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MRSA inhibitor in coronavirus lab tests

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Self cleaning surface coating developed to combat MRSA spread in hospitals undergoes tests for coronavirus resistance

Dr Felicity de Cogan at work in the laboratory at the University of Birmingham.
Dr Felicity de Cogan at work in the laboratory at the University of Birmingham.

A ‘self-cleaning’ surface coating that can remain effective for up to a decade could soon protect door handles, push plates, and balustrades against the spread of Covid-19, if lab tests are successful.

NitroPep, developed and patented by research teams at the University of Birmingham, is a non-toxic coating that bonds antimicrobial actives and disinfectants to metal or plastic surfaces.

The product was developed as a new line of defence against healthcare-associated infections including MRSA, E.coli, Salmonella and fungi, and test results show it can achieve a 99.9% kill rate, even on high-frequency touch items.

Signs that the solution can inactivate Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the Covid-19 infection, will be verified in the laboratory over the coming weeks with a view to selling it to hospitals and other healthcare facilities to help fight the pandemic.

Dr Felicity de Cogan, lead researcher at the Institute of Microbiology & Infection at the University of Birmingham, told RIBAJ: ‘NitroPep is already regulatory approved and on the UK domestic market and since Covid-19 came on the horizon we've been trying to get everything in place to test the product against Sars-CoV-2. The coating contains chlorhexidine, a commonly used biocide found in mouthwash and antiseptic creams, and there is scientific literature to show this will work against the novel virus.’

Researchers developed a bespoke engineering process, known as nitriding, to activate metal or plastic surfaces by covering them in groups of nitrogen molecules. Surfaces are then dip-coated in an antimicrobial agent.

In tests we put 100,000 bacteria on a surface activated by NitroPep and a couple minutes later we couldn’t recover anything, it's really that quick.

NitroPep is claimed to be more effective than existing silver and copper surface technologies that act more slowly to kill bacteria on frequently touched items.

de Cogan said: ‘Silver and copper surfaces take four to six hours against bacteria and on a frequently-touched surface that is too slow to make a difference. If you walk through a door and the person behind you grabs the handle as you let it go, you've only got a split second to stop the spread of infection... In tests we put 100,000 bacteria on a surface activated by NitroPep and a couple minutes later we couldn’t recover anything, it's really that quick.’

In situ field trials carried out across 24 sites in Birmingham, including clinical, laboratory, toilet and general meeting areas, demonstrated greater than 99% efficacy over extended periods of time. The coating will remain effective for at least three years, says de Cogan, and probably up to 10 years based on evidence so far.

NitroPep can be used in the production of door handles, push plates and grab rails for healthcare, public buildings, transport facilities, schools and leisure facilities. The pandemic has galvanised new interest from other sectors, says de Cogan. ‘Until Covid-19 broke out no-one really thought that hotel door handles would need to be antiviral. Interest is only going to grow because the pandemic is not going to go away in a hurry,’ she concludes.

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