Pulmonary expert readies on-demand medical oxygen device
It is a lifesaving device that one conglomerate alone has shipped out nearly 2 million units globally, with states like Connecticut having mandated the purchase of automated external defibrillators in settings like schools to provide first aid to people suffering heart failure.
In Stamford, Richard Imbruce is ready to provide the defibrillator some company in buildings and public settings — with an equally critical device of his own development.
Imbruce begins sales this month of the Rapid Oxygen R15 device, designed to provide a critical flow of oxygen for people suffering stroke or other crises in which every minute of oxygen counts in warding off brain damage. Imbruce envisions the system being installed alongside defibrillators to provide tandem tools to help those providing first aid.
Oxygen tanks are not an alternative due to the danger of exploding at high temperatures, making them unsuitable to be positioned permanently in buildings and public spaces. The Rapid Oxygen R15 produces a 15-minutes flow of oxygen via a chemical reaction that is activated by twisting a lever.
Rapid Oxygen investors include the state venture fund Connecticut Innovations and an entity of the University of Michigan, which is licensing the technology to Imbruce’s startup.
Simple recipe, complex system
Living in Westport today, Imbruce grew up in Brooklyn and undertook his doctorate in physiology at New York University while performing research at Bellevue Hospital, where he studied with a peer of Andre Cournand who shared the Nobel Prize in 1956 for his work to measure blood oxygen and pressure.
Imbruce produced thesis studies measuring oxygen in cardiopulmonary circulation and how the lung reacts to ventilation. After completing his Ph.D., he moved to Connecticut in 1971 to join Norwalk Hospital, and eventually took a business development role with VersaMed Medical Systems, an Israeli company that had developed a portable ventilator for ambulances, and which would be acquired in 2008 by General Electric.
In 2006, Imbruce began working with a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher name Dr. Kevin Ward who is now affiliated with the University of Michigan. Ward had a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop an injectable solution to boost blood oxygen for soldiers in shock as a result of hemorrhage. That solution was based on peroxide which a body enzyme can break down to produce oxygen, and Imbruce began working on an external equivalent to produce gaseous oxygen for ventilation.
“The chemistry has been around since … 1789,” Imbruce said. “What hasn’t been around is the technology to control the reaction, which boils water. … It’s a very volatile reaction.”
The Rapid Oxygen R15 controls that reaction by containing it inside “a tub within a tub” in Imbruce’s words. While there are other examples of using a chemical reaction to produce oxygen — notably to include emergency oxygen aboard airplanes — existing systems burn hotter than the reaction in the Rapid Oxygen R15.
“What we have here is a very simple recipe to produce oxygen, but in an expensive delivery system,” he said. “There’s a thermal barrier.”
The Rapid Oxygen R15 produces oxygen at a rate of 6 liters a minute for 15 minutes, which is within the Food & Drug Administration’s guidelines under which an oxygen delivery device does not require a doctor’s prescription. Imbruce said because pure water is produced as the byproduct of the reaction, the device has an additional benefit of delivering humidified oxygen to the individual under distress, rather than the dry air produced by an oxygen tank.
‘Everything is made in Connecticut’
Rapid Oxygen launches R15 sales this month — the Stamford Yacht Club has an order on the books — with the devices to be produced as orders roll in, at a contract manufacturer in Deep River whose facility’s history includes the manufacturing of ivory piano keys and gliders used for surveillance in World War II.
Imbruce is targeting airport operators for the company’s initial marketing due to their swift adoption of defibrillators. In time, he sees public and private property owners alike installing emergency kiosks crammed with fire extinguishers, wound kits, defibrillators, Rapid Oxygen R15s, EpiPens to treat allergic reactions, and other needs.
Between 1996 and 2006, Royal Philips sold more than 1.5 million HeartStart defibrillators, with other manufacturers including Cardiac Science, HeartSine, Physio Control and Zoll Medical and prices running between $1,200 and $2,500.
Rapid Oxygen is charging a retail price of $495 for the R15 or a two-year subscription priced at $29 a month, with the device having a shelf life of two years and information online at www.rapidoxygen.com. Each unit is given a unique identifier at the point of sale, with Rapid Oxygen planning to ship new units to customers with instructions how to return the expired unit, with about a third of the device able to be recycled for new units.
“Everything is made in Connecticut except the powder — we get the powder from Wyoming,” Imbruce said.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman