Behind the mask that deactivates COVID-19
by Alanna Fairey, Associate Editor
University of Toronto tests confirm mask from I3 BioMedical Inc. can deactivate COVID-19
TORONTO — In a major development in the fight against COVID-19, an antimicrobial coating was discovered to have the capacity to deactivate more than 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19.
The coating is applied to the outer surface of a surgical mask made by I3 BioMedical Inc., a Quebec-based medical tape and mask manufacturer.
The tests of the mask’s effectiveness were carried out by a team of University of Toronto (U of T) scientists.
According to the company website, the TrioMed Active Mask can only be used once for the equivalent of a normal 8-hour work shift.
Scott Gray-Owen, who is a professor in the department of Molecular Genetics at University of Toronto and director of the Toronto Combined Containment Level 3 Unit (CL3), said that the unit has worked with pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, HIV, tuberculosis, SARS-CoV-1, West Nile virus.
When the pandemic began, CL3 had started to work with clinician scientists at Sunnybrook Hospital, where the first patients in Canada that had COVID-19 were being treated.
“The [clinician scientists] were able to get legal swabs from the patients and then they brought them down to our facility, and then worked to isolate and expand the virus,” Gray-Owen said in a recent interview with Canadian Manufacturing. “We were then able to culture the virus.”
Gray-Owen explained that it typically takes months to get approved to work with a new pathogen, but thanks to good professional relationships with regulatory agencies in Canada, CL3’s research was fast-tracked for approval. This allowed Gray-Owen and his team to become one of the first facilities in Canada to work with the virus.
“Engineers at the Public Health Agency of Canada reached out to us about I3 Biomedical. The company had a mask, the surface coating would inactivate various bacteria and viruses, including influenza virus,” Gray-Owen said. “We started discussions with them.”
“And so, we started to work with them,” He continued. “It was really exciting for us to be able to help out this Canadian company with really innovative products.”
As for how the mask neutralizes COVID-19, the outer layer is activated with an antimicrobial technology that decontaminates harmful pathogens that may come in contact with its external surface.
When testing the masks, Gray-Owen said that CL3 produced extensions of the virus and applied it to the coated TrioMed masks and an uncoated generic mask.
“We were able to recover the virus from the uncoated mask, but we have not been able to recover any infectious virus from the coated masks,” he said. “Even though the pathogen remains bound to the surface of the mask just when the bacteria or virus come in contact with it, it seems to quickly deactivate the viruses, and it actually kills bacteria as well.”
Pierre-Jean Messier, executive chairman at I3 Biomedical, said, “We stabilize a molecule that molds into the fibers of the mask, when a bacteria or virus touches it, the virus will be destroyed at the molecular level. The presence of the carrier of the virus will trigger the mechanism to kill it.”
Gray-Owen said that it would be exciting if I3 Biomedical found a way to apply the concept of the surgical mask to other hospital materials, such as the N95 masks.
“We’ve had a lot of companies reach out to us to test materials that go on hard surfaces to inactivate the virus with doorknobs, cabinets and other things in hospitals or schools or other high contact areas,” Gray-Owen explained. “There are a lot of materials that will inactivate viruses in a general sense.”
For the time being, Messier said that I3 Biomedical would like to focus on increasing their production capacity in Canada, as that market had not been strong in the past.
“I need to see the Canadian desire from the government standpoint if they wish to have a steady supply,” Messier said. “I am looking to make sure that this device will be used by the Canadian medical community and then we will increase production capacity.”
Sold in a package of 5 for $10, the masks are available for purchase on the I3 Biomedical website and select drugstores across Canada.