By Conor McCue

WINDSOR, Colo. (CBS4) – A low cost, rapid response ventilator is in the final stages of Food and Drug Administration approval for emergency use. It’s all following a team effort from Colorado State University and Woodward Inc., a Fort Collins-based aerospace company.

Development started in early March at the request of Gov. Jared Polis’ Innovation Response Team. At the time, the group, consisting of people from the public and private sectors, was tasked with finding solutions to problems like PPE and ventilator shortages, as well as developing a system for mass testing and rapid results.

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Bryan Willson, executive director of CSU’s Energy Institute, is a member of the governor’s team, and saw potential in a company he’s worked with for several decades. He made a call to Tom Gendron, president and CEO of Woodward, a company known for its expertise in the aerospace and industrial sectors.

“At its simplest, a ventilator shapes the flow of air into and out of a patient,” Willson said. “Actually, a lot of what Woodward does is make equipment to shape the flow of air and fuel into engines, jet engines, gas turbines.”

“Everyone had the same attitude that we’re doing something for humanity, and that really added to the teamwork working together,” said Doug Salter, Vice President of Corporate Technology at Woodward.

According to Salter, the team had a prototype about three days later and then continued to improve it.

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The final product is far from the industry norm in appearance. It’s small, enclosed in a durable hard shell case, and uses natural gas fuel injectors to control oxygen flow. Willson estimated it would cost between a fifth and tenth the cost of a normal ventilator.

“And it also has tremendous ability to ramp up very quickly because it relies on high volume supply chains that Woodward already has,” Willson said.

Over the past two months, Colorado’s critical need for ventilators has appeared to drop off.

According to data released by the state on Saturday, there are 1,074 ventilators at Colorado hospitals, and just 386 are currently in use.

“There’s no longer a need for ventilators in Colorado, and that’s a good thing,” said Willson. “What we now have is this really awesome machine that we can apply to other applications.”

Woodward has submitted an application to the FDA for emergency use authority. So far the ventilator has passed the preliminary screening process, but is still a week or two away from hearing about final approval, Salter said.

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In the meantime, the team was recently awarded a $100,000 prize from the U.S. Army after being selected a winner in the XTech COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge. The contest revolved around developing “a low-cost, readily manufacturable emergency ventilator to quickly augment ventilator capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Salter, the Army has inquired about the possibility of producing 10,000 ventilators within an 8-week span.

“Because this is so durable, it could be taken really anywhere around the world,” Willson said.

The team is also in talks with the Rockefeller Foundation about the ventilator’s potential use in developing countries.

“This is a primary example of an innovation process pulling a team together, making use of their capabilities to solve an important problem,” Willson said.

Moving forward, the ventilator will continue to undergo rigorous testing by partners at the Anschutz Medical Center.

Conor McCue

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