As COVID-19 spreads across the world, hospitals have become ground zero for the virus.
It can be challenging for all the surfaces in a hospital room to be thoroughly disinfected when that room is being cleaned and prepared for the next patient. This poses obvious health risks, especially during a pandemic.
One company has developed a robot to help battle hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), and is now in a position to potentially help slow the spread of coronavirus within health care settings.
San Antonio-based Xenex makes full-spectrum UV Germ-Zapping Robots to eliminate harmful bacteria, viruses and spores that can cause HAIs in a patient environment. Ultimately, the company wants to become the new standard method for disinfection in health care facilities worldwide.
“The mission from the beginning was to reduce pain, suffering and needless deaths caused by hospital infections,” CEO Morris Miller told Crunchbase News.
As the pandemic has escalated, Xenex has seen “hundreds” of orders for its $125,000 disinfecting robot from all over the world, in particular Asia and Italy, according to Miller. In addition to new orders, the company has also seen a bump in purchases from its existing customers.
“Over the past month, our partners from all over the world, particularly in Asia, started ordering hundreds of robots. We’re working as hard as we can to fill all of those orders,” Miller said. “We’ve been working seven days a week for the last three to four weeks. In addition, we’ve seen an increase in orders from existing hospitals for robots for their emergency rooms.”
Xenex is also being asked for bids on quantities of robots “in the thousands,” he added.
After shipping a large number of robots to Italy, Irene Hahn, the company’s VP of sales wrote: “At any other time, we celebrate these wins; however, in light of what is happening in Italy, this one is different. …We are absolutely humbled to be in a position to help in the United States and across the globe.”
The recent increase in business follows a year in which Xenex turned the corner to profitability, according to Miller. Revenue percentage growth was up about 20 percent in 2019, but Miller projects growth will be anywhere from 400 to 600 percent in 2020.
Epidemiologists turned founders
Xenex was founded in Houston in 2009 by two Johns Hopkins-educated epidemiologists, Mark Stibich and Julie Stachowiak, and launched commercially in 2013. It has raised a known $86.4 million in venture funding over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase data, from investors such as Battery Ventures, Essex Woodlands Healthcare Partners Piper Jaffray Merchant Services and Tectonic Ventures. Its last known venture round, a $38 million raise, was announced in February 2017.
The $125,000 cost per robot may sound pricey, but the company estimates that figure translates to about $2 to $8 per room depending on the number of rooms it’s used in each day.
So far, Xenex’s robots have been deployed in more than 500 hospitals worldwide including The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic Health System, Stanford, 55 Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities and 10 Department of Defense health care facilities. Worldwide, its robots are in the U.K., Europe, South America, Asia, Middle East and Africa. And those numbers are increasing daily, according to the company.
The robots are also now being used in other health care facilities such as surgery centers and skilled nursing facilities, as well as pharmaceutical clean rooms, a Los Angeles Police Department station and a Westin hotel in Houston.
Xenex’s robot stands out from other similar devices because multiple outcome studies–published in nearly three dozen different peer-reviewed journals–have shown reductions of 53 percent to 100 percent of infections acquired in hospitals, according to Miller.
The company also claims its robot is the only pulsed xenon UV device of its kind, while dozens of other companies manufacture mercury UV devices. The robot, called LightStrike, also works significantly faster and more efficiently than other disinfecting methods, the company claims. Xenex says its high intensity, pulsed xenon UV (an environmentally friendly noble gas) is effective at rapidly (in 5 minutes) deactivating viruses and bacteria.
Xenex is on its fifth version of the robot currently on the market.
In 2011, MD Anderson published the first peer-reviewed study about Xenex’s technology, which showed that the LightStrike robot was able to get a room 22 times more disinfected than traditional cleaning methods. Miller estimates that number is even higher today as the technology behind the robot has evolved over time.
“We just keep making them better and different as we try to satisfy the hospitals’ needs,” he told me this morning.
Every time the robots are used, they report what’s happening to the cloud.
“They [Xenex’s customers] know who ran the robot, what room they ran it in, how long they ran the robot, how many times they ran it,” he said. “We don’t just sell the robots to hospitals, we give them a complete picture and essentially hold their hands every step of the way.”
Michael Brown, a general partner with Battery Ventures, told me in 2016 (when I previously covered the company) that he was drawn to Xenex and its innovative technology.
Brown’s father served as chairman of the board at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center so he had firsthand knowledge of the impact of hospital-acquired infections. When he heard about Xenex’s robot, Brown cold-called CEO Miller and “fell in love” with what the company was doing.
“We knew right away that this is a game-changing technology and something we wanted to be involved in,” Brown said.
Xenex offers LightStrike robots and the LightStrike Disinfection Pod, which is a portable containment unit that enables health care facilities to quickly disinfect high-touch mobile equipment that travel throughout a hospital such as wheelchairs and IV poles.
Xenex currently employs about 100 people but is already ramping up production staff to meet demand with plans to hire more than a dozen over the short term.
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