Antimicrobial technologies break new ground, generate potential for novel coatings applications.

The battle against health-threatening microbial organisms is being taken to new frontiers, including coatings technologies.

Evidence of this emerging industrial market niche is appearing in a number of developmental venues, including R&D-oriented businesses whose names may sound strangely foreign to rank-and-file coatings-manufacturing companies.

Take the case of Alistagen Corp., a privately held biotechnology company based in New York. The company says its recently introduced coating product, "Caliwel," represents the successful culmination of a long-term development program that has incorporated antimicrobial functionality in a surface-coating material aimed at the health-care, educational, hotel, nursing-home, day-care, office, residential, and other markets.

Alistagen was launched in 1995 by CEO Bryan Glynson and President Alis Yeterian -- both of whom are major shareholders -- with the objective of developing "non-invasive, therapeutic and preventive treatments" for respiratory illnesses that could be applied in hospitals, nursing homes, residences and commercial structures that are susceptible to microbial infestation.

Caliwel is described as a patented, non-toxic surface coating that combines a naturally occurring mineral -- calcium hydroxide -- with a proprietary "bi-neutralizing agent," or BNA, to produce properties said to be effective in controlling a spectrum of microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and algae. The coating helps to prevent the spread of illness by reducing the number of microbes in the environment so that their disease-causing powers are severely weakened, Alistagen says.

The company says the product recently obtained U.S. retail market clearance from the EPA, and has begun distribution and marketing activities that are initially focusing on pharmacies and direct sales through the Internet. The company also plans to pursue an expanded range of applications through licensing deals that are expected to involve coatings manufacturers.

Independent laboratory tests have shown that Caliwel is 99.9% effective against more than 20 varieties of microbes, including those that cause asthma, allergies, staph infection, influenza, polio, hepatitis, cholera, and Legionnaires' disease. The product has also been found effective against the bacteria Bacillus subtilus, which are reputed to be even more resistant to anti-microbial agents than anthrax spores. Testing showed the coating material to retain its antimicrobial activity for up to six years, the company says.

BNA: Key Component in Biocidal Effectiveness

Glynson, the company's CEO, tells PCI that Caliwel is water-based, rapid-drying, virtually odorless and contains no VOCs. The coating's bi-neutralizing agent, combined with high alkalinity, produces a "hostile" contact surface that inhibits the growth of microorganisms on the coating surface, he says.

Further explaining the product's mechanism, Glynson says Caliwel maximizes the broad-spectrum antimicrobial and preservative properties of calcium hydroxide, or hydrated lime. He says the naturally occurring mineral boasts "a long history of widespread use in medicines, foods, bakery and commercial applications such as water and soil treatment." Calcium hydroxide prevents the coating's surface from deterioration caused by common microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, mold, mildew, algae and fungi, Glynson says.

The bi-neutralizing agent provides the key to the long-term retention of calcium hydroxide's high alkalinity in the coating, Glynson says. The agent stabilizes the calcium hydroxide in a semi-permeable, microenecapsulated matrix system that protects hydrated lime from atmospheric degradation.

Glynson describes the coating's resin system as a polyolefin latex-cellulosic polymer combination, and says common resins such as acrylics, vinyls and related materials are not used due to incompatibility with calcium hydroxide. Application options include brush, roller or spray, the company says.

Pricey, but Product is Viewed as More than a Conventional Paint

Due to Caliwel's specialized end-use profile, the cost to the customer can definitely be described as pricey -- $59 for a one-gallon container and $259 for a five-gallon bucket. But, Glynson notes, the product should not be viewed so much as a wall paint, but as a health-care product.

Commercialization of the coating product follows an 11-year R&D and regulatory-approval process. Alistagen in 1995 engaged Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, to help develop the coating material. Product testing was conducted by Southwest Research Institute, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and Virus-Reference-Esoterix Laboratories Inc., also of San Antonio, and Quanta Laboratories Inc. of Selma, TX, and The Coatings Laboratory, Houston.

Currently, Caliwel is offered in a flat finish. "Our customer feedback so far is telling us that consumers who have severe problems -- whether asthma or allergy-related or immuno-compromised -- or hospitals fighting hospital-borne infection don't think of type of finish," Glynson says. The product is initially being offered in the standard colors of pink, yellow, green, blue, gray, white and beige, with custom colors available upon request.

Alistagen also has filed provisional patent applications with the U.S. Patent Office for new, additional uses of BNA. The company is pursuing the development of pharmaceutical products such as oral and dermal topical applications.

Marketing Focus: Pharmacies, Internet

In moving from the laboratory to the marketplace, Alistagen is targeting pharmacies and direct Internet sales as key outlets for the product. Direct orders can be placed by phone or on the company's website, located at At pharmacies, sales are handled by order placement and subsequent shipping to the customer -- what Alistagen calls the "drop-ship" process.

Alistagen says it has entered into a contractual agreement with AmerisourceBergen, a major drug distributor, to provide distribution and customer-service support for Caliwel products. The deal gives Alistagen access to "almost half of all pharmacies in the U.S.," Glynson says.

Glynson agrees that sales through pharmacies may appear to be "a rather unconventional way of distribution for a 'paint-like' product." But, he says, "it is a hard sell to an asthma or sever allergy sufferer to look for a remedy in, say, hardware stores." Sales representatives will target major institutional users such as hospitals.

Glynson says he sees products such as Caliwel making their mark on more than the health-care segment. The technology also holds promise to add significant new offerings to the product portfolios of traditional coatings manufacturers. He says Alistagen is pursuing product-development programs with "at least three" major coatings manufacturers, and notes that licensing agreements will also be sought.

Market Applications

Alistagen envisions six primary markets for the product, with licensing deals or other development agreements seen as possible for many of the end uses. The markets are:
  • Residential homes;
  • Commercial and municipal buildings and schools;
  • Farm and agricultural applications;
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, care facilities, and clean rooms;
  • Hotels and motels; and
  • Food-preparation facilities.
Potential coatings applications could also include an additive for industrial coatings and nonwoven coatings, the company says.

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