The problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has become a substantial burden for healthcare providers in the last few decades. Hospitals in the United States have seen a drastic increase in cases of patients acquiring infections of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic misuse, longer stays in the hospital, and the failure of current anti-bacterial products to rid surfaces of sticky pathogens and biofilms are contributing to the rise. Each year, 1.7 million patients are diagnosed with hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and 99,000 of them die. HAIs cost the U. S. healthcare system $35 billion annually.
Several large-scale studies have shown that exposure to antibiotics can increase the chances of acquiring such an infection in a hospital environment, since antibiotics kill most of the natural flora of the body while allowing the antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive. Nineteen percent of surfaces in a typical hospital room—everything from bed frames, mattresses, and tables to IV poles and call buttons—test positive for contamination. The development of novel bactericides that do not induce resistance in targeted pathogens is vital for effective treatment of many types of hospital infections.
BioSafe Technologies is an early-stage start-up focused on developing consumer products from an extensive portfolio of a proprietary, new class of polymers and oligomers with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-biofilm characteristics developed at the University of New Mexico. The company has optioned the technology portfolio (which has 6 issued patents and 7 pending/ filed patent applications) from STC. BioSafe is developing an industrial-grade disposal wipe that has been treated with the antimicrobials for a rapid and prolonged killing of bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Located in STC’s Joseph L. Cecchi VentureLab, the new company formed in 2016 and is being led by Dr. Harry Pappas, who received his doctoral degree from the Nanoscience & Microsystems Engineering Program at the University of New Mexico.
“BioSafe’s mission is to provide healthcare professionals with the tools they need to maintain a safe, healthy, and infection-free environment for patients at hospitals, doctors’ offices and clinics throughout the U.S. The antimicrobials are broad-spectrum and target various pathogenic bacteria (both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria, including biofilms and spores), fungi/yeast, and viruses. The compounds are highly effective at low concentrations (particularly in the presence of light), meaning very low concentrations are required to prevent microbial contamination. Our unique disinfecting wipes will empower healthcare professionals to maintain a bacteria-free work place with minimal side effects to the patient and user.”
The compounds are inexpensive, shelf-stable, non-toxic to mammalian cells and can be surface grafted or incorporated into liquid solutions (soaps, detergents, sprays, etc.), incorporated into plastics and resins, impregnated into fabrics, and electrospun (fiber production method). The polymers and oligomers can be synthesized to varying lengths and made with different side chains, leading to tunable properties so that, for example, some are leachable and some are not and some are more active in light while some are extremely active in the dark. The compounds may also be used to control microbial adhesion, a process wherein bacteria cells stick together and then attach to surfaces.
There are several problems with current disinfectant wipes because they fail to keep equipment sterile over time and can irritate the skin. They transfer microbes from surface to surface, aren’t strong enough to kill robust microbes, promote drug resistance, and require frequent re-application. BioSafe’s new class of antimicrobials are strongly attracted to microbial adhesion, are highly effective against robust microbes, do broad spectrum damage to the microbes’ cells so that they cannot develop high drug resistance, and can be measured on surfaces in real time to gauge their effectiveness.
Pappas is a co-inventor of the technology portfolio along with 16 inventors from UNM and the University of Florida, including UNM Distinguished Professor David Whitten, Professor and VP for Research Gabriel López, Research Professors Linnea Ista and Thomas Corbitt, and University of Florida Professor Kirk Schanze. Drs. Whitten and Schanze serve as BioSafe’s scientific advisors.
Most disposable disinfectants (those intended for use on non-critical surfaces) are regulated by the EPA rather than the FDA, which means that the approval process for the compounds will be considerably shorter. BioSafe will focus on the healthcare segment of the $1.7 billion disposable disinfectants market, targeting doctors’ offices and hospitals. Its first product will be the disposable disinfecting wipes.
The company is working on a wipe prototype at UNM’s Center for Biomedical Engineering and will conduct clinical trials at UNM Hospital under the EPA’s testing and clinical trials requirements for approval. Future milestones include manufacturing and distribution of the wipes with an industry partner and diversification of BioSafe’s product line to include antimicrobial products for semi-critical and critical surfaces in the healthcare market and across many other industry segments.