We’re providing disinfection like the world has never seen
How a team of Solvay scientists is revolutionizing hygiene
As the world’s first truly effective cleaning solution that keeps surfaces disinfected for 24 hours, Actizone™ is the result of a new way of approaching product development for Solvay’s scientists, and it happens to have emerged at a time when humanity needs it like never before. We spoke to two members of the Actizone™ team – Amit Sehgal, Actizone™ Lead Inventor and Formulations Manager, and Tamara Mamistvalova, Senior Scientist – to find out what it was like for them to take part in such an exciting adventure.
Focused on transforming health & wellbeing
Can you start by telling us how it all began?
Amit Sehgal: The starting point for Actizone™ was a market survey conducted by Solvay’s Novecare business unit to uncover future needs across markets. From there emerged a strong emphasis on health and wellbeing, with disinfection particularly resonating in terms of customer expectations. So working on a new disinfection solution, particularly an unmet need for a long-lasting solution, became a strategic direction for us. I personally started working half time on the project five years ago, so it’s been a sustained effort.
What does Actizone™ bring to the world?
A.S.: Current disinfection formats haven’t really evolved in decades. Antimicrobials can kill bugs faster and faster, but without lasting efficacy. We’re transforming the expectations consumers can have about disinfection products. In a few years, everyone will expect that when you’ve just cleaned a surface, it will stay disinfected for a day. That shift in thinking is what we’re aiming for, and it’s inspiring to think that our team is at the center of that change.
Did you start working on this new disinfection product from scratch?
A.S.: From the strategy, we looked at our portfolio. We were approached by a company that wanted to use a Solvay polymer system to develop a long-lasting disinfection product, but was unable to reach satisfactory efficacy. We instantly knew what to do and took it from there, partnering with them to pursue the work with our critical insight for global product prototypes. From the very beginning, our objective was to provide a solution that could contribute to the health & wellbeing of a growing and ageing global population that is more and more vulnerable to infection and disease.
The Covid pandemic must have dramatically accelerated things…
Tamara Mamistvalova: Absolutely. When the pandemic hit, the need for what we were developing grew stronger, and it made the project that much more rewarding. We also wanted to do everything we could to help people by advancing such a solution. It’s an amazing feeling to be on the forefront of changing the way people approach hygiene in the future.
A.S.: When Covid came, we were ready: we had already started working with leading customers. We were in that unique space where we had anticipated an urgent solution to a crisis that hadn’t happened yet.
A residue that cleans: a contradiction in terms
Enabling 24-hour surface disinfection posed a big scientific challenge. What was it?
T.M.: Anyone can launch products that will keep surfaces disinfected, but they’ll leave a thick residue. Our struggle was to make something clean with an almost invisible residue, yet still effective.
A.S.: Residual disinfectants are designed to leave a residue on the very surface they’re supposed to clean: it’s a contradiction in terms, and a seemingly impossible task that has eluded experts for decades. So it was a real scientific challenge: we had to push the boundaries to get maximum efficacy with an ultrathin film and a minimum amount of chemicals – that’s where the innovation lies. Also, the residue left by Actizone™ transforms what a surface is, from a passive recipient of infectious pathogens to a delivery vehicle that actively eliminates them – hence the name of the product. Our customers, with their hundreds of years of experience and many researchers, were so impressed they all wanted us to work with them exclusively. But we wanted to have the broadest impact possible.
What’s the secret to overcoming such a scientific challenge?
A.S.: These things don’t happen in a vacuum. Solvay has a lot of LegoⓇ bricks to play with: hundreds of surfactants and polymers… We’ve built amazing depth and breadth of experience and developed products of all types. We’ve invested in science for decades and work with universities and research institutes around the world. All that investment pays off in terms of scientific know-how, and that’s what enabled us to achieve this.
In a few years, everyone will expect that when you’ve just cleaned a surface, it will stay disinfected. It’s inspiring to think that our team is at the center of that change.
Disinfection for people, planet and prosperity
By being so efficient, Actizone™ also has a positive impact in terms of sustainability. Was that important in the equation to you?
A.S.: I’ve been working on advancing the sustainability of chemical solutions and green chemistry in the US for a very long time. Developing a long-lasting disinfection concept appeals to me because you’re hitting all three Ps of sustainability: people, planet and prosperity. It protects the health and wellbeing of people from microbial threats, it dramatically reduces chemical use and environmental impact for the planet, and it serves as an invaluable tool for the recovery effort and sustained prosperity of our communities.
For this project, you also experienced a whole different way of organizing your work. How did that happen?
A.S.: It felt different from the beginning, because instead of scientists playing around with molecules, we were responding to a specific market need. And following that strategic direction, we ended up at the right time in the right place. It takes a lot of commitment from management to support mid/long-term projects like this one, with a dedicated team; that’s quite unique.
T.M.: Once the core team was formed – no more than a dozen people based in Bristol, Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia – we worked like a startup within the company. We had a mission with a specific goal and strong dedication to one sole purpose. We were committed and had a strong team dynamic, and we got a lot done.
A.S.: While the whole world was shut down, we were going into work every day. I was often the only car on the interstate on my way to work. It was like we were putting out a fire, with everything moving so fast. Everyone pulled out all the stops, from the microbiology team to regulatory, industrial and legal. The microbiology competencies that were built up at Bristol with Laura Gage guiding the development, are truly the other half of the story.
How about now, are you still working on Actizone™?
T.M.: We’re always working on it! We’ve launched in Europe and South Asia, with lots of regulatory oversight and approval to get through, and have entered the registration process for the US. Working in incubator mode allows us to move in many directions at the same time: right now, we’re working on different formats such as sprays, wipes and dilutable concentrates.
A.S.: That’s particularly important for developing countries, where people often can’t afford disposable spray bottles. But the technical challenge is huge: to keep the same efficacy in a product that’s destined to be diluted in water. So the challenge continues.