Tom Bianca interviews Mark Speiker CEO of Sharklet Technologies
Tom “Now Mark you've got some really interesting stuff going on. I know for me I'm kind of nervous when I go into hospitals and public places where people can catch germs and get fairly sick. Now you've got some technology that helps defends against catching germs so let's go ahead and dive into that and explain what your company does".
Mark "Thanks for having me today. Sharklet technologies use textures that are inspired by sharkskin to control bacteria on surfaces. So these dangerous things that you're talking about are germs bacteria that live on surface and our goal is to be able to change the nature of those surfaces so that they have our textures on them so those bacteria don't attach or grow".
Tom "Now some people are afraid of handshakes. Do you have something going on with that or are we going to keep on washing our hands".
Mark “You’re still going to have to use soap and you still have to shake my hand and will get my germs when you do that. In that situation really the best cure is going to be washing your hands. But we think that we can also help once you've shaken my hand and then I go and I touch a door handle or I touch a counter top and somebody comes behind me and touches that same area we think we can help reduce that transmission from me to the surface".
Tom “So tell me how did the technology gets first get started and how long has the company been around".
Mark "So we'd license the technology of the University of Florida back at the end of 2007. There was a professor that was there experimenting with this idea of what he called engineered roughness, could he rough up the surfaces that way and affect the way microorganisms or bacteria would attach to. The US Navy thought that was a really interesting idea and they funded him and asked if he could actually develop textures to go in the bottom of their boats to keep out algae and barnacles from attaching. So like any good Professor look for funding he said Of course I can do that and he got to work. As he got to work on it he became inspired by the skin of sharks when he learned that sharks violate a rule of the ocean and that rule is that things that go fast in the water like dolphins and porpoises stay nice and clean were things that go slowly in the water like whales and manatees get fouled with algae and barnacles and other growth. Sharks go slow but for some reason stay clean. Scientists are trying to figure out for years why that is. They've looked at this chemical that they can secrete off their bodies and also looked at electrical charges they can send to their bodies, but they were never able to really figure out why. So when Dr Anthony Burnham from the University of Florida came along as a material scientist he started to look at it and say well gosh what if it has something to do with the shape of their skin. So he looked at their skin under a microscope and he started to see these physical and mathematical properties in the skin that aligned really closely with the models that he was working on for engineered roughness. So he took part of sharkskin and put it into his model and created these textures. This is where it gets really cool. He tested them against the algae in barnacles and he got about an 85 percent reduction in algae growth and a 97 percent reduction in barnacles. Then he went after the germs which were concerned about because those like different kinds of bacteria like pseudomonas, E. coli like salmonella stuff that causes food poisoning and stomach aches to pneumonia and skin infections. He also found that they have trouble attaching to the surface as well. That's really the secret sauce with our technology. Our service doesn't elude anything. It doesn't exude chemicals off of it. It's a texture that stuff has trouble attaching to and bacteria in their cycle of life attach to a surface and then start to grow. So we believe we can create a surface they have trouble attaching to and if they don't attach than they won't grow and if they don't grow, we think we can know help keep people from getting sick".
Tom "So with the chemical of the skin is there any harm that comes to the shark"?
Mark "Great question, so the technology is actually is a texture that mimics the skin of a shark, so those sharks are not harmed in the making of our technology and no sharks are used in it. It's really inspired biomimic technology, the field of biomimicry and bio medic technologies are those that are inspired from nature. So our technology is inspired by the shape of sharkskin and then we take that shape and replicate that in different kinds of plastics".
Tom "So what stage is this currently product currently in, is it still being developed or is there products available on the market right now".
Mark "So both you know. We really got the company going at the beginning of 2008 and the textures that we use to make these textures are at the micron scale. When we started the company and even early today, nobody made features that size for any reason except maybe in the computer chip industry. We had the challenge of figuring out how you make that small and how do you get three dimensional so you can manufacture stuff out of it. So the first thing that we did was figure out how to do that. We spent the better part of about five or six years figuring out how to make the technology. The second stage is figuring out how to test it and we found out a killer approach to do that. What they administered is an antibiotic or a chemical, it creates this energetically unstable surface or this anti attachment technology with the idea that this stuff just doesn't attach so it dies off. So we had to work on new test methods to really be able to evaluate our technology and show that it's working. So as we've done that, we figured out how to test it and how to make it work with products, such as medical devices and consumer products".
Tom "So how are you financially operated and where is the funding coming from"?
Mark "We are a privately held company. We've raised a total of about $5 million. Our initial funding came from a lot of Colorado entrepreneurs; a couple of Colorado guys got together saw the promise of the technology and where able to put together the initial seed money. It was about a million dollars in seed money to be able to get us going. There was a CEO, a gentleman named Joe Bangan, who was the original CEO of the company and I was the chief operating officer along with an engineer. As we've grown, I took over as the CEO in 2010, we've added on a staff that went from three people back then to as many as 15 people now between employees and contractors. The other part of our funding in addition to the $5 million in private capital, we've had we've raised another four or five million dollars in grant money. The U.S. government offers a program called the S B R program, small business innovation and research and if you’re in the bioscience industry these types of grants is available for you to work on your project. They're extremely competitive, but we're really fortunate that we've received nine of these grants to the tune of about four or five million dollars".
Tom "How long did it to take to get the grant".
Mark "Grants are tough to get. We actually have had full time resources working on that. We've got our first grant about two years after we started the company, so it was in 2010 and it was for the development of a urinary catheter in medical device field. About two million people a year get what are called hospital acquired infections caused by germs. You go into the hospital for knee surgery or back surgery or some kind of some kind of ailment and while you are in you pick up some other kind of bug. So two million people a year pick up these extra bugs they didn't have when they went into the hospital. We spend 30 billion dollars treating them. And despite those efforts a hundred thousand people die from those. It is really it's a tragic problem. So we started writing grants going after that problem seeing if we could use our technology on the medical devices. The first device that we got was a urinary catheter of those two million infections about 40 percent of those are urinary catheter related. So we've been able to first get a grant to do that and then we partnered with a large medical device company called Cook Medical out of Bloomington Indiana to be able to make a catheter that has our Sharklet patterns on it aimed at reducing bacterial growth and migration on the surface".
Tom "So with all your applications of products that are currently available what do you see in the future for the company"?
Mark "So the first product, the urinary catheters and clinical trials and we're testing to be able to see if we can replicate those results in the laboratory and in a person, the second device that we're working on is an Endotracheal tube, a breathing tube it helps people stay more stable. We're also working on an application called an interocular lens right now when you get into your 70s you're likely going to end up having cataract surgery. And when you have cataract surgery they put a new lens in your eye and the cells that in your eye grow into the field of vision and start to obscure your field of vision. This happens like 25 to 50 percent of the time. We've been able to demonstrate with a local ophthalmologist here in Colorado. He came to us with a device design that we were able to incorporate a Sharklet pattern into and using that we were able to figure out how to reroute the growth in those cells so that we don't grow into the field of vision. So we think we can also develop a great product in the ophthalmology space. So that's really the main products from a medical device perspective that we're working on from a consumer product perspective. That's really the limit. Any surface that you come in contact with on a daily basis is a vector for transmission of bacteria. Anything you touch, you're going to leave bacteria on that surface and the next person that comes along is going to have an opportunity to pick that up. It's most prevalent in the hospitals where those infections occur. We actually just had a publication get released where we were able to show a reduction in a simulated environment where we had doctors come in and simulate treating of a patient and then having to touch different kinds of medical equipment in the treatment process. We were able to show about a thirteen fold decrease in the transmission of bacteria from the patient to those devices they were using to treat that patient".
Tom "That's great because my mom was one of those people that caught a urinary track infection and it led to other complications. And she eventually died from complications throughout that course of treatment. So how long is it going to be in trials and ready for that market”?
Mark "It's going to take the next few years to be able to thoroughly test it out. The FDA has a pretty rigorous procedure for us to go through before we can get the products made and get them through these types of clinical trials. Our technology is pretty inert, it doesn't include anything, there are no new chemicals that are being put into it. So there are avenues where we can get the products into the market faster. The issue is that you can't make claims that they actually improve human health until you do studies that show that they do. And those studies take time and money ".
Tom "Do you think there are any setbacks that are going to occur or do you think you are right on your goals"?
Mark "We're right on our goals. We've spent the last six years figuring out how to make the technology, how to test the technology and building a product pipeline that we're ready to take to market. Right now, as a company we're out looking for funding and once we are able to secure that funding we've got a pipeline that we're ready to develop and start getting into the marketplace".
Tom "How long do you think this is all going to take for the application to the public market for like door knobs, mats and various other products"?
Mark "So right, the medical device space has a specific area that it's and a specific timeline that it's on it's really controlled from a regulatory perspective. For the consumer products we're working with a couple of different partners for different types of technologies. The one that's going to be most ready and should be ready for the marketplace in the next month or two is an i-Phone case. This is a i-Phone case that's got our Sharklet technology injection molded directly into it. The cool thing about this is that when bacteria come in contact with this, for examples I've got kids like to play with my i-Phone and they leak bacteria all over the place then they give it back to me. With our technology on it will reduce bacteria 91 percent right off the bat, which we think is really exciting. To go along with this case we're also developing a screen protector that you be able to put right on the cover of your i-Phone. We've designed one that has our Sharklet pattern on it, which also decreases bacteria by about 91 percent".
Tom "Well that's great, because it's a lot better and they put up a huge plastic bag around you kids and preventing the spread of germs right"?
Mark "Exactly right, for some reason my kids just don't like that. I tried to wrap them in bags, they wouldn't go for it. So this is the first product that you'll really see in the marketplace in the next couple of months. As for an i-Phone 5 is what we have available now. But right behind that, we look to plan to develop a line of other mobile accessories that we could add to it. Then longer term for the consumer products we're working with some large companies to be able to integrate our patterns directly into products. There's one company in particular working with is going to give us the ability to be able to put Skarklet into things like laminate counter tops, wallpapers, coated fabrics. Lots of the area, if you look around this room show things that you see and touch we'd be able to incorporate architecture into that".
Tom "Well like we're saying the germs are very easily spread and they last on the surface for 24-48 hours in, some cases even more. So do you plan to sell the phone covering to the manufacturer companies or is that available for any person to pick up on your web site"?
Mark "Yes, on our website www.sharklett.com it will be able to direct you to a place where you can buy I-phone cases. We're also in conversations with some of the larger companies to be able to see if we can incorporate our patterns right into their designs and their case designs. We think that if we can do that not only could we start to sell some cases ourselves, but also really get it into a much wider audience with some of the larger companies".
Tom "So the economic impact is overwhelming with not only the spread of the diseases in the hospitals and the amount of money that it costs for these preventable situations, but as well as for selling of the products, it can be amounts of billions of dollars in overall economic impact".
Mark "Absolutely. I mean the cost of these hospital acquired infections right now is about thirty five billion dollars with a hundred thousand people losing their life there as well so it's a serious problem. Yet not only is that a serious problem, but that the health care system and Medicaid changed the rules back in 2008 and those people that get a hospital related infection they said they're not going to reimburse for that. And the important part of that is from an economic perspective that means the hospital is now economically liable for that. So if you’re at a hospital that if somebody with a urinary tract infection and spends 10 or 20 or 30 thousand dollars treating them they used to be able just to send a bill to the insurance company or the health care company or Medicare and they would get reimbursed for that. And now those claims are being sent back and saying hey that's a hospital acquired infection they didn't have when they came in and got treated by you therefore you Mr. hospital are economically liable for them. The great thing about that is that hospitals are now looking for new solutions to be able to keep that from happening. They're being more diligent in their procedures that they do and try to make sure that what they do is done under sterile procedures. They're making sure the doctors are washing their hands and they're wearing gloves, they're doing a better job cleaning and they're looking for new technologies. And our goal would be to be one of those technologies".
Tom "So tell us about the location, web site address and phone number where they can find out more about your company”?
Sure, we are located in the bio science park on the Anshultz medical campus for those who aren't familiar with the area. this was the old fitzsimons campus was about 10 or 15 years and web site is www.sharklet.com.