DBT-inStem develops novel germicide-coated face mask prototype to fight viruses, talks on for commercialisation

Nandita Vijay, BengaluruMonday, April 27, 2020, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

The DBT-inStem (Institute for Stem Cell Science & Regenerative Medicine) is ready with a germicidal-coated face mask prototype for effective fight against viruses. The mask is ready for tech-transfer to either the government or to any prospective industry. The institute funded by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has developed a proprietary germicidal-molecule that can be covalently attached to the cotton fabric. This fabric can be stitched into the personal protective equipment (PPE) like a face mask. “The germicidal molecule can be used on clothes and fabric of any kind to deactivate infectious microbes including gram positive and gram negative bacteria, besides enveloped viruses. PPEs and masks are crucial in the current times acting as a physical barrier between humans and the virus,” Praveen Kumar Vemula, Associate Professor, DBT-inStem told Pharmabiz. However, 100% protection is always a challenge. Further, recent scientific reports have also revealed that SARS-CoV-2 virus remains active on various surfaces for varying periods based on the surface of contamination. In a microenvironment on currently used surgical masks, the SARS-CoV-2 has one of the longest survival rates of up to seven days and on a regular cotton cloth for up to two days. Although the current PPEs can act as a physical barrier, they do not deactivate the virus, he added. SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family of enveloped viruses, therefore, the germicidal cloth could also deactivate SARS-CoV-2 virus, thus reducing the chances of infection at the prime source. The technology has a greater potential due to its novel molecular design. Since a charged organic molecule is the key base of this compound, it allows for scalability for mass production and is affordable, Dr Vemula said.  The efficacy of the germicidal-mask has been tested against multiple proxy viruses that belong to enveloped viruses. This suggests that this mask will be effective against SARS-CoV-2 as well. However, further tests will be done against SARS-CoV-2 in the near future. “Our research and testing has concluded that this compound remains attached to the fabric for up to 25 cycles of standard detergent wash of industrial grade. Hence, the masks can be used repeatedly by just cleaning them with soap at home or dipping them in boiling water for five minutes, ensuring better waste management. This can be also developed as a spray in the future,” he said. The lead Principal Investigators for this technology are Dr. Vemula and Dr. Satyajit Mayor, director, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). The current prototype of this ‘germicide-coated’ face mask has been tested thoroughly at the inStem and NCBS labs. Typically, antimicrobial compounds are designed to target a specific pathway and in such cases, developing compounds that have a broad-spectrum activity is a daunting task. Therefore, we decided to develop compounds that can breakdown the membrane of the virus and bacterium like a detergent does. Hence, we systematically designed molecules that can efficiently interact with the membrane of the viruses to kill them by disrupting their membranes, he said. There are a few parameters that need to be fixed before commercialization. The institute is in the process of reducing the molecule’s production cost, which is key to mass production. The Institute is already in discussions with a commercial partner to take this technology to the market. The current scenario has definitely revealed the caveats of complete dependency on global imports/supply chain. There is more emphasis on ‘Make in India’, especially in the chemical and biotechnology industry, said Dr Vemula.