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Boston Scientific gets OK to make a low-cost ventilator

Alternative to pricier devices is a collaboration with University of Minnesota researchers

Boston Scientific is based in Marlborough.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Boston Scientific said Wednesday that it plans to make a rudimentary ventilator for COVID-19 patients hospitalized with severe breathing problems that will cost less than $1,000 and was designed partly by a team of University Minnesota researchers.

The Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for the product, called the Coventor, as an alternative to more sophisticated life-saving ventilators. Those can cost $30,000 to $50,000, according to a university spokeswoman, and have been scarce at some hospitals in the coronavirus epidemic.

Boston Scientific, the Marlborough-based medical device company, plans to manufacture about 3,000 of the mechanical ventilators initially but may make more, depending on demand, said Kate Haranis, a spokeswoman.

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“We’re targeting a price point below $1K,” she said in an e-mail.

The device is essentially a compact one-armed robot. It features a commercially available inflating plastic bag that is repeatedly squeezed with a cylinder to drive oxygen through a tube into a patient’s lungs.

Dr. Stephen Richardson, a cardiac anesthesiology fellow at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, helped design a prototype of the device from an assortment of available machinery components.

“Our hope is that the Coventor will be useful in those clinical settings where traditional ventilators are not available," he said.

The university got help from several companies with the device. It is licensing it free to Boston Scientific, a design partner, said Katrinna Dodge, a spokeswoman for the university. The price of the device covers production costs.

Ventilators act as a set of lungs for patients struggling to breathe on their own because of the damage caused by the respiratory illness. However, some doctors are increasingly concerned about how well they work and whether they may actually cause additional lung damage in some patients.

The pandemic has buffeted Boston Scientific and other medical device makers.

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On April 2, the company announced it was cutting wages for many of its employees by 20 percent for 90 days because the postponement of elective surgeries during the health crisis has reduced revenue. Many of those procedures use the company’s products, from coronary stents to endoscopic devices.

Boston Scientific also plans to make deeper cuts to the base salaries of its chief executive, Mike Mahoney, and those of its board of directors and executive committee. Boston Scientific predicted that the impact of COVID-19 will be worse in the second quarter.

Boston Scientific plans to put most of its full-time US workers who aren’t involved in sales or manufacturing on a four-day workweek for 90 days, with a corresponding reduction in base salary. Hours for part-time employees will be maintained at a level to preserve benefits.

Boston Scientific has about 36,000 employees worldwide, including 17,000 in the United States. Nearly 3,000 work in Massachusetts.



Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jonathan.saltzman@globe.com.