Nine-pound concentrator is no lightweight

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Sunday, November 30, 2003

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The bandwagon that AirSep set in motion last year with the introduction of its nine-pound concentrator, the LifeStyle, took on a new passenger at Medtrade this year when Inogen introduced its own nine-pound concentrator, called the Inogen One.

But where AirSep is marketing its lightweight as a portable solution, the newcomers from Santa Barbara argue that their unit will satisfy both stationary and portable needs. At press time, Inogen was expecting 510(k) clearance on its unit in November.

Inogen’s single-source argument gained credibility when the company persuaded Bob Fary, Apria’s corporate director of respiratory services, to come on board last month as its vice president of sales.

Unlike its 50-plus pound brethren, the Inogen One’s 0-5 liter flow will not be continuous but modulated by a proprietary demand-based system. Industry sources say the system’s inability to provide continuous flow at night will stand as the chief challenge to round-the-clock operation. Indeed, one skeptic calls that liability a “show-stopper.”

While Puritan Bennett’s popular Helios liquid system is demand-based, users typically revert to the continuous flow of an oxygen concentrator at night. A physician must sign off on a patient’s ability to breathe off a conserver at night, and the practice is not widespread.

Inogen has acknowledged that night time conservation of its unit will be a tough sell.

“But five years ago people thought conservers in general didn’t work,” said Geoff Deane, Inogen’s vice president of engineering.

He said the company was engaged in a study that would show the device works as a stationary system.

Inogen believes its technology has distinguished itself in at least two crucial ways that enable use of the unit as a stationary option. First, its compressor will run for 20,000 hours, or as long as a full-sized concentrator, according to the company.

Secondly, the noise level checks in at 42 decibels. The quietest concentrator on the market, according to a tabled comparison at www.portableoxygen.org, is AirSep’s 57-lb. QuietLife.

Inogen has also made strides with battery life, which is one of the greatest hurdles to widespread acceptance as an all-purpose portable unit. The LifeStyle cranks flow for as long as 50 minutes. Inogen says its battery, at any flow setting, will last two hours. True portability, say industry observers, calls for a device that lets users range for up to eight hours.

Fary said the Inogen One gets you there.

Because the concentrator can be recharged from an automobile cigarette lighter and at regular outlets during a user’s visit to the mall, for example, Fary sees no reason why that user would have to carry anything but the concentrator.

“If the user elects to carry an extra battery, they’re good to go for 6-7 hours from the home,” he said.

Inogen has designed the device for portability in a wheeled cart.

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