Airway Solutions Startup

Dr. Carl Snyderman, MD, MBA, co-founded a startup called Respair, Inc., in March 2022 with a focus on airway solutions. But the first product came about inadvertently.

Dr. Snyderman, a professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Vice Chair, Quality and Patient Safety, regularly pitches device ideas to bioengineering classes at the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and works with bioengineering students on class projects. He was trying to find a solution for migration of endotracheal tubes (ET) and was connected with Dr. Garret Coyan, a cardiovascular resident at the time with prior medical device startup experience. They decided that he was pursuing the wrong problem.

Instead, ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) was the big issue. One of three patients on a ventilator for more than 48 hours develops VAP and up to 50 percent may die from it. This was compounded by the COVID pandemic. According to Dr. Snyderman, VAP is a consequence of inadequate protection by standard balloon cuffs on ET.

The idea was to address the root problem by replacing the error-prone inflatable cuff with soft, pliable baffles that act like a stopper, comprehensively sealing the airway without adding pressure. Working with the Innovation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, patent applications were submitted. Testing of prototypes has shown them to be five times more effective in preventing aspiration that leads to pneumonia.

“We have been very successful using Pitt resources to fund our research activities and get our company off the ground,” Dr. Snyderman said. The startup has received funding from the Center for Medical Innovation, Innovation Works First Gear Program, PInCH Award (first place), Wells competition, and Alpha Lab Health. The company has licensed the patents from Pitt and is now working toward FDA submission.

“Our goal is to replace all ET in ICU populations to start, since that is the major site for VAP,” Dr. Snyderman said. “Our tube is suitable for all patients who require intubation, however, including inpatient and outpatient surgery, emergency situations including the military, and the pediatric population. Our tube will also be the first safe reusable ET for developing nations with limited resources.”

Other airway solutions are under development. Dr. Snyderman hopes to grow the company with employment benefits for the local community. Surgeons with similar ideas are encouraged to take advantage of the considerable resources that the University and Pittsburgh community have to offer.