From the Chicago Tribune by Jon Van. Published July 22, 2007
It’s no cancer cure, but Rud Istvan has something he says will save as many lives: an antimicrobial solution that kills viruses, bacteria and fungi and keeps killing them for hours without harming humans.
Istvan cites the rising trend of superbugs — bacteria resistant to antibiotics — infecting people in such diverse settings as hospitals, day-care centers, prisons and luxury cruise ships.
"This will save thousands of lives and protect people from many infections," said Istvan, a one-time executive at Motorola Inc. whose enthusiasm for new technologies seems boundless.
Having established several new enterprises at Motorola, including a biochip business later sold by the cell phone-maker, Istvan, 57, has been putting together start-up companies since 2000.
While he was at Motorola overseeing corporate strategy and looking for new business ventures, he ran across a surprisingly effective anti-microbial concoction developed by scientists at Procter & Gamble Co. It is based on a mix of detergent and citric acid.
"Think mixing Tide with orange juice," Istvan joked.
The detergent causes proteins, which normally are tightly folded, to unfold, which effectively denatures the proteins coating microbes. That kills them.
"It’s like what happens when you fry an egg," he said. "It turns white as the protein is denatured."
Scientists had been looking for a diaper additive to cut infectious disease among babies in developing countries, Istvan said.
Even though the discovery did not fulfill the company’s goal, it marked a new direction for anti-microbials, said Istvan, who eventually started a company, Third Stream Bioscience Inc., that has licensed the technology from P&G. Istvan has contracted major laboratories to test the anti-microbial under several conditions to document its powers.
"The results are very impressive," said Dr. Andre Pernet, a retired executive from Abbott Laboratories who is now a Chicago-area biotech consultant. "Everybody who looks at them says this is too good to be true. It kills everything."
Further testing will determine whether the product is as good in nursing homes and hospitals as in the lab, said Pernet. Because the anti-microbial has a general effect, it’s unlikely that viruses and bacteria will mutate and become resistant as they have against more specific antibiotics, he said.
For several years, big pharmaceutical firms have shied away from developing new anti-microbial products because of the perception that their profits don’t justify the expense, but that appears to be changing. P&G already is marketing a consumer product in the United Kingdom based on the new technology and will launch a similar product next month in the United States.
However, P&G’s product, called Early Defense and marketed under the Vicks brand, is covered by federal regulatory measures that apply to known active ingredients, said David Bernens, a P&G spokesman.
"We will claim it kills germs and protects hands up to three hours," he said. "We won’t be more specific."
Istvan’s product is somewhat different, and he will seek approvals from the Environmental Protection Agency to market a surface treatment to kill bugs. His company also will seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a hand disinfectant aimed at health-care professionals.
These applications will make more specific claims backed by rigorous testing, Istvan said. P&G licensed the technology to Istvan’s company because, "Rud is doing an institutional formulation. That’s not our strength," Bernens said. "We’re a consumer-products company."
Other firms also are either marketing or planning to market a new generation of anti-microbials.
One is based on a form of silver, called SDC, for silver dihydrogen citrate. SDC has been licensed by the EPA as a surface treatment and awaits FDA scrutiny for other applications such as personal-care products, said Michael Krall, president and chief executive of San Diego-based Pure Bioscience.
"You’ll see hundreds of products based on this technology," Krall predicted.
Like P&G’s detergent-based product, SDC has a broad, non-specific way to kill bugs with silver that makes it practically impossible for microbes to develop a resistance to it.
One reason large pharmaceutical companies concluded anti-microbials are not good investments, Krall said, is they pursued products with a more specific action.
"There was a long cycle time to develop the product," Krall said, "and then the organism would mutate a resistance. They couldn’t develop new products faster than the microbes developed resistance."
Having researched the competition, Istvan said his formulation kills a broader range of microbes and keeps killing them, without causing skin problems to the user.
"The problem now is that a nurse can have clean hands, but as soon as he touches a patient’s bed linen, they become contaminated," he said. "With our product on your hands, it kills anything you touch and keeps working for hours, so you don’t spread infection."
If everything goes as Istvan plans, Third Stream Bioscience will generate millions in profit by 2010. Len Batterson, a Chicago-based venture capitalist who has been helping Istvan raise money for the start-up, said he sees no financial problems with the plan.
Istvan, a chronic overachiever who holds three degrees from Harvard University, said he realizes he faces some delays getting his anti-microbial approved. While he waits, the man who holds eight issued patents and 11 pending ones has launched another start-up, NanoCarbons LLC.
Its goal: Develop a way to store electricity that is more efficient than battery technology and can radically reduce the nation’s petroleum consumption.
"I’m sure it’ll work," he said.