New Zealand companies seek a slice of growing demand for biocides
By Fiona Rotherham
Sept. 24 (BusinessDesk) - Some 33 New Zealand companies and four district health boards stand to benefit directly from
research underway into a so-called biocide tool box.
The biocide research programme this month won the biggest single amount of funding, $13.2 million over six years, in the
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s national science research grants. Part of the reason for that is the
size of the prize – global demand for biocide products is growing and has doubled over the past five years to some US$8
billion. The companies are co-funding the research which will be customised to their export needs and are currently
subject to non-disclosure agreements. The DHBs through the Health Innovation Hub are also involved in helping develop
commercial products in the health area.
Biocides are chemical substances which can ward off harmful organisms by chemical or biological means. Examples include
legionella, hospital superbugs, mould in buildings and pandemic viruses. They’re used in all sorts of human activity
ranging from hospitals trying to fight bacteria to extending the shelf life of food on shop shelves to protecting water
from algae infestations.
A collaboration of researchers are involved in the toolbox, including scientists from Auckland, Victoria and Otago
universities and Scion, GNS and the Cawthron Institute. One of the things they did to boost their chances of funding was
to engage independent consultant, Martin Jenkins, to report on the export potential of biocide-related products in
different markets. The report found 4,600 high value manufacturing and services (HVMS) businesses were in
biocide-relevant industries and the fastest-growing of these were manufacturers of human pharmaceutical and medicinal
products, other non-metallic mineral products, medical and surgical equipment, other scientific equipment, fixed space
heating, and cooling and ventilation equipment.
There are already industries here using biocide products such as paint and coatings, wood and paper and smelting and
steel. Some $4.27 billion of biocide relevant commodities were exported from New Zealand in 2012, or just under a tenth
of total exports. Exports directly related to the biocide toolbox research totalled $740 million in 2012 and have been
growing by an annualised 5.3 per cent rate in the past decade.
Science leader Professor Ralph Cooney said an earlier government grant helped fund research over the previous six years
which was focused on one single technology family of biocides – synthetic, antimicrobial polymers. They developed a
novel way of combining the antimicrobial and anti-oxidant properties of polyaniline and combining it with conventional
plastics. The potential applications are huge, from packaging for raw meat to wound dressings to water supply systems.
Auckland University’s commercial arm UniServices has taken a 10 percent stake in US-based TiFiber Inc that has spun out
the patented technology under a licensing deal. It has taken on the risky task of getting the stringent regulatory
approval needed to produce the biocide and then on-sell it to companies wanting to incorporate it in their products
TiFiber already has a partnership with Bradford Soapworks to co-develop new soap formulations using the technology as a
replacement for triclosan and triclocarban which have been causing growing concern in the US over their harmful effects
when used in anti-bacterial soaps and other products. Minnesota recently became the first state to ban triclosan for
many applications including soap. The licensing rights are non-exclusive in New Zealand and Australia, leaving the door
open for any companies wanting to use the technology here.
Cooney said the biocide tool box involves a much broader range of researchers and potential functional biocides because
manufacturers said they wanted choices rather than relying on one single type to incorporate in their products. For
example, the Cawthron Institute is researching marine biocides while Scion is probing forest biocides and the
universities of Auckland and Otago are focused on synthetic surfaces through microbiology. The biocides themselves may
also be exported.
Given biocides – pesticides and antimicrobials - are intended to kill living organisms, they often pose significant risk
to human health and the environment. Cooney said the research is focusing on producing synthetic-natural biocide
combinations which would be more environmentally-friendly. And it is also looking at more innovative ways of applying
the biocides such as embedding them in surface coatings or contained within hand washes.
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