Open Innovation Search For Respiratory Protection

Published Nov-25-19

A self-sealing, reusable respirator that aims to work better than conventional flu and pollution masks.

Air99, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Search For Respiratory Protection A virulent strain of an airborne virus could spread to all major capitals within 60 days and kill more than 33 million people within 250 days, according to a 2016 report by the United Nations. It was authored by a high-level panel on the global response to health crises and went on to say that the world is ill-prepared to address this global threat.

"The high risk of major health crises is widely underestimated, and … the world's preparedness and capacity to respond is woefully insufficient. Future epidemics could far exceed the scale and devastation of the West Africa Ebola outbreak [2013-2016 which killed more than 11,000 people]," said the panel's chair, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, in the report's preface.

So poorly prepared are we currently that should there be an outbreak of a newly emerging disease demand for respiratory masks would outstrip supply.

Despite awareness of the potential risks to human health, respirators that are in use today have remained mostly unchanged for decades. Traditional respiratory protective devices are prohibitively expensive for global adoption, ill-fitting, don't provide adequate protection, and disposable versions are not available for children.

Search for New Ideas

To bring new ideas to the table and encourage information in this field, Johnson & Johnson launched an open innovation challenge through Johnson & Johnson Innovation, a life science incubator for innovators to deliver life-enhancing solutions. The Reimagining Respiratory Protection QuickFire Challenge invited participants to come up with novel solutions to better protect the public from infectious agents and the threat of pandemics.

"At Johnson & Johnson Innovation, we recognize the growing unmet need around infectious disease prevention and protection. Developing technologies to shield against respiratory pathogens can have an individual and global impact. A breakthrough solution not only has the potential to save one life but in doing so, can protect a whole community from an outbreak," said Sally Allain, Head of JLABS @ Washington, DC, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS.

Proposals had to be suitable for all populations, effective in preventing infection, comfortable, reusable a minimum of five times, low cost, and easy to produce. A panel of reviewers and judges evaluated submissions on their ability to meet several criteria such as potential impact, feasibility/practicality and novelty.

Novel Reusable Respirator

The winner was Colorado-based Air99 for a reusable respirator that fits, looks and works better than current conventional masks. It also has more surface area for less breathing resistance. Few details are available about the innovation, but according to Johnson & Johnson, it is combining "an ingenious structural technique with state of the art material."

To help them develop their potentially life-saving innovation, Air99 received a grant of $100,000 as well as access to mentors from Johnson & Johnson Innovation and BARDA (the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) and access to the JLABS ecosystem.

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