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Air Force veteran's firm is $100,000 winner of Army contest to develop ventilators

A company run by a former Air Force medic, AirMid Critical Care Products, pitched an idea for manual ventilator, shown in this artistic rendering, and won a $100,000 prize announced April 24, 2020, as part of an Army contest to solicit pitches for ventilators in response to shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

COURTESY OF MICHAEL MAGUIRE

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 25, 2020

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A company run by an ex-Air Force medic is one of two winners of a $1 million Army contest to find low-cost, easily manufactured ventilators to help with shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a statement from the service said Friday.

Michael Maguire’s company, AirMid Critical Care Products, Inc., pitched an idea for a manual, bellow-based ventilator last week and won a $100,000 award for further research, Diane Pollard, a spokeswoman with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, told Stars and Stripes.

Spiro Devices, LLC, also received a $100,000 prize through the xTech COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge, an Army contest beginning in early April that sought pitches for ventilators a la the show “Shark Tank.”

Some 150 companies have pitched so far and sent in three-minute videos for review by panels of experts, Pollard said.

The contest started after reports of widespread ventilator shortages in COVID-19 response efforts, said Matthew Willis, the Army’s director for laboratory management.

“The Army recognizes there is a crisis, there was a demand for readily-manufactured, easy-to-produce ventilators,” Willis told Stars and Stripes in mid-April. “We wanted to put out this prize competition as a way to identify and potentially solicit new and novel ideas.”

The contest had two phases, with those getting to the pitch stage winning $5,000 and selected pitches receiving $100,000 and an invitation to develop a prototype.

The competition continues and others can receive prizes if their ideas have merit, Willis said.

The award will help accelerate development of a prototype, said Maguire, the CEO of AirMid Critical Care Products, Inc.

The D.C.-based company’s idea adds a control mechanism to manual ventilators, which are hand-pumped and often used by first responders.

A COVID-19 patient with infected lungs, after being picked up by a first responder, will often be placed on a manual air pump until they can get to a mechanical ventilator located at a hospital, Maguire said.

But due to shortages, mechanical ventilators may be far away or unavailable, meaning the patient may have to be on a manual ventilator for a long time. These ventilators, because they are hand-pumped, risk errors and over-inflation of the lungs, with deadly results, he said.

The solution, Maguire said, is a manual pump that is portable, but has controls on how much air is put into a patient’s lungs similar to a hospital’s mechanical ventilator.

“It projects a level of safety that is only available today in mechanical ventilators, to a manual device so you can ventilate safely from the very first breath,” Maguire said.

The finished product would sell for less than $3,000 and he hopes it can be used by both the military and civilians, Maguire said.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com
Twitter: @jplawrence3

A company run by a former Air Force medic, AirMid Critical Care Products, pitched an idea for manual ventilator, shown in this artistic rendering, and won a $100,000 prize announced April 24, 2020, as part of an Army contest to solicit pitches for ventilators in response to shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.
COURTESY OF MICHAEL MAGUIRE