Early responders fight pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has given Hong Kong a chance to cement its reputation as a city full of nimble, innovative firms which can adapt rapidly to changing circumstances.

One of them is Chiaphua Industries Limited, a manufacturer established in the 1930s, which rushed out products and services early this year as the pandemic gathered steam.

Hamilton Hung, Chief Anti-epidemic Officer of Chiaphua, said encapsulation technology for controlled release of active antimicrobials is the key feature of the company’s GERMAGIC™ treatment, which can be used for air sanitation, water sanitation and waste management. He explains how the company fast-tracked its sanitising technology as the epidemic gathered pace.

Your company has been involved in the manufacture of various industrial and consumer products. How did you manage the transition to medical products?
The transition indeed was seamless as Chiaphua has been involved in the home environment business since 2000 and focuses on air and water purification. We already collaborate with many healthcare companies and have gained good connections in this sector. Our exposure to more than 200 international brands in the past 25 years on the manufacturing side gave us a leading edge and readiness to embrace the new global opportunity.

The GERMAGIC™ antimicrobial solution is regarded as a successful example of cooperation between government, industry, universities and research institutes. How did you carry out the research and development (R&D) process?
Chiapua Industries Limited (CIL) has been working with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) research team since 1999. After the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003, the team led by Professor Yeung King-lun hoped to develop technology giving long-term disinfection and epidemic prevention. However, it was not until 2015 when CIL acquired a HEPA [High-efficiency particulate air] filter factory in Shenzhen that the development progress accelerated to deliver significant results. The two parties also established the HKUST-CIL Joint Laboratory of Innovative Environmental Health Technologies in 2018, hoping CIL can speed up the conversion of the laboratory's research results into commercial products for the benefit of the industry and society. The Germagic brand therefore came into being. In the same year, CIL and HKUST brought their products to the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions in Switzerland and won the gold medal.

What patents does GERMAGIC™ have for its sterilisation technology?
The main ingredients of GERMAGIC™ are polyethylenimine and Thyme Essential Oil. The key to this coating technology’s success lies in the surface ingredients that actively disrupt the microbial envelope and biomolecules, rendering microorganisms non-viable upon contact. The coating also prevents microbes from sticking to their surface, keeping objects free of microbial contaminants. Using a special blend of antimicrobial polymers, the new coating effectively kills as many as 99.99% of bacteria and viruses through contact-killing and anti-adhesion technology. Viruses succumbing to the technology include rubella, avian influenza, H1N1 and feline calicivirus (FCV) – a non-enveloped virus that is among the hardest to kill. According to United States Environmental Protection Agency guidelines in 2016, being effective against FCV is equivalent to being able to inactivate the coronavirus – an enveloped virus that is easier to sterilise than non-enveloped ones.

GERMAGIC™ has more than 10 global patents, and has received global authoritative testing and identification, and more than 100 professional report certifications.

The new GERMAGIC™ coating has diverse functions. Could you give some examples of specific applications?
The product is designed for use on different surfaces including metals, concrete, wood, glass, plastics as well as fabrics, leathers and textiles without changing the materials’ appearance and tactile feel. In addition to commercial 90-day long-lasting disinfecting coatings, we have also launched retail products including 30-day, 72-hour disinfection sprays, air filters specially designed for air conditioners and air purifiers (Giabo is currently the only air purifier in the Hong Kong market that uses GERMAGIC™ filters). GERMAGIC™'s technology has also been applied to drainage systems in Hong Kong through disinfection and slow-release gel materials. It has also been evaluated by the Drainage Department of the Hong Kong Government as “a revolutionary scientific research product for sterilisation and deodorisation developed in Hong Kong”.

Can you provide figures on institutions such as day-care centres, nursing homes, kindergartens and primary and secondary schools, shopping malls, school buses, churches and sports training facilities that are using your products?
CIL has applied GERMAGIC™ coating to more than 500 schools, a number of day-care centres, nursing homes and other places including shopping malls, theatres, hotels, churches, public buses, hospitals, airports, the Science Museum and Space Museum. Theme parks such as Ocean Park and Hong Kong elite athlete’s training centre, the Hong Kong Sports Institute, have also applied GERMAGIC™.

Similarly, how does your company promote the application of GERMAGIC™ technology to hospitals in Mainland China?
CIL has also donated as much as HK$1.5 million worth of anti-microbial air filters – a potent air purification technology developed by Professor Yeung’s team in 2017 – to various hospitals in the mainland, including Wuhan’s emergency Huoshenshan Hospital.

You are planning to start marketing your products in Thailand. Do you have plans for any other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries?
In terms of business development in overseas markets, we have signed agreements with agents in many countries, including Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. The Malaysian government decided to choose GERMAGIC™ after detailed consideration and evaluation and has applied it at a central railway station, national tourism centre, government premises and institutions. Because of the relatively short launch time of our commercial and retail products, the negotiation work in other regions/countries is still in progress. Of course, we hope to promote GERMAGIC™, a Hong Kong-developed and Hong Kong-made brand, to all parts of the world to help in the global fight against epidemics.

How did you go about turning the crisis created by the COVID-19 outbreak into an opportunity?
When the epidemic began in January this year, we realised that the situation was not good, so we immediately purchased commercial spraying tools and mobilised the cleaning services of the hotels under the group. The employees formed a spraying team and immediately started servicing business-to-business customers. In fact, we originally planned to launch retail products in the third quarter but because the epidemic became more serious, we wanted to fulfil the company’s philosophy of promoting the business and meeting the needs of the public. Therefore, in addition to serving commercial customers, we chose to invest a lot of manpower and resources into serving disadvantaged groups and public-service organisations such as nursing homes, households and schools. With all these efforts, the retail products were launched more than one month ahead of our original schedule.

How did the firm carry out its cooperation with HKUST, and how it did it help the scientists/researchers perform the commercialisation process?
The university’s role was primarily the technical aspects of developing the product. In order to gauge the response of retail customers, CIL played a crucial part. They went out into the market and their research team gathered as much information as they could as well as collecting in-depth feedback from potential customers. This helped our scientists improve the technology to create a product that meets the needs of customers.

How does the company hope to take advantage of the new three-month technology promotion campaign launched by the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) to promote Hong Kong’s capabilities in ASEAN markets?
We will continue to actively cooperate with Professor Yeung’s team at the HKUST-CIL Joint Laboratory of Innovative Environmental Health Technologies, hoping to develop GERMAGIC™'s technology into different fields. [As mentioned] We also launched retail products including 30-day, 72-hour long-lasting disinfection spray and air filters for air conditioners and air purifiers. We hope that this technology can be developed into more fields in the future, such as laundry detergents, hand sanitisers masks. Through cooperation with different industries, we hope GERMAGIC™ will become as familiar to consumers as other patented products such as Teflon, Goretex and Intel. This will allow GERMAGIC™ to gain the confidence of the consumers as a genuine expert in epidemic prevention and disinfection.

In another medical innovation, the painless ceramic microneedle patch developed by the HKUST team has a very high biocompatibility, which can realise the controlled transdermal delivery of solid pharmaceuticals. The injection is simple and painless, no professional medical staff are needed and patient compliance is high. It helps to solve the problems associated with storage, transport and large-scale injection of vaccines such as low-temperature environments, the deployment of medical personnel and the disposal of medical waste. Therefore, in the future, we certainly hope that we can participate in the HKTDC’s physical or online exhibitions, such as the medical supplies exhibition [HKTDC Hong Kong International Medical and Healthcare Fair], to introduce and promote our brand to more people

Article grabbed from HKTDC.