UAH research shows contract company’s products kill COVID surrogate virus

Dr. Debra Moriarity
Michael Mercier / UAH

Contract testing done for North Carolina-based ESC Brands LLC at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, has shown two of the company’s Zetrisil-based sanitizers are as effective as alcohol and are persistent in killing a COVID-19 surrogate virus.

Zetrisil is the brand name for a compound containing proprietary silicons and benzalkonium chloride. Testing at UAH and two other institutions has confirmed Zetrisil’s virus-killing capabilities, though the ESC Brands products currently are FDA-registered to kill only bacteria.

The testing is part of work ESC Brands is doing to be included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) List N for products showing efficacy against COVID-19. Further testing against the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus will be done by testing labs with Biological Security Level 3 facilities.

The company is also seeking inclusion in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s list of recommended anti-microbials for households.

“The Department of Biological Sciences at UAH is active in research to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Paul Wolf, department chair. “Dr. Debra Moriarity’s research will lead to a better understanding of the specific properties of these cleaning agents, rather than using general purpose cleaners that have only been tested against bacteria.”

Dr. Moriarity, a professor emerita and retired Department of Biological Sciences chair, is conducting the tests in her lab at the UAH Shelby Center for Science and Technology. The research is the first antiviral laboratory testing done by UAH’s Department of Biological Sciences.

“Dr. Moriarity joins other UAH faculty who are working on COVID-19 testing and potential therapies, illustrating the active partnerships currently aimed at solving real world problems,” Dr. Wolf says.

ESC Brands and UAH were introduced by a friend of Dr. Moriarity. The company contracted the testing through Dr. Joseph Ng, a UAH biological sciences professor and director of the Biotechnology Science & Engineering Program.

“Dr. Moriarity introduced me to them,” Dr. Ng says. “They are working colleagues of Dr. Moriarity and I got involved because we were working on COVID-19.”

It’s the company’s first project with UAH, says Bruce Smyth, ESC Brands managing director.

“I can say it’s been a very professional and rewarding experience, even given the difficult time we live in,” Smyth says.

So far, Dr. Moriarity has tested ESC Brands’ My Shield Surface Sanitizer and My Shield Laundry Complete.

“We plan to do this testing using both standard testing methods and quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis,” Dr. Moriarity says. “We have focused both on initial killing of the murine hepatitis virus – a surrogate for SARS-CoV-2 that only requires a Biological Security Level 2 laboratory to conduct – and on persistence in killing on treated surfaces and fabrics.”

Her tests found that treated surfaces continue to kill the virus within 10 minutes for up to 30 days after treatment. A test for 90-day killing efficacy is underway.

“I tested fabric that had been treated with the Laundry Complete product last December, and it still killed 99% of the virus within a one-hour contact time,” Dr. Moriarity says. “I am currently testing the Laundry Complete for killing one, seven and 14 days after treatment. The company’s Hand Sanitizer and Body Spray are undergoing testing now.

“There have been so many companies trying to get products tested that the GLP labs are very backed up taking months to years to get tests done,” she says. GLP facilities are labs that follow a quality system involving the organizational process and the conditions under which non-clinical health and environmental safety studies are planned, performed, monitored, recorded, archived and reported.

“I didn't really want to go back to work after over a year of retirement, but after learning how effective the products had been against bacteria and other viruses it sounded like a good way to help provide products to battle COVID-19,” Dr. Moriarity says. “Getting effective products tested and approved for use by EPA quickly could save lives, keep kids safer at school and get businesses functioning again.”



Dr. Paul Wolf

Jim Steele