As the global battle against Covid-19 intensifies, Irish medtech and life sciences firms are ramping up production to meet soaring demand for nebulisers, ventilators and other badly-needed treatment and protection equipment.

Half of the existing ventilators in acute hospitals around the world were made in Ireland, which is ranked as one of the top five global medtech hubs.

Doubling production of critical devices

Medtronic, the world’s largest standalone medical device maker, produces ventilators in a large manufacturing plant in Galway, in the west of Ireland. It is doubling its capacity by more than doubling its workforce of 250 and moving to round-the-clock production.

Another firm increasing production to meet high global demand related to coronavirus treatment is Enterprise Ireland-backed client Aerogen. It’s the world’s leading supplier of aerosol drug delivery products through ventilators to patients in critical and intensive care.

Before the current crisis, Aerogen already provided hospitals in more than 75 countries with its products, benefitting 10 million patients.

Aerogen CEO John Power expects the company could ship 3m or 4m units in 2020, up from 2m in 2019. It is also investigating how to address the global ventilator shortage by adapting non-invasive ventilation systems.

Power and his team are striving to ensure they can meet the sudden and unprecedented growth in demand. “We are a global company and we are balancing demand from across the world,” he says.

Demand up by as much as 300%

Galway-based M&M Qualtech manufactures products for the medtech, aviation, ICT and other sectors. It produces ventilators, nebulisers and medical monitoring equipment for its medtech customers, including Aerogen and Medtronic. It says it’s seeing capacity demand three to five times higher than the usual pre-crisis level.

M&M Qualtech began to see this spike in manufacturing demand in early March and already expects to produce 4m nebulisers this year, up from 2m last year. It also anticipates a similar rate of increase in production of nebuliser controllers (likely to produce 45,000, up from 35,000) and ventilator AC modules (expecting to make 18,000, up from 5,000 in 2019).

It’s increasing capacity by focusing factory production on the most critically needed medical products, hiring up to 25% more Production Operators, engaging with suppliers daily to expedite materials into production, and redesigning its factory to meet social distancing requirements.  

Ripple effect of Covid-19 crisis 

Also based in the west of Ireland, Vitalograph is the world leader in the analysis of cough drug trials. It specialises in cardiorespiratory and related devices that measure lung and cardiac function, diagnose lung disorders and also produces associated products and software.

Vitalograph is working to meet increased demand for spirometers and consumables such as bacterial-viral filters and test kits and seeing a significant increase in orders of remote monitors. Over the past 15 years, Vitalograph remote monitoring has mainly been used in clinical trials but is now rapidly being adopted by mainstream healthcare.

“Remote monitoring enables the most vulnerable patients with conditions such as COPD, cystic fibrosis and IPF to remain in their homes and not travel to hospitals or clinics and risk picking up infections,” said Frank Keane, the company’s CEO.

“As the patients we serve will be the most vulnerable to a respiratory disease of this nature, we are doubling our efforts to ensure we can fulfil our mission and serve them at this time.”

Vitalograph has also recruited more staff, and increased both capacity and orders from sub-suppliers, and activated their comprehensive business continuity plan.

Deirdre Glenn, Head of Lifesciences with Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s trade and innovation said; “In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Irish medtech companies are rising to the challenge of meeting the increased global demand for essential equipment needed for the treatment and prevention of Covid-19. As the second largest exporter of medtech products in Europe, and with the highest number of people per capital employed in medtech in Europe, Ireland is primed to play its role in the global fight against Covid-19”