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Coronavirus emergency sees medical manufacturers and supply chain step up

It's not just the big medical names that are stepping up, with engineering and device companies of all shapes and sizes from a variety of sectors that are contributing to the effort to help the NHS and hospitals around the world

Smiths Group -

Manufacturers of medical devices and their component suppliers are working at full steam as demand surges for ventilators, diagnostics and other devices amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But it’s not just the big medical names that are stepping up, with large engineering companies and smaller players from a variety of other sectors also contributing to the effort to help rectify hospital shortfalls in the NHS and in other countries.  

The headlines have been made by the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, where production of a ventilator design from the medical arm of Smiths Group (LON:SMIN) is being boosted by the manufacturing might of names including Airbus, Rolls-Royce (LON:RR.), Melrose International’s (LON:MRO) GKN, Meggitt (LON:MGGT), Renishaw (LON:RSW), Ford, Siemens and Formula 1 team McLaren.

This consortium won an order for 5,000 of Smiths Medical’s ParaPac portable ventilator devices and 15,000 of the full-feature Prima ventilator design from private, Oxford-based Penlon.

Smiths Medical normally produces around a 100 a month as it looking to ramp this up to 1,000 a month.

So far, 250 extra ventilators have been delivered for the NHS as the consortium aims to scale production up 1,500 a week in order to reach the 20,000 total.

READ: Coronavirus - what’s happening in the labs of pharma companies worldwide

Among the companies that have not attracted the same attention in the media, AIM-listed Kromek PLC (LON:KMK), which normally supplies radiation detectors for a range of sectors, has recently switched its manufacturing efforts to ventilators to the meet the NHS’s pressing need.

Courtesy of the British embassy network, Kromek was put in touch with Japan’s Metran, which was looking for a manufacturing partner. After tying up the details, the UK company will start manufacturing ventilators using Metran’s established design, at its facilities in the northeast by the end of April with the expectation of producing 2,000 in 12 weeks.

Not dissimilarly, Inspiration Healthcare (LON:IHC), another company listed on London’s junior market, has been working to source ventilators for the NHS from abroad and providing market and sector expertise for the Ventilator Challenge consortium.

The group usually focuses on neo-and perinatal equipment but has switched during the coronavirus crisis, and is currently aiming to bring £4mln worth of ventilator machines and other crucial medical equipment to the UK after receiving an expanded order from the NHS last month.

On Wednesday, BATM Advanced Communications (LON:BVC) won a €29mln (£26mln) order to deliver 1,000 critical care mechanical ventilators to an unnamed European government.

BATM said the ventilators, which will enter production immediately with around 25% expected to be delivered in the first half of the current year, also said it has continued to ramp up deliveries of its coronavirus diagnostic kits for use in medical facilities, while development for a home-use test is on track to be completed within the next three months.

Ventilator components, coronavirus tests, and other devices

Filtration specialist Porvair (LON:PRV) is supplying filter components for several of the ventilator consortia, including the Formula 1 consortium in the UK, another in France, one in Sweden and three in the US.

Porvair said it was also supplying consumables for US testing laboratories, including the Mayo Clinic, with millions of pipette tips produced for Covid-19 testing kits and thousands of filters for other diagnostics uses. 

Porvair said these orders are “relatively small [but] illustrate the capabilities and commitment of our staff” and are anticipated to be followed by further programmes that emerge as the crisis continues.

Spectris (LON:SXS), the FTSE 250 precision measurement specialist, said several of its subsidiaries are providing parts and equipment for ventilator production.

AIM-listed Gooch & Housego (LON:GHH) recently said its ITL arm was operating at near to full capacity due to increased demand for medical diagnostic kits and a device that improves respiratory function and oxygen supply, as part of a ventilator system for patients in critical care, including those with Covid-19. 

Among diagnostics specialists, Novacyt (LON:NCYT) has been a prominent ‘winner’ from coronavirus, reporting large orders of its Covid-19 test and requests for quotations from dozens of countries since it launched the diagnostic at the start of February.

Genedrive (LON:GDR) said this week that it had agreed a collaboration deal with Cytiva to develop its SARS-CoV-2 assay for use in lab-based instruments which could see a test for coronavirus (COVID-19) available within five weeks.

In its own partnership with Cytiva, Avacta (LON:AVCT) also reported that it has generated multiple reagents that bind the SARS-COV-2 viral antigen as part of the project to develop an Affimer-based rapid test for the COVID-19 coronavirus infection, as well as holding talks with other diagnostic companies to develop similar COVID-19 antigen tests on a large scale.

Avacta and Cytiva's aim is to develop a laboratory test for the SARS-COV-2 virus antigen “within the next few weeks” and also for implementation in a point-of-care test strip, similar in appearance to a pregnancy test but using a sample such as saliva.

This week, Omega (LON:ODX) said it will make 46,000 Covid-19 antibody tests a day on behalf of private London biotech Mologic, with the development funded in part by the UK government. 

“Once ready, the antibody test will be capable of playing a key part towards identifying people that have built up immunity to coronavirus,” Omega said.

In its recent results, Immunodiagnostic Systems (LON:IDH) said in passing that it was offering its production facilities and sales network to “several new and existing partners who are in the process of developing Covid-19 test kits”.  

Similarly, Silence Therapeutics (LON:SLN) said it has repurposed equipment at its Berlin site to produce critical reagents for coronavirus diagnostic test kits.

Second-wave and long-term view

Still waiting for regulatory approval for its designs is Science Group's (LON:SAG) product development business, Sagentia, which was engaged by the government's ventilator design initiative, known as Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator System (RMVS), to work on the design for a high-level device.

With funding by the UK Government on a time and materials basis, 20 trial units are being manufactured for evaluation and submitted for regulatory approval through the medical regulator, though with no certainty that approval will be given nor that the Sagentia Ventilator will enter production.

As talks with the government over a contract to produce 10,000 units are conditional upon receiving approval, the company's efforts may only come in useful if there is a second or third wave of the epidemic.

Even if the disaster of further waves of the virus are avoided, looking to the medium and long-term, the global ventilators market is still expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 10% out to 2027, according to a report from Research and Markets published on Wednesday.

Market growth is being propelled by factors such as rising population, demographics, increasing occurrence of chronic lung diseases, and technological advancements in the healthcare sector.

Major international efforts

Other major efforts include a UK government contract awarded to defence and aerospace contractor Babcock International (LON:BAB) to manufacture 10,000 of an existing design of ventilator, the Zephyr Plus, along with German medical device specialist Drägerwerk.

However the wait for approval meant the devices will not be available in the near-term but could end up being useful in a potential later waves of infection.

Dublin-headquartered Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) is one of the world’s biggest ventilator makers, and announced solid progress this month in increasing production of its four ventilator models, aiming to increase from the 300-plus normally shipped per week to 400 by the end of April, 700 by the end of May and targeting more than 1,000 ventilators per week by the end of June.

Dutch giant Philips reported increased sales in the first quarter, with a double-digit increase in its Connected Care business, driven by strong demand for patient monitors and hospital ventilators.

Philips upped hospital ventilator production in the first quarter and plans a fourfold increase in production by the third quarter of 2020, which would result in delivery of 43,000 of its full-featured ventilators to the US in 2020, and targeting production of 15,000 units per week in April of a new simpler model of ventilator with fewer features but designed for large-scale production.

Profiting from the pandemic?

Many of the big players say they are not expecting to profit from the coronavirus effort - whether this reflects capital's newfound social consciousness or is just a mix of PR and political give-and-take. 

“We’re not in this for the money,” one UK executive told The Times. “We want to help the NHS and we’re ready to export machines to other countries where they will be needed.”

The chief executive of Roche said “you can forget this as a business opportunity,” as the Swiss drugmaker decided to give diagnostic tests to China free of charge.

Similarly, after early data from Gilead's antiviral medicine Remdesivir was described as showing “very encouraging” results in treating coronavirus, Credit Suisse played down the prospects of “meaningful sales upside” for Gilead, even if the trials are a success.

However, makers of medical devices, diagnostics and components, especially smaller players, will undoubtedly receive a material boost this year and it could translate into longer-term opportunities.  

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