We’re often asked if antimicrobial additives such as ours are effective against coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The answer is… it depends.

It depends on a variety of factors, such as additive levels, formulation chemistry and application (e.g.: moulding vs coating); and we’re working to overcome the issues.

Since the first reported cases of COVID-19, we’ve been actively formulating and testing additives and materials in a bid to understand the factors at work, and identify routes to potential efficacy against coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. In the initial absence of specific testing against this novel virus, we commissioned independent evaluation of a broad variety of active substances and materials against similar viruses, including influenza A, feline calicivirus, feline coronavirus and human coronavirus. The results of these tests have enabled us to develop a clearer picture of the efficacy of different active substances.

It’s important to note that the active substances used in any particular application are typically determined by suitability, but are also restricted by regulations. For example, the pool of ‘approved’ silver-based active substances in Europe or the US is limited to just a handful, so most companies in our sector will be using the same active substances as we use at Radical, and as we have tested. Whilst novel biocides are of interest, unless they have regulatory support they cannot be used in Europe or the US. For that reason, we have focused our attention on the active substances most commonly used in polymers and coatings: silver phosphate glass, silver zinc zeolite, zinc pyrithione and silver nitrate.

In order to evaluate these active substances, we first needed to determine the level of efficacy that would constitute a ‘meaningful’ result i.e. one which could be considered sufficient to translate into a tangible real-world effect. Based on discussions with leading laboratories, including IMSL and Virology Research Services, we concluded that the ISO21702 requirement of 90% reduction would only be useful if it was achieved within 2 hours, rather than the 24 hours specified by ISO21702. Indeed, the value of a 24 hour antiviral test, both in terms of consumer perception and actual benefit, is questionable.

For this reason, our criteria for the ISO21702 testing are…

Minimum: 90% reduction within 2 hours
Desirable: 99% reduction within 2 hours
Optimum: >99.9% reduction within 2 hours

The independent tests we have commissioned to date have demonstrated that it is extremely difficult to achieve meaningful antiviral performance in moulded or extruded polymers at an economically viable level of active substance. For example, even when used at 5% by weight in polypropylene, the most commonly used active substances (silver phosphate glass, silver zinc zeolite or zinc pyrithione) were unable to achieve a reduction of more than 80% of Human coronavirus within 2 hours, which we believe to be inadequate. It is worth noting that these levels would increase the cost of the moulded material by a factor of 5-10 times, dependent on the active.

We continue to work towards a robust solution for polymers, however, in coatings it is easier to achieve good levels of efficacy. Well, at least, it can be...

In a thin coating – perhaps 5-10 microns thick – the entire active additive content is at or near the surface, ensuring it is all available to contribute to the antimicrobial effect. In a moulded piece, a significant proportion of the active substance cannot be close enough to the surface to contribute. For good antibacterial performance, the level of active substance required is relatively low, making it less expensive to use an additive in the polymer than undertake a secondary coating operation. However, given the very high levels at which the same additive must be used to provide anti-viral efficacy, the cost of a coating begins to look far more appealing.

The results we have seen suggest that a thin coating with an appropriate active substance is capable of providing meaningful anti-viral results: >90% reduction in virus load over two hours. 

To date, the most impressive coating performance we have achieved is a reduction of 99.7% of human coronavirus NL63 within 2 hours. We are working to improve that to a 99.9% reduction.

That said, it’s important to bear in mind that the active substance which delivered this level of efficacy in that particular coating may well perform very differently in another coating. This is always an important consideration with any antimicrobial additives. 

We often see test reports from other companies stating that an additive will provide xx.xx% reduction of a specific organism in “ABS” or “polycarbonate”. This is completely nonsensical, as performance will vary from one grade of these materials to another. It goes a long way to explaining why we have, on many occasions, encountered commercially available products purporting to be antimicrobial, but which are, in fact, no better than an untreated material. And that is why we insist on – and invest in – diligent testing.

So… are SteriTouch antimicrobial additives effective against SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19?

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is an enveloped virus, as are influenza A, feline coronavirus and human coronavirus NL63.  As outlined above, we have tested against these three ‘surrogates’ and demonstrated that good levels of performance against each of them are feasible.  It may, therefore, be reasonable to infer that the same would be true of SARS-CoV-2… however, the results also show that active substances provide different levels of efficacy against different viruses, deactivating some more efficiently than others. For example, a treated material which achieves >90% reduction of feline coronavirus may not achieve any discernible reduction of human coronavirus NL63.

Regrettably, testing against SARS-CoV-2 remains prohibitively expensive for most companies.  However, it is now available and therefore we will begin to see more useful data on which we can base future formulations.  In the meantime, at Radical Materials we remain cautious.  By continuing to work on formulations and invest in testing, we aim to develop economically viable SteriTouch antimicrobial additives and materials which will help protect against coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.