Publicly tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop ventilator technology for Canada in April of 2020, StarFish Medical, with founder and CEO Scott Phillips at its helm, turned what is usually a two-to-three years-long process into a three-month sprint towards a technologically perfect ventilator — a timeline Phillips refers to as “outrageous.”
Originally queried to assess their level of interest in ventilator tech by Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGEN), an Ontario-based non-profit that matches manufacturers with tech developers, StarFish Medical went on to collaborate on the Winnipeg Ventilator with Cerebra Health, who are based in Manitoba. Using the Winnipeg Ventilator’s original plans, the collaborators redesigned every component, ending up with a bar-fridge-sized ventilator that will be used to meet the government’s goal of a 7,500 cache for future contingencies.
While waiting for the project’s final approval by Health Canada’s regulatory body, Phillips is focusing on what the added media exposure has brought to the table.
“We’ve seen a substantial uptick of engagement on our websites, and across our core expertise, so really the benefit is not so much directly in ventilators, although there probably will be some,” says Phillips, adding that June was a record month for signing new clients. “There’s a big carry-over into our core business of medical device innovation.”
Due to the complexities around medical device design and development, StarFish Medical staff has historically always flown to meet potential clients around the world. Now Phillips says they have brokered a number of new contracts via Zoom, and are landing clients in cities like Boston and San Francisco, where their main competitors are based.
“This is the first time in our history that we’ve signed brand-new client contracts with companies we’ve never met face to face before, so I think COVID is changing the buying environment as well,” says Phillips. “For Victoria companies, that bodes quite well because we’re all far away from our markets.”
Update on the Ventilators (October 2020)
The approval allows Canadian Emergency Ventilators Inc. (CEV), as the manufacturer of record, to ship ventilator units to the Public Health Authority of Canada (PHAC), starting immediately. PHAC is working with the company to review the devices that come into the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) so they are ready to be shipped across the country if and when they are needed.
“Our goal with the Winnipeg Ventilator 2.0 is to deliver a fully featured ICU ventilator that could save patients’ lives, be manufactured in Canada in the shortest time possible, and not disrupt the supply chain for existing ventilators”, said StarFish Medical CEO and Founder, Scott Phillips. “To do that, we started with proven technology (original Winnipeg Ventilator designed by Dr. Magdy Younes), updated the design to incorporate technical advances and use non-medical supplier components, all while drawing upon a network of companies we have worked with for over 20 years. The pioneering work of Dr. Younes, and the support of Cerebra Health with clinical input and upcoming clinical trials is invaluable.”
John Walmsley, StarFish Medical EVP Strategic Relationships, shares the importance of teamwork in the project’s rapid progress, “Our supply chain moved quickly and diligently to discover what supplies and services were available, while our engineers worked with available components to create and build the design.
We used 106 StarFish employees on the project and over 100 people at key vendors including Dometic, Advanced Test Automation, Yorkville, Dorigo Systems, Powersonic Industries and EM Dynamics. Having designed the product, we were very happy to have Celestica on board to coordinate with our supply chain and begin to bring on board their vendor network for manufacture.”
Earl Gardiner, Executive Chairman & Founder of Cerebra Health points to team collaboration as a key success factor. “From the very beginning, Cerebra Health has been committed to supporting the StarFish vision of designing and engineering a high quality ICU ventilator, one that any respiratory specialist would readily use on a patient both during and after the pandemic has passed. They have done a masterful job, while working under extreme time and supply challenges. We are honoured to contribute to Canada’s response to Covid.”
StarFish presented the Ventilator design to expert review panels convened by NGen and ISED to very positive and encouraging feedback. Dr Younes tested the updated version of his ventilator calling it a ‘masterpiece indeed.”