Respirators have a long history led by some of the world’s greatest innovators, dating back to Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. with major strides by Leonard da Vinci in the 16thCentury according to the Cambridge Mask Company.  They are an important component of personal protective equipment every day in healthcare settings, and can be a critical line of defense in the event of an emerging disease outbreak. This was the case one hundred years ago when Johnson & Johnson led the fight against the devastating Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 by introducing the epidemic face mask .

Yet, respirators have remained largely unchanged for almost 50 years, despite major shortcomings identified within the current design and increasing threats of air pollution and airborne epidemics. In an age of disruption spurred by technological advances, it’s time to take action – to attempt to prevent needless suffering and save lives by improving respiratory safety. 

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), a component of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, working with Janssen Research & Development, LLC, announce the Reimagining Respiratory Protection QuickFire Challenge. We’re calling on innovators to revolutionize respiratory protection, to submit novel ideas to better protect against the inhalation of harmful infectious agents.

Up to two innovators will be awarded up to $100,000, access to the Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS ecosystem, and support in developing their ideas from BARDA, to support health security products and technologies in biotechnology, life science research, and medical innovations as they navigate research, development, and regulatory pathways.

Why this Challenge Matters

Johnson & Johnson Innovation has an ongoing commitment to global pandemic preparedness efforts, as one of the few innovative healthcare companies in the world today that is actively engaged across multiple disease areas and approaches that are central to this challenge. 

A 2016 United Nations report concluded that, “The world remains ill-prepared to address the threat posed by epidemics,” urging action ahead of future pandemics to avoid devastating consequences. Epidemics are not only possible, but probable, with four in recent memory including the Ebola virus in West Africa. The same UN study points to mathematical modelling by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which shows that a virulent strain of an airborne influenza virus could spread to all major global capitals within 60 days and kill more than 33 million people within 250 days. 

Traditional respiratory protective devices were designed for use in occupational settings and are prohibitively expensive for global adoption. Disposable versions, such as N95 respirators, are only available for adults, must be fit-tested to ensure proper functioning, and are uncomfortable to wear[1].

Just how big of a problem is this? Given an outbreak of a novel or newly emerging respiratory disease, respiratory protection may be a crucial measure to protect healthcare workers and the general public. Yet, demand for such products in influenza or other respiratory disease pandemic would far exceed worldwide supply.

Yet, decades have passed without a significant change to design. Together, we have the power to prevent needless suffering and start saving more lives by improving respiratory safety for everyone around the world.

[1] Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene Volume 9, 2012 – Issue 1 Discomfort and Exertion Associated with Prolonged Wear of Respiratory Protection in a Health Care Setting : 14 Dec 2011 Accessed online:

What we’re looking for

Proposals containing the following criteria are preferred, but are not required. Please keep in mind that no idea is too big or too early for consideration. Applications that clearly describe a concept or path forward to achieve these goals will also be considered during evaluation. The ideal respiratory protection would have the following characteristics:

  • Suitable for all populations and ages 
  • Effective in preventing infection
  • Comfortable
  • Reusable a minimum of 5 times or extremely low cost and easy to produce
  • Simple, requires no special instructions or fit testing
  • Minimally interfering with breathing or other activities

Application process

Applicants will be required to submit a design. Solutions will be evaluated by a panel of reviewers and judges on their ability to meet the following criteria:

  • Novelty
  • Potential Impact
  • Feasibility/Practicality
  • Quality of Team and Resources
  • Plan for use of funds
  • Clarity of plan: Milestones & defined go/no go decisions

Rewards and Benefits

  • Mentorship from BARDA and Johnson & Johnson Innovation experts
  • Access to the Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS ecosystem


  • October 30, 2018
    • Applications Open
  • February 15, 2019
    • Applications Deadline
  • 2019 Q2
    • People’s Choice Competition
  • 2019 Q2/Q3
    • Winner announcement