- Medtronic is aiming to more than double its ventilator manufacturing workforce and production capacity to help meet urgent demand from hospitals worldwide fighting the novel coronavirus.
- “No single company will be able to fill the current demands of global healthcare systems," Bob White, president of the Minimally Invasive Therapies Group at Medtronic, said in an update late Wednesday, amid commitments from GE Healthcare, Getinge, and Philips to also boost ventilator production, and interest from nontraditional players like automakers GM and Ford in pivoting to medical equipment manufacturing during the crisis.
- Those developments come as President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on Wednesday, signing an executive order that could enable ramped up industrial production and distribution of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other essential supplies to healthcare workers.
As cases of COVID-19 multiply around the world, the sickest patients require potentially lifesaving breathing support from a ventilator. Demand for the devices has "far outstripped supply," the world's largest pure medical device maker said in a statement Wednesday.
But ventilator manufacturing is "a complex process," Medtronic noted. The company said its Galway, Ireland, manufacturing facility, where it makes high-performance ventilators for critically ill patients in high-acuity settings, currently has about 250 employees — a number it says it plans to more than double, including transferring staff from other sites. The company said it's adding new shifts and shift patterns to operate the plant round-the-clock. Medtronic did not specify when the ramp up began.
When it comes to distributing the new ventilators, Medtronic said it's prioritizing areas with highest risk or need on a weekly basis and "will continue to monitor the situation." In Medtronic's Minimally Invasive Therapies Group, its respiratory, GI and renal business brought in $702 million in the most recent quarter.
CEO Omar Ishrak also said in a tweet Wednesday Medtronic's care management services business is "introducing software for screening and remote patient monitoring" of individuals with COVID-19 symptoms.
Wednesday's statement is the first formal update from Medtronic since it announced Feb. 10 it would give about $1.2 million to global coronavirus response efforts, which included donations of ventilators, respiratory filters, and pulse oximeters and sensors to a hospital in Wuhan, China.
During a Feb. 18 earnings call, Medtronic execs told investors there could be a negative impact to the quarter's results due to disrupted elective procedures in China. Medtronic's next earnings call is scheduled for May 21.
GE Healthcare issued its own update Thursday morning, saying it's increased manufacturing and output of ventilators, in addition to ultrasound devices, mobile X-ray systems, CTs and patient monitors. "We continue to explore all options to support this increased need," said CEO Kieran Murphy.
The company has already added manufacturing lines and shifts, hired and moved employees to ventilator production sites, attempted to mitigate shortages, provided personal protective equipment to field service engineers, and tried to increase remote diagnostic and repair abilities.
Philips CEO Frans van Houten issued a similar statement Wednesday, saying the company's Chinese manufacturing is returning to strength as it aims to increase production of certain diagnostic imaging systems, patient monitors and ventilators. "We are working closely with our suppliers to secure materials supply to feed both our own manufacturing sites and our finished goods suppliers."
Similarly, Swedish medtech company Getinge said Tuesday it will temporarily increase ventilator production by 60% this year compared to 2019.
The major medical device makers' pledge to increase supply comes as numerous manufacturers outside of medtech — including, potentially, Tesla — are also assessing how they could contribute to emergency ventilator production, particularly in light of Trump's invocation of the Defense Production Act.