Superbug killer has the smartphone industry’s dirty little secret covered

10 Oct 2017109 Shares

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From left: Atlantic Bridge’s Dr Chris Horn with Kastus CEO John Browne. Image: Atlantic Bridge

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The next big thing in mobile will be killing germs on handsets – a multibillion-euro opportunity.

Not many people realise this but the average smartphone handset carries about 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Until now, most people were obsessed with protecting their oversized personal gadgets from shattering on impact. But soon, the smartphone giants will be making a virtue out of the fact that future handsets will be germ-free.

‘The tech industry knows there is an issue with germs and bacteria on devices and, until now, hasn’t been overly keen on publicising it – but we feel that is about to change’
– JOHN BROWNE

And a young technology company from Dublin called Kastus is about to make a killing.

After more than a decade of research, Kastus, led by CEO John Browne and technology expert Dr James Kennedy, has created a novel technology solution that can be used to protect a range of everyday surfaces, including smartphones, glass, door handles, ceramics and metals against superbugs.

The DIT Grangegorman campus company last year secured €1.5m in investment led by the Atlantic Bridge fund to develop its special coating for glass and ceramics that kills antibiotic-resistant superbugs, including MRSA, E coli, fungus associated with athlete’s foot and more. These include the ‘dirty dozen’ superbugs listed by the World Health Organisation, including Acinetobacter, pseudomonas and CRE.

It is predicted that superbugs could kill 10m people worldwide by 2050.

A natural solution to a superbug problem

Superbug killer has the smartphone industry's dirty little secret covered

From left: Atlantic Bridge’s Dr Chris Horn with Kastus CEO John Browne. Image: Atlantic Bridge

Kastus scientists have developed a chemical solution that works in natural light. Up until now, such solutions needed to be activated by UV light to work.

Earlier this year, Kastus won a Knowledge Transfer Ireland award for its technology solution. It is now ready for commercialisation and the first products were presented at Arab Health in Dubai at the end of January.

Browne told Siliconrepublic.com that the big opportunity is not only in health but with smartphone manufacturers, and the company is already in talks with some of the world’s biggest phone makers.

“The solution is applied in the factory when the glass or metal is made, and it is permanently there.

“This is critical because electronic devices are among the most potent carriers of superbugs. You bring your phone everywhere, to the kitchen and even the bathroom, and there is 30 times more bacteria on your phone than on a toilet seat. Our technology adds protection where high-touch surfaces are covered in bacteria.

The plan is to work with smartphone manufacturers and glass makers. “We are actually in discussions with two major smartphone manufacturers in Silicon Valley and they are looking at it as a way of coating glass and metals. This technology can cover coatings on microwaves, ovens, fridges and more but the mobile phone market is certainly the big opportunity for us.”

Browne explained that the solution developed by Kastus – which consists of 80pc water – is baked onto devices during the kiln firing process.

“It forms a top-layer surface and uses the indoor light moisture in the air to kill the bacteria.”

Tech transfer works

Browne explained that 10 years ago, Enterprise Ireland asked him to visit the CREST lab at DIT and run the rule over some tech transfer projects to see if they could be commercialised.

“This one stood out because we could see the real global appeal. The clever guys working on the project had created photocatalytic antimicrobial coatings that don’t require UV but natural light, that don’t contain harmful chemicals and that can kill bacteria as soon as it lands on the surface of a device using the moisture, light and air in a room.”

Browne said the IP developed by the team is patented and therefore highly defensible.

“The tech industry knows there is an issue with germs and bacteria on devices and, until now, hasn’t been overly keen on publicising it – but we feel that is about to change.”

As such, Kastus has secured patents in the US and UK, and global patents are pending.

“We are in a strong position to protect our product,” said Browne, who added that one litre of the solution created by Kastus could protect up to 100 sq m of glass or ceramic.

“It’s a very thin layer and therefore economical for mass production.”

He said that the plan is to have between 30 and 60 new employees hired by the end of next year.

“This is an area that is ripe for potential and hockey-stick growth. We are being prudent and we have been working on this for a number of years. It is not going to be an overnight success but the potential is there for us to agree some very significant deals.”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com