Scientists: New Israeli disinfectant en route to keep all surfaces virus-free

Instead of having protective-suited staff spraying disinfectant to keep COVID-19 at bay, a single spray of Israeli polymer every few months will suffice, Technion innovators claim

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Workers wearing protective gears help clean each other's suits after disinfecting against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Workers wearing protective gears help clean each other's suits after disinfecting against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Israeli scientists said Tuesday they are in the advanced stages of developing a disinfectant that works for months, and claim it will be a “game changer” for hygiene during the pandemic, finally making it possible to disinfect surfaces in public places and keep them virus-free.

“You see pictures in the news everywhere of people in white suits spraying disinfectant, but they have to repeat this several times a day because the disinfectant doesn’t stay active,” said Shady Farah of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. “With our material you only need to spray once, and protection stays for several months.”

The research behind the new disinfectant has not yet been submitted for peer review.

The polymer can be used in cleaning products for all sorts of surfaces, including floors, fabrics and metals, said Farah. He added that it has been designed especially to attack the novel coronavirus, but will kill various other viruses too, and can be adjusted to target microorganisms that cause future health crises.

Shady Farah of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology holding the polymer he invented to disinfect against coronavirus (courtesy of the Technion)

Most existing disinfectants only kill microorganisms that are on surfaces at the time of use, or for a few minutes afterwards. When sprayed on a virus they tend to attack it, but not break the “viral envelope,” which protects its genetic material, said Farah.

He stated that his polymer “destabilizes” the viral envelope, and then alters and destroys its structure so that its infection capability is impaired. It then forms a layer on the surface, and the disinfectant is released continuously for months, so that the effect is long-lasting. He said: “Current disinfection has so many limitations, but this polymer can have very long-lasting benefits.”

Farah said he is confident that his disinfectant will be brought to market, in cooperation with hygiene companies, by the end of the year. He said that the principles have been established, and his lab is working on details.

He predicted that with policymakers struggling to find ways of opening up schools, shopping malls and other heavy-traffic places while preventing people becoming infected from surfaces, “it will be a game changer in terms of stopping the spread of the virus.”

A diagram by Shady Farah’s team at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology showing how it believes the new disinfectant will keep surfaces free of coronavirus (courtesy of the Technion)

He said it has particular relevance for public transportation, as companies find it hard to stop for regular cleaning while keeping services running to time. “This material can be sprayed everywhere on public transportation including bus stations, seats, windows,” he stated. “We can make special formulations for subways and other places, tailoring the material to work best for the environment.”

Farah added: “If you have a virus and you spray bleach or a standard disinfectant, it will kill the virus, but it won’t keep the surface protected from more viruses afterwards. If a sick person passes by, he or she will infect the surface again, but with our disinfectant, this won’t happen.”

His claim of a breakthrough comes as question marks hang over the use of existing disinfectants in outdoor areas. The World Health Organization warned on Saturday that “chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens.”

Farah said that his polymer will overcome this problem and others associated with existing disinfectants.

At 33, Farah, a resident of the Arab town of Kafr Yasif and assistant professor of chemical engineering, is a rising star of the Technion. He has three Hebrew University degrees, has completed postdoctoral fellowships at both MIT and a teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School. He was winner of a Maof Fellowship for Outstanding Young Researchers last year, and for his disinfectant received a COVID-19 Rapid Response grant from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Health, and support from the Philadelphia-based Neubauer Family Foundation.

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