Fitbit plans to make emergency ventilators for Covid-19

James Park, President and CEO of Fitbit Inc.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Fitbit, which makes wearable devices, including fitness trackers, is modifying its supply chain to make emergency ventilators, CEO James Park told CNBC.

The company will submit its technology to the United States Food and Drug Administration in the coming days, said Park. A team began working on ventilators after consulting with emergency physicians, including at Massachusetts General and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

“There was a lot of concern about the fan shortage and we realized that we already had expertise around the supply chain,” said Park.

In the United States, hospitals in some states experienced a severe shortage of ventilators in March, as hospitals rushed to treat the first waves of Covid-19 patients with serious breathing problems. However, the country is facing a surplus fans right now as industries have responded to calls from President Trump and other leaders to build more, according to the Associated Press. In addition, some recent medical studies have shown that ventilators are not very effective in preventing deaths in patients with coronavirus, which pushes some doctors to favor less invasive measures.

However, if cases increase again after the country reopens, the demand for ventilators could increase again. Fitbit’s Park said the company would build vents to meet demand, both in the United States and in countries around the world.

“I think one of the benefits for us is that we have the infrastructure and the manufacturing capacity,” said Park. “We already make 10 million (portable) devices a year, and we plan to leverage it to get the product delivered to all the volumes we need.”

Fitbit sold more than 100 million fitness trackers and other wearable accessories before the company announced it would sell to Google for $ 2.1 billion last November. This agreement is still under study.

Fitbit will soon submit plans to the FDA as part of the agency’s emergency use authorization, which would allow the device to be used specifically for Covid-19 patients. A spokesperson said the company would work with an existing supplier in Taiwan to increase the fans once the FDA approves its request.

Fitbit emergency ventilator prototype

Source: Fitbit

Park said the company has yet to look into the cost of the device. He wants the devices to be the “most advanced” emergency ventilator that is still available at a “lower” price. Premium fans cost between $ 20,000 and $ 50,000, but some alternatives developed specifically for Covid-19 have only basic functions and generally cost much less.

David Sheridan, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at OHSU, said he and several of his colleagues helped provide feedback to Fitbit on the basic components ventilators would need. Some of the emergency ventilators, he notes, are “really scarce resources,” but Fitbit wanted to offer something more sophisticated while keeping the price low.

Sheridan said it expects the end product to be “somewhere in the middle” between an emergency ventilator and a premium ventilator.

For Fitbit, the fans are intended to be temporary and short-term. This is not a sign of longer-term interest in the manufacture of sophisticated medical devices.

“We do not expect this to be an ongoing activity of our company,” he said.

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