The long-term solution to the growing global problem of antibiotic-resistant superbugs is to build antimicrobial surfaces into product design and manufacturing from the outset. That sounds easy, but it’s not and the search is still on for an effective way of doing so.
Now Irish start-up, Kastus, is positioning itself at the forefront of this emerging technology with a range of anti-microbial surface treatments that can be used to coat glass and ceramics and added to plastics and paint. Kastus founder, John Browne, says his company's precision technology delivers a 99.99 per cent kill rate against harmful bacteria, fungi and antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as MRSA and E.coli.
The company's products are made in Ireland and are based on core technologies developed by CREST (Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). Browne has been involved with the research since it began there eight years ago and his company has now acquired global rights to commercialise the resulting technology.
Hugh Hayden, who was part of the original R&D team at DIT, is an advisor to the company as is technology start-ups funding expert, Dick Blake. The potential for Kastus' technology is sizeable. A recent UK Government report estimated that antibiotic-resistant superbugs could cost the global economy $100 trillion by 2050.
“Coatings are key to adding value in glass manufacture and all of the multinational glass OEMs have tried and failed to develop an effective antimicrobial solution,” John Browne says. “Our patented glass and ceramic coating is unique in being indoor light activated (not requiring UV) and it produces a very thin, durable transparent film with no compromise on visual properties. It is also permanent, super hard wearing, chemically benign and economic to produce. Critically, from an environmental compliance perspective, no silver is used in its manufacture and it produces no harmful bi-product.”
Kastus’ technologies can be applied during or after manufacture and the process involves spray coating and sintering the coating into the glass to form a hard surface layer. The company’s paint and plastic additive uses a patent-pending zeolite and other active ingredients to achieve high bacteria kill rates without toxic materials or bi-products.
“Our technologies have achieved industry-best Log4+ standards against MRSA and E.coli in independent laboratory tests while cytotoxicity tests have proven them not harmful to human skin,” says Browne who set up Kastus in 2013.
Potential applications for the company's products include touch screens, healthcare facilities, swimming pools, public buildings, cleanrooms, hotels, packaging, public transport, ATMs, smartphones, keyboards and switches. To date the promoters have put around €300,000 into the venture and have also received an investment of €250,000 from Enterprise Ireland under its High Potential Start Ups Programme.
“Our initial target customers are global OEMs committed to securing anti-microbial capability as a market differentiator,” Browne says. “These top manufacturers account for up to 70 per cent of supply offering us a readymade, targeted market. We will sell our chemical solutions under license by volume.”
Typical Kastus customers are likely to be active in the glass, coatings, plastics, ceramics and chemical industries where the big players include PPG, Akzo Nobel, Corning, ABB, DuPont and BASF. The company is currently pre-revenue and the project will be almost a decade in the making by the time it starts earning money. However Browne says the multi-market potential of the technology has made it worth the wait.
“I think people have realised that we have a suite of game-changing technologies of global scale and significance and this has attracted the attention of industry leaders, several of whom are already engaged with us,” he says. “This strategy of validating what we’re doing through blue chip customer collaborations optimises resources, shortens the decision cycle, builds market awareness, and is highly cost efficient.”
– OLIVE KEOGH