Nasty microorganisms lurking on bed rails, tables, doorknobs and other surfaces in hospitals are causing a more than $30 billion (PDF) problem for the U.S. healthcare system. This cool-looking device is one of many trying to hunt down these microorganisms in an effort to reduce healthcare-associated infections like MRSA and C. difficile.
Xenex Healthcare Services LLC’s portable disinfection system pulses bursts of the inert gas xenon at a rapid speed and high intensity in an ultraviolet flash lamp, producing UVC radiation. At certain wavelengths, UV light penetrates the cell walls of bacteria, viruses, mold and spores.
“The light acts like a needle – it pierces the cell walls and prevents them from replicating,” CEO Morris Miller said.
It’s used in addition to traditional surface cleaning. Hospital staff members clean the surfaces of the room as they usually would, to get rid of surface dirt, and then bring in the machine, open drawers and expose other surfaces that are likely to be contaminated. They turn on the device with a remote control and leave the room. The entire process takes about 10 minutes and leaves no residue or gas in the room, Miller said.
Xenon UV light is advantageous to hospitals because it’s less expensive, quicker and less harmful than traditional ways of automated sterilization, like using hydrogen peroxide gas or mercury lamps, Miller said. It’s used in sterilizing water and is approved by the FDA for the disinfection of food.
Most customers use the device on 30 to 50 rooms a day, although the company thinks it can be used up to 60 times per day, according to Miller. He added that use of the device costs about $3 per room, factoring in up-front and maintenance costs.
About one-in-20 hospitalized patients contract an infection during a hospital stay. As these infections have become increasingly resistant to common antibiotics, hospitals have adopted different methods for large-scale disinfection to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Some uses devices like Altapure’s and SixLog’s, which convert common liquid disinfectants into a fog that can sanitize rooms in minutes. Philips Healthcare, American Ultraviolet and TRU-D also make UV disinfection devices.
Xenex’s device has been tested in destroying numerous superbugs, including C. difficile, MRSA, VRE and Acinetobacter. In a study conducted at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, pulsed xenon UV light reduced the presence of C. diff in hospital rooms by 95 percent compared to bleach cleaning.
Two years after the launch of its product, Xenex has just raised $9 million to support a push into international markets like Canada, Europe and Australia. Morris said the company will also be expanding its U.S. sales team, ramping up inventory and continuing product development. A majority of Xenex’s funding thus far has been provided by Cutstone Ventures LLC, an investment firm led by Morris.
An attorney by trade, Miller is also co-founder and former president and CEO of the IT company Rackspace Hosting.
So far about 100 hospitals are using the system, he said, including Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Massachussets, Cone Health System in North Carolina and MountainView Hospital in Nevada. The VA recently conducted a return on investment analysis using the product, and Miller said he expects a large tailwind from the strong results of that study.
Xenex is now based in San Antonio after moving out of Austin in June.
[Photo from Xenex Healthcare Services]