device. 

The Ventura team partnered with just-in-time logistics firm G-TEM to develop a dedicated clean room facility and optimised logistics process for next-day delivery of devices across the UK.

One hundred devices were delivered to UCLH for clinical trials, with rapid roll-out to hospitals around the country ahead of the predicted surge in COVID-19 hospital admissions.

The team also refined and modified the device to create a Mark II version, which has shown up to 70% reduced oxygen consumption in healthy volunteer assessments. To help meet international need, the team released the designs and manufacturing instructions for free to governments, industry manufacturers, academics and health experts across the globe. 

It is, quite simply, a wonderful achievement to have gone from first meeting to regulator approval in just ten days. It shows what can be done when universities, industry and hospitals join forces for the national good.

Prof David Lomas, UCL Vice Provost Health and UCLPartners AHSC Director 

Outcomes

  • 10,000 units ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care. These were manufactured by Mercedes HPP at a maximal rate of 1,200 per day, and the order completed on 15 April 2020.
  • 60 NHS hospitals have received UCL-Ventura CPAPs across the UK, including London, Belfast, Glasgow, Hull, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester and Norwich. Clinical data from UCLH is consistent with those from Italy: of patients in ICU who need respiratory support beyond a face mask, 50% of patients treated with CPAP do not progress to needing invasive ventilation.
  • 1,800 requests from 105 countries for the designs and manufacturing guidelines. As a result, 22 teams have begun manufacture and hospital testing of devices in Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the US.