Finding the True Need: How Respair Inc. is Combating Ventilator Associated Infections
By: Nicole Bohatch, CMI Fellow
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ross Beresford (Chief Executive Officer) and Lauren Grice (head of engineering) to learn more about Respair’s story and how funding from the Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) has impacted their work as a medical device start-up company.
Respair’s story, like most other start-up companies, began in a different direction. Dr. Carl Snyderman, head and neck surgeon at UPMC (now Respair’s Chief Technology Officer), was focused on the issue surrounding the movement of endotracheal tubes (ETTs). Dr. Snyderman was later connected with Dr. Garrett Coyan, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon (now Respair’s Chief Medical Officer), who also had an interest in the detection and prevention of ETT migration. Even though this movement is a great issue for ventilated patients, Carl and Garrett soon realized the greater issue at hand is secondary infections that are acquired while a patient is ventilated.
Over the past 40 years, endotracheal tubes (ETTs) have used an inflatable balloon to prevent leaks from occurring within the airway. These leaks occur due to aspiration of infectious materials and ultimately lead to ventilator-associated events (VAEs). VAEs result in secondary infections in ventilated individuals since the seal is disrupted, which allows harmful bacteria to enter the airway. To combat VAEs such as ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), Respair has developed a new sealing method to stop harmful aspirated bacteria from entering the lungs. The solution is called RelianceET. An ETT that utilizes baffles, ultra-soft concentric discs, that act as a stopper to create a comprehensive seal to prevent leaks from happening.
NextGenET, now Respair, was granted $21,000 from the University of Pittsburgh Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) in 2021. The funds granted were used to help support the prototyping process. With the amount awarded, the Respair team was able to work in collaboration with the Idea Lab at the University of Pittsburgh to create their prototyping mechanism. This collaboration allowed for the Respair team to develop a more realistic prototype since they did not have their own lab space to develop a high-quality prototype and perform testing. Over 100 iterations of prototypes were developed and tested using CMI grant funds.
Developing the prototypes from these funds provided the necessary support that Respair needed to “spin out” of the University of Pittsburgh. Initially, the team received support from LifeX Accelerator, and most recently, they have received support from AlphaLab (part of Innovation Works) to further their development.
Ross described working with CMI for funding as a straightforward and rewarding process. Since he graduated from the MS-MPE program at the University of Pittsburgh, Ross said it was extremely beneficial to have established relationships with those within the CMI. He went on to say that these individuals were excellent resources to him and his team. He described CMI as a great place to make the transition from academia to commercialization.
Currently, the Respair team is working on a final prototype that will enable a product design freeze. Once finalized, they will work with a contract manufacturer to commercialize their product. Another step they are taking to grow the company is working on their quality management system. The Respair team is also finalizing a pre-submission to the FDA which, after it has been reviewed, will allow the team to be one step closer to FDA clearance of the device.
When asked about giving advice to young entrepreneurs at the university, both Ross and Lauren stated that internal university sources are more accessible than people realize. The easiest way to get started is to start small at the university level. Once there is success within this bubble, look to expand to local opportunities and beyond. Lauren advised young entrepreneurs to do one thing: “take the jump”.
Stay up to date with Respair at their website: https://www.respairmed.com/