Galway-based Aquila Bioscience is seeking to play an important role in the fight against Covid-19 after new research results prove the effectiveness of its virus-trapping technology, according to founder Lokesh Joshi.
With €1.9 million in European Innovation Council funding on board, Joshi believes the the NUI Galway spin-out has reached a “pivotal point” in its development.
He said the business was seeking a suitable manufacturing partner to begin large-scale commercial production of the technology it has developed over eight years in partnership with the Irish Defence Forces and the University of Defence in the Czech Republic.
“We want to talk to leading medical device manufacturers or medtech companies with a view to entering into a partnership or licensing agreement as soon as possible, so that we can begin production at scale,” Joshi said.
“Aquila is an R&D company. We’re not in the manufacturing business, but what we have developed here in the west of Ireland could, I believe, play an important role in the fight against Covid-19.”
Joshi, who is vice-president of research and innovation at NUI Galway, specialises in glycoscience, the study of the role played by glycans in biological processes.
He set up Aquila in 2012 to develop technology that would use these complex sugars to help neutralise pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.
Intended originally to help protect first responders and defence forces personnel in the event of biothreat attacks, Aquila pivoted earlier this year to focus instead on SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus behind the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Joshi, Aquila’s pathogen-capturing technology can be used to remove the virus from human skin, and other surfaces, by trapping it and effectively preventing it from moving.
“The pathogens bind and stick to the proteins and carbohydrates we are using. They are immobilised,” Joshi said.
These proteins and carbohydrates have been infused into the fibres of the Anti Bioagent Decontamination (ABD) wipes Aquila has developed.
Joshi said that, because they did not contain chemicals, these biodegradable wipes could be used safely on human skin and around sensitive areas like the eyes and nose. They are already being used in Ireland by the Defence Forces.
Now, on foot of the results of new tests carried out on the wipes in France, Joshi is keen to move ahead with plans to find a suitable manufacturer to begin large-scale production.
“We have already moved from the lab into pilot manufacturing this year. We have FDA approval in the US and we are applying for the CE mark in the EU, but what we have really needed has been definitive proof that our ABD wipes can remove SARS-CoV-2 from human skin,” he said.
“Back in March, April, May, we were all just learning about Covid and there were very few labs in the world that could do tests on the virus.
“We contacted many labs in multiple countries after we got the European Innovation Council funding back in May. Finally, we found an independent lab in Toulouse in France that could procure human skin from cosmetic surgery clinics.
“That meant we could finally test our wipes on human skin. Up until that point, we’d been collecting lab-based data on different surfaces, but never human surfaces.
“The data from those tests came back about two weeks ago and we now have proof that our wipes can remove 99.99 per cent of SARS-CoV-2 from human skin.”
Joshi said the findings were a “game-changer” for the Galway company, which is now seeking a manufacturer to begin commercial production as quickly as possible.
“I am a very humble person, but this is the first time ever any technology in the world has been shown to safely and effectively remove a virus from human skin without causing a chemical reaction,” he said.
“We are not using alcohol, peroxide or bleach. We see what we are doing as a viable non-toxic way to help protect people.
“We want to be able to reach as many frontline workers as we can as soon as possible, but ultimately we would like these wipes to be available to everyone.”