‘We’re over the moon’: Victorian back-shed invention approved to treat COVID-19 patients

A ventilator designed in a Ballarat back shed in just five days has been approved for manufacture to assist in treating severe cases of COVID-19.

The machines were developed by Gekko Systems, a Ballarat company that usually makes mining equipment, in late March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

The Victorian government has now purchased 170 of the machines, after the Therapeutic Goods Administration fast-tracked approval.

Gekko’s chair and co-founder Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, said she was thrilled the ventilator had been approved for use.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to respond and help people during this COVID pandemic,” she said.

“We’re just really over the moon.”

Gekko co-founder Elizabeth Lewis-Gray at her Ballarat home in 2020.
Gekko co-founder Elizabeth Lewis-Gray is ‘over the moon’ after having her company’s ventilator approved.(ABC News: Jess Davis)

Machine designed in Ballarat shed

Gekko co-founder, Sandy Gray, designed the ventilator in his back shed with the help of a local anaesthetist.

It took just five days for them to develop the first prototype.

Ms Lewis-Gray said it was a massive team effort to get from that stage, to the machine being green lit for production.

“It has been one massive project,” she said.

A close-up of the Gekko ventilator in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ventilator design was fast-tracked for approval by the Therapeutics Goods Administration.(ABC News)

Return to regional manufacturing

The company is heading into production now, with the expectation ventilators will start rolling off the production line in four to five weeks.

Ms Lewis-Gray said she hoped Ballarat could become a hub for the development of medical technology.

“Ballarat has density of medical capability, it’s got world-class medical practitioners, it’s got world-class research facilities,” she said.

Gekko ventilator co-founders Sandy Gray and Elizabeth Lewis-Gray in 2020.
The company, co-founded by Mr Gray and Ms Lewis-Gray, will begin production of the ventilators immediately.(ABC News)

In a statement, State Member for Western Victorian and Innovation Minister, Jaala Pulford, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s terrific to see a Ballarat company leading the country in designing and producing ventilators,” she said.

Jim Dannock, who is the Ballarat and Wimmera regional manager for the Australian Industry Group, said Gekko’s success speaks to the versatility of local manufacturers during the pandemic.

“Gekko’s ability to bring together their knowledge of working in the mining sector and apply it to another field … it really highlights the skills and innovation of local manufacturing,” he said.