Richard Branson’s Space Company Is Teaming Up with Medical Researchers to Make Ventilators

The rocket company partnered with medical researchers to develop a ventilator.

Richard Branson Courtesy of Trf Images/Shutterstock

Richard Branson is using the enormous resources he usually pumps into aviation and space exploration into developing something communities around the world urgently need: ventilators.

The British billionaire’s rocket company, Virgin Orbit, has partnered with medical researchers from both the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas Austin to develop the much-needed equipment. The mass-producible ventilator was specifically designed to help in the fight against Covid-19, which causes pneumonia and labored breathing in some victims that can only be treated by intubation.

According to the company’s website, “Pending clearance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Virgin Orbit aims to commence production at its Long Beach manufacturing facility in early April, sprinting to deliver units into the hands of first responders and healthcare professionals as soon as possible.”

Virgin Orbit’s design team is working with a group known as the Bridge Ventilator Consortium (BVC), a collaboration between experts at UCI and UT set up specifically to respond to the challenges of treating Covid-19. Though the worst cases of the virus require full-blown, ICU-capable ventilators, the machines are still needed to help treat many milder cases. Virgin Orbit’s model is conceived as a “bridge” iteration, one that would free up more ICU units for patients in dire need.

“We face a slow-motion Dunkirk, and getting ventilators out there is very important to save lives,” said Dr. Brian J.F. Wong, assistant chairman of otolaryngology at UCI, in a statement. “The demand outstrips supply, so it is important the government, industry, academia, non-profits and the community work together to identify solutions, and design and construct them as fast as possible.”

With the first units expected to be ready by early April, plans are already underway to rapidly scale production to meet medical need. And they can’t come fast enough as New York City alone is expected to require at least 15,000.

“I have never seen our team working harder,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart in a statement. “Never seen ideas moving quicker from design to prototype. We are hopeful that this device can help as we all prepare for the challenges ahead.”

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