Xenex’s Bug-Fighting Robots Gain Traction with Hospitals

In the war against microscopic pathogens, some hospitals are turning to drones.

But the weapons in these robots, made by San Antonio’s Xenex Disinfection Services, are not bullets, but pulsating xenon-based UV light capable of neutralizing microbes that kill about 100,000 people each year.

“We can show beyond a reasonable doubt that using Xenex reduces the pathogens in the hospital environment,” says Morris Miller, Xenex’s CEO. “In 10 minutes, we can disinfect a hospital room. The bottom line is that patients end up not getting sick.”

Xenex, founded in 2009, announced it has raised $11.3 million in venture capital Friday. Investors included Battery Ventures, Targeted Technologies, RK Ventures, which had been an existing investor. The capital will be used for product development, international expansion, and increasing the company’s U.S. sales force.

The problem is this: Although hospitals spend much time and money on efforts to keep facilities clean—from hand wash campaigns to sterilization protocols—deadly superbugs such as MRSA and C. Diff persist. In particular, C. Diff can remain on surfaces such as bed rails or door handles for six months, Miller says. About two million patients get infections during their stay at hospitals.

Increased use of antibiotics has only made the pathogens resistant. “As the pathogens basically become smarter, and antibiotic resistant, it’s important to find ways to stop the pathogens before they infect people,” Miller says.

Xenex’s robots, which bear a certain resemblance to R2D2, are wheeled into hospital rooms. Its head rises up and the “neck” is where the xenon light resides. It emits a series of flashes with UV light that essentially “hits pathogens where they are vulnerable,” Miller says.

Data on hospital-acquired infection rates is spotty, as many healthcare providers don’t report consistently on their own infections, and don’t go out of their way to publicize their infection rates. But a study published in the August 2013 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control reported that … Next Page »

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