Jeffrey Williams, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Williams, Ph.D.

N-Halamines For Everyone!

Imagine gym socks that smell fresh after four straight workouts, or antimicrobial wash cloths that wipe a counter clean of bacteria with one swipe. These are just two of the myriad promises of N-halamines, a new class of rechargeable, microbe-bashing chlorine stabilizers under product development at HaloSource Corporation, whose President and CEO is Jeffrey Williams. This former Michigan State University Medical School microbiology professor intends for his company to become “a leading force in the improvement of human health and the quality of life worldwide”—a lofty goal, but a goal easily obtainable considering the incredible potential N-halamines hold.

FoodTechSource: How did you get involved with N-halamines?

Jeffrey Williams, Ph.D.: I had been doing research on infectious diseases and following all the literature on new developments, when I had noticed scientific work coming out of Auburn University that concerned a new class of compounds called N-halamines, which were powerfully antibacterial and antiviral. I began an academic collaboration with the professor/inventor who held all the patents and I realized that the scope and commercial potential of the compounds was extraordinarily broad and that it would be worthwhile to pull together as a start-up company. So I quit the university and acquired an option on the patents, and later acquired options on patents at the University of California at Davis in the same area of chemistry. The company we formed has, as its core, the control of the commercialization of this novel group of compounds in all their applications worldwide for anything antimicrobial.

FTS: What are N-halamines?

Williams: I guess the simplest way to describe them is as a group of compounds that stabilize chlorine. For example, swimming pools are disinfected with chlorine, which is, of course, an antimicrobial. But you need to add stabilizers to the chlorine in the pool water, otherwise the chlorine disappears—it gasses off and the sunlight destroys it. N-halamines are a new class of chlorine stabilizers that are far superior. They do a better job by many orders of magnitude. And even more remarkable, they can be grafted to solid surfaces. So, instead of a powder that you throw in a swimming pool that dissolves and stabilizes the chlorine, these compounds can be plastics; solid surfaces that the chlorine will stick to. The consequence is that you can create what we loosely call contact biocides—surfaces that will kill a bacterium or a virus or a fungus on contact. And they can be recharged. Because once you use them to kill bacteria they become spent. All the chlorine atoms that you stabilized on the surface are used up. But our technology allows you to recharge them by simply exposing them to a source of chlorine and water. You can do it ad infinitum. And what you create therefore are surfaces—they can be beads, they can be fibers in a textile—that will kill bacteria and will be infinitely rechargeable by the simple means of exposing them to laundry bleach.

FTS: That leads to a host of applications...

Williams: There is great interest in antibacterial textiles. The textile fibers get damaged by bacteria, so just helping to preserve a textile is a valuable feature. Plus, now you can build into that textile functions like odor control...most of the odor associated with clothing is caused by sweat, which provides food for bacteria. If you can stop those organisms from growing in the clothing—which N-halamines do—you stop odor.

FTS: What about applications for the food industry?

Williams: Imagine a textile that would kill E. coli or salmonella or HIV when it landed on the clothing. Now you’re looking at it in a protective capacity—people working in the food service industry who had uniforms or dish clothes that would kill the microbes on contact. That’s where the product can eventually go. So, our first series of applications are really in the textile field, but one can only imagine the whole list of applications when you can create a fiber or bead that will kill bacteria on contact: if water flows over that bead it will be decontaminated; if air flows over those fibers it will be decontaminated. You can develop all kinds of devices that can control bacterial and viral contamination of water and food stuffs and air.

“What you create
are surfaces—
they can be beads,
they can be fibers
in a textile—
that will kill
bacteria and will be
infinitely rechargeable
by the simple means
of exposing them
to laundry bleach.”

FTS: Sounds like you will be getting into the filter business...

Williams: That’s right. Plus, we can create a surface lamination that looks like a varnish that will bind the chlorine—just flood it with a dilute mixture of bleach and the surface becomes antibacterial. That surface could also be the surface in a food preparation area, or it could be the paint on the wall in a surgical operating theater, whereby a periodic wipe with dilute bleach would create an antibacterial paint surface.

FTS: Can you graft N-halamines onto wood?

Williams: Yes. We’ve actually worked with a manufacturer who makes wood cutting boards.

FTS: What about the possibility of developing a knife, for example, that would be antibacterial?

Williams: We can certainly build it into the plastics that are used as handles but not in the surface. We can coat metals but we’re thinking there are more applications in medical devices where you might want to create the surface of a valve or a piece of tubing and have a lamination on it that would bind chlorine and be antibacterial.

FTS: How fine a surface can you coat? How fine a filter might you create?

Williams: We can actually take the polymers we create and coat tiny fibers that are about the thickness of a human hair. So we can make very fine filters. We’ve also worked with some polymers and plastics that can themselves be made porous. So we can blend into those our polymers and make these porous surfaces both antibacterial and rechargeable.

FTS: In the case of an N-halamines-treated cleaning cloth, how rapid is the kill?

Williams: It depends on whether the salmonella you put on that cloth is a blob of salmonella or a blob of salmonella mixed with steak or chicken juice. That effects the speed. Let me give you an example: If we take salmonella or E. coli, and we drop that onto a piece of cloth, we expect to kill those organisms in about two minutes. Now if we mix that up with blood, for example, it will take about ten minutes. But still, compared to other ways of killing bugs on textiles, most of those alternatives take hours to days. So we are orders of magnitude faster.

FTS: It takes that long to kill the bug? Or it takes that long to make sure all the bugs are killed?

Williams: Again, that depends...we expect to see a reduction of one-million fold—one-million times fewer bacteria—in two minutes if we put them onto a cloth. So it’s extraordinarily fast.

“We expect to
see a reduction of
one-million fold—
one-million times
fewer bacteria—
in two minutes”

FTS: But it’s not like an instant kill, where if something touched the cloth it would immediately become immobilized?

Williams: Well, it’s hard for us to recover them and find any survivors in less than two minutes. We have to process the piece of cloth. Probably some are dying in seconds. But we can’t process that cloth and recover them and count the survivors; it takes us two minutes to do that.

FTS: And it’s a fairly mild solution of chlorine that you use to rejuvenate the process?

Williams: We’re titrating down the amount of chlorine, but typically a product like Clorox tells you to put 1/2 cup in a load of wash; you can go way below that and still charge these textiles very effectively. You don’t need much.

FTS: With products you’ve already done some testing on, like the socks and the hotel bedding, is the fabric able to kill enough bacteria to keep the odor down while the product is in use?

Williams: We’ve just started to do that sort of wearer trial, and the first data we’ve gotten on this is really good. We’ve had people wear these socks for several days at a time and find an amazing amount of odor control. We’ve had T-shirts that people have worn through several workouts on several days; stick them in a locker bag and at the end of three days exhibit tremendous odor control, so we’re confident about the performance.

FTS: Obviously you have to shepherd these concepts carefully through R&D and HACCP; which government regulatory agencies are you working with?

Williams: Certainly in the United States you’ve got a whole host of regulatory agencies that effect the use of a product like this in food service areas or in health care. Where we have the most latitude is at the consumer textile level, where we are looking to cooperate with athletic wear companies to create lines of anti-odor T-shirts, underwear and socks...and that’s probably going to be the easiest path to market in the United States.

FTS: Who regulates that?

Williams: The EPA.

FTS: How odd...but I guess odors are part of the environment.

Williams: Yes, and like most federal regulatory agencies, they are the most comfortable with conventional approaches and least comfortable with anything novel. That’s somewhat of an inhibition to innovation. But nonetheless the agency has the legal responsibility to approve products that go into the marketplace with the kinds of claims we want to make, so that’s who we work with.

FTS: How long do you expect it to take?

Williams: The odor control application, we’re confident that we can get products into the marketplace next year. The applications in health care, we’re looking at FDA involvement in doctors’ offices or doctors’ uniforms or bedding...those are going to take quite a while.

FTS: So, as of right now you really don’t have a product on the market?

Williams: No. We got the company financed one year ago. And we spent this year in part doing some product development chemistry, working with chemical plants to make the polymers, and working out quality control procedures for manufacturing both in the United States and overseas.

FTS: But you hold the patents?

Williams: We hold patents for all the applications for N-halamines worldwide. So we can look at applications that range anywhere from cutting boards to swimming pools to diapers.

“We hold patents for
all the applications
for N-halamines worldwide.
So we can look
at applications that
range anywhere from
cutting boards to
swimming pools to diapers.”

FTS: In other words, you’re sitting on a gold mine...

Williams: It’s a very interesting opportunity. It’s a little mind stretching for me as a scientist. My background is pretty broad. I’ve not only worked in infectious diseases but I’ve been a consultant to the pharmaceuticals industry and know a fair bit about drug manufacturing and discovery. But here, I’m dealing with applications that range from swimming pools to diapers to air filters, and getting to know the structure of the competing products out there, the structures of the industries and what the avenues are into them—when you’re looking at a diversity of this nature—is a mind stretching experience. I’m enjoying it, though.

FTS: How did you pick and choose which product areas to go after first?

Williams: We have a very good group in marketing and market research. They do intensive analysis of opportunities in each of those areas and we prioritize them; we have as a company a kind of philosophy that we work with the biggest and the best; we think we have the best antimicrobial technology, so we are intending to collaborate with and partner with companies that have dominant positions in these areas.

FTS: According to your Web site ( one thing you are looking to develop for the food industry is a sanitary wash system; how long do you expect that to take? Is it just a matter of needing to get the okay from the FDA?

Williams: It’s regulatory. What we are hoping for is to work with some partners who have enough muscle to put together good data packs for the USDA and FDA; going down the path toward food preparation applications, we’re probably looking at somewhere in the region of two years to get through the regulatory process.

FTS: So, the products are essentially ready to go?

Williams: Yes. The chemistry isn’t the problem. Right now it’s an issue of safety more than efficacy. We can prove we can kill the viruses and the yeast; it’s safety: what are the residues? What are the impact of those residues on all sorts of test systems. That’s expensive and time consuming.

FTS: Do you expect to move into water treatment any time soon?

Williams: Absolutely. What we think is that the applications of water treatment are of worldwide importance. This is a great way to decontaminate water. We are talking with two major international companies in water treatment so we expect to see this move fast; but internationally. That’s where the opportunity is here. There are some applications here in this country, in particular military devices for troops to treat water, but most of that is overseas. No question we have a crisis developing in regards to the deterioration of water quality here in America. But again you’re up against fairly significant long-term regulatory compliance issues when trying to develop a water treatment approach for American uses.

FTS: Best of luck.

Williams: Thanks.

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