A Brisbane dentist with sleep apnoea who felt like he was “being gassed” when wearing a CPAP mask is now testing a mouthguard device to fix the problem.
About five per cent of Australians suffer from sleep apnoea, which means they stop or struggle to breathe as many as 100 times per night.
CPAP machines, designed to treat sleep apnoea, have been a major success story for investors. But for patients, the decision to use them is still a choice between two evils.
“With the CPAP, because of my nasal obstruction, I couldn’t use the nasal pillows,” said Dr Chris Hart, the clinical director of Oventus Medical (ASX:OVN).
“And the full face mask was just a disaster zone. It straps around your head and with your full face being covered, it’s like being gassed.”
CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. CPAP machines treat sleep apnoea by pumping air into the mouth and nose to prevent the user’s throat from collapsing. The air is pumped in through either a face mask or “pillows” that fit into the nostrils.
The industry’s biggest success story is ResMed (ASX:RMD), founded in Sydney in 1989. In the decade from June 2007 to 2017, shares in the CPAP-maker more than quadrupled from $2.41 to $9.98.
However for every patient who uses a CPAP device after being diagnosed, there are others who are “non-compliant” – usually due to discomfort. Research numbers vary, but most estimates are about 50 per cent.
Dr Hart was one of those patients, but unlike other people he had a bunch of dental equipment to experiment with.
“When you go to the dentist, they have those bendy tubes that they suck saliva out with. One day I took some tubes and bent them around my teeth and fashioned a breathing device for myself,” he told Stockhead.
The original device was designed to be an alternative to CPAP therapy, and Dr Hart began making them by hand for his patients. In 2013, he and Oventus CEO Neil Anderson took the idea to the CSIRO.
“The device we gave them was a handmade plastic mouthguard. Imagine a mouthguard about five times the size of a sports mouthguard with tubes attached around the outside of your teeth,” Dr Hart said.
“We sent it to the CSIRO and they scanned it in, and then they drilled holes into it. They had a 3D model then of the outside of the device and then they printed it in titanium.
“What we were trying to do was use the real estate available to get the biggest airflow in the smallest amount of space possible. The solution was to make it hollow so the air could flow through the device into the back of the mouth.”
Dr Hart took the first CSIRO-designed device home that night to sleep with and knew it was a success straight away.
“My wife kept waking me up every couple of hours because she thought I was dead, because she couldn’t hear me breathing or snoring. I told her to leave me alone because I was having the best sleep of my life.”
From alternative to accessory
While the Oventus device works on its own for some patients, the company is also now looking at whether it can be effective in tandem with a CPAP machine as an alternative air delivery method.
“What Oventus will be in that instance (if proven effective) is another CPAP interface,” Dr Hart said.
“The patients that get a great result with nasal CPAP will, and should, continue to do that. The ones that don’t get a good result with that will then try a full face mask or Oventus. If I had to choose between the two, it’s a no brainer in that situation. If I had to ballpark it, I would guess that about half of those patients will end up with Oventus as an interface.”
Dr Hart said the greatest potential for Oventus wasn’t in existing CPAP users, but in the millions of people who were currently “out-of-care”.
The company is also investigating whether the device could be used to conduct at-home sleep testing, which currently requires complicated equipment with lots of wires and sensors.
“We’re in the process of developing microchip technology that will be embedded into the device that will enable us to do simple home-testing through a smartphone. The timeline for the CPAP connection and home sleep testing is around the middle of next year,” Dr Hart said.
There are currently about 3000 Oventus devices on the market. Earlier this year the company signed manufacturing and distribution deals with international dental prosthetic device provider Modern Dental Group.
Oventus listed in July last year after raising $12 million through an IPO. Its shares have traded between 30c and 80c over the past 12 months. The company spent $2.29 million in the June quarter, leaving $8.66 million in cash, and expects to spend $2.39 million in the current quarter.
This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.