An Irish firm whose product will be central in the fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs last week received a €1.5m investment to underpin its plans for global expansion.
The scientific invention developed by Kastus Technologies could be central to stemming the global spread of bacterial infections that are predicted to kill millions worldwide within the next thirty years.
The investment by the Atlantic Bridge University Fund will enable the core technologies developed at the Dublin Institute of Technology’s Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology enter the commercial marketplace in the near future.
“This investment is strong validation that Kastus’s scientific research has great potential to be commercialised into international markets,” said company founder John Browne.
“Healthcare is the most obvious market, but our coating can be used anywhere there is a large throughput of people, including hotels, public buildings, public transport, clean-rooms, food preparation areas, bathrooms and touch surfaces like ATMs. Smartphones may yet be our biggest market,” he said.
Lead scientist Professor Suresh C Pillai, of Institute of Technology Sligo’s Nanotechnology Research Group, said “this breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs.
“Every single person has a sea of bacteria on their hands, and the mobile phone is the most contaminated personal item that we can have and has been shown to carry 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.”
The company’s nano- technology product has a 99.9% eradication rate and can be baked into commonplace items like smartphones and door handles to combat lethal bacteria such as MRSA and E.coli.
“Our patented glass and ceramic coating is unique in being indoor light-activated 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.”
Kastus received high potential start-up status from Enterprise Ireland and an investment of €250,000 in 2015, and is expected to create over 40 jobs by 2018.
A report by the British government has warned that superbugs could kill ten million people worldwide by 2050 unless sweeping global changes are agreed to tackle increasing resistance to antibiotics. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance warned that failure to take action could allow common ailments and minor injuries become life-threatening due to immunity from existing drugs.
Economist Jim O’Neill, who was commissioned by former British prime minister David Cameron to undertake the report, said that tackling antimicrobial resistance is “absolutely essential”.
His report warns that resistance to the drugs that are used to fight infections could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then key medical procedures including stomach surgery, caesarean sections, joint replacements, and chemotherapy could become too dangerous to perform.
Mr O’Neill’s report underlined that 50,000 people in Europe and the US alone die annually from infections caused by superbug forms of bacteria such as E.coli.
“Unless something is done by 2050, that number could become 10 million people losing their lives each year from then onwards,” he said.
Asked to put an economic estimate on the cost of the problem, Mr O’Neill suggested that $100tn (€93tn) might be too low.
Last year, a mutation discovered in people and livestock in China was found to make bacteria resistant to all antibiotics including ‘last resort’ drugs.
The mutation allows bacteria to resist antibiotics known as polymyxins, and specifically colistin, considered the absolute last line of defence against bacteria when all other antibiotics have failed.
The World Health Organisation warned in 2012 that colistin was vital to human health, but despite its classification farmers around the globe continued feeding the antibiotic to their animals in large quantities to fatten them up.
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