With commercial survival at the top of everyone’s agenda, many medical device and equipment manufacturers are looking to antimicrobial technology to give their product the edge, or to help them diversify into new markets. As BioCote’s sales manager Graham Harvey explains, it’s essential to choose the right technology provider in order to reduce the risks associated with innovation.
If there’s one thing guaranteed to knock news of redundancies off the front page, it’s the outbreak of an infection. The media has been hugely successful in raising the awareness of bacteria and superbugs and levels of fear among the public, who are demanding high standards of cleanliness and hygiene in all public areas as a result
To survive this recession, it is essential to recognize business opportunities as well as dangers. It is also clear that many forward-thinking manufacturers are now looking to invest in new product development and innovation to ensure they safeguard their brand and expand their appeal to more customers. Adding new product features is a popular strategy for survival. While such an investment is important, taking risks can be dangerous and many companies are looking for “safe” options.
The high profile of infection prevention and control gives products with “bug-busting” properties an advantage over standard products when being sold into the medical and healthcare sector. Cutting edge antimicrobial technology allows manufacturers to offer products that inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and fungi on their surface, making them cleaner and more hygienic to use. These products are ideal for use in environments where there is an urgent need for improved levels of hygiene, such as hospitals, ORs, and nursing homes. Therefore, the addition of antimicrobial features adds value to a product and differentiates it from the competition.
That said, perhaps the antimicrobial sector should come with its own health warning as there are so many potential traps and pitfalls when choosing a supplier. Choosing the wrong antimicrobial solution could lead to a great deal of wasted time and money.
Silver Ion Technology
There are a variety of different antimicrobial technologies available to manufacturers, each with its own unique characteristics. BioCote Ltd. specializes in silver ion technology, an established and effective antimicrobial solution. Silver has a history of effectiveness and has long been recognized for its ability to aid in preservation, dating back to the ancient Greeks, who used silver vessels to keep drinking water fresh. Today, the medical community uses silver in wound dressings and surface-coated catheters to reduce the risk of infection.
Silver ion technology is engineered into BioCote’s customers’ products at the time of manufacture. These products then provide continuous, built-in protection against bacteria such as MRSA, E.coli, and salmonella. Silver additives can be added to a variety of materials, such as plastics, powder coatings, fabrics, and papers at little additional cost to the manufacturing process and, consequently, the product margin. These treated materials then work because silver ions are available to act against bacteria contaminating their surface. The silver ions are known to damage bacterial cells in a number of ways, leading to their death.
Antimicrobial silver is a safe, durable technology. It does not break down, meaning it will not leach from the surface of treated products, retaining its antimicrobial performance for the lifetime of the product. In contrast, organic antimicrobials, such as Triclosan and Zinc pyrolithione, migrate from a product’s surface in order to work. As the active ingredient is lost from the surface, the antimicrobial performance of the product deteriorates.
Making the Right Choice
When choosing an antimicrobial technology it is important to be sure that it has a robust evidence base to support its marketing into the medical sector. While some technology providers will offer standard additive tests carried out in a laboratory, these do not prove that the antimicrobial technology will also work in practice (e.g. once incorporated into a product and used in healthcare environments). Antimicrobial products must be as effective when they are in situ, as they are in a laboratory test.
With so many companies offering technologies and making exaggerated and confusing claims regarding their effectiveness, deciding on the right provider can be daunting. It’s vital to choose a proven, evidence-based antimicrobial technology that can be trusted to provide effective and continuous protection in situ.
Many manufacturers believe that once their product incorporates an antimicrobial, they can forget about any further obligations. However, from an ethical and legal standpoint, the importance of constant validation and quality control to test the levels and effectiveness of an antimicrobial in a product is extremely important.
Testing should be completed on all components of a product that carry efficacy claims, including any coatings, plastics, papers, and fabrics that contain the additive. Robust test methods should be used to ensure that only products that reduce levels of bacteria by an acceptable margin pass validation. However, some products on the market are not as vigorously tested as others, which risks the credibility of not only the antimicrobial, but also the manufacturer promoting it as a feature of their product.
While many manufacturers will have a vast array of knowledge about their own product and marketplace, they may not be experts in the field of microbiology and material engineering. Therefore, when it comes to ensuring the smooth application of their additive into the manufacturing process and then promoting an antimicrobial product in the marketplace, they may require additional support.
It is vital for an antimicrobial supplier to offer support services to manufacturers, providing expertise that can take products from validation through market entry. This greatly improves the credibility of the product and reduces the risk of failure once it is launched.
Assistance with regulatory aspects concerning antimicrobial technology is a pre-requisite, ensuring all marketing claims made about the technology are compliant. This is particularly important when distributing internationally, where legislation and regulations differ in each country. For example, under the EU Biocidal Products Directive, all additives used in Europe must be BPD registered, and any antimicrobial claims must be supported with evidence.
As with many European Directives, the BPD is going through a succession of changes. In the US, the EPA and FIFRA have strict regulations that state what claims can be made about antimicrobial treated products that, in the past, have lead to legal disputes when misinterpreted. For companies looking for a safe route to market, specialist advice is essential.
The importance of a reputable brand can never be underestimated and branded antimicrobial technologies are being used in the same way as Intel, Gore-Tex, and Lycra as integral product features. Using a branded technology not only increases customers’ awareness of the antimicrobial feature, but also adds credibility to the product offering.
Antimicrobial protection could prove to be the innovative solution that many product manufacturers are looking for in the current climate, helping them reach new markets, growing share, safeguarding jobs, and building brand values for the future. With a clear focus on infection prevention and control in the medical and healthcare sectors, a company with a proven antimicrobial technology and the right support to market it can steal a march on its competition. So make a safe choice for the manufacturer, the customer, and the end user.