From Adviser to CEO: Morris Miller on Xenex’s Disinfecting Robots

When Xenex Disinfection Services was first launching, Morris Miller was an adviser to the company’s founders. Given his experience as a co-founder and former CEO of Rackspace, (NYSE: RAX), the San Antonio, TX-based cloud computing giant, Miller would provide insight into building a business from Xenex’s key product, a robot that uses pulses of xenon-based ultraviolet light to disinfect hospital rooms.

Miller, who has friends and family in the medial field, was intrigued by the product’s potential for improving patient safety, so much so that he helped the company with funding, too. Xenex expected that cleanings performed by its robot could reduce infections in hospitals by 5 to 10 percent.

Then, results started coming in: After using the Xenex machine, the rate of hospital-associated Clostridium difficile infections dropped by 53 percent in 2012 from the year before at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, MA. The company’s robots, which cost around $100,000 each, emit pulsating UV lights that wipe a room clean of microbes that kill about 70,000 people annually and infect about 1.4 million from diseases such as MRSA and C. Diff., Miller says.

Other studies tout its effectiveness. At Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham, AL, the number of infections on knees and hips that had undergone surgery fell from seven to zero over the course of 12 months, according to a study published in 2015.

Miller says the results were so promising that he dedicated himself to Xenex as its CEO because he believes in the tool’s infection-preventing, life-saving potential. I caught up with Miller for a discussion on Xenex and its robot in San Antonio in September.

Xconomy: People seem to have adapted to the mindset that if you go into a hospital, you might get an infection.

Morris Miller: OK, yes. You do not have to get sick when you go to the hospital. If there’s a theme of what I want to let the public realize, it is you do not have to get sick if you go to the hospital. You now have a choice: to potentially get sick or to not. It is a completely individual choice.

X: You can say it works, but how do we know it does?

M.M.: We now have seven peer-reviewed studies. There are 60 companies that compete this market, us and (makers of) mercury light bulbs. They’ve had zero. They’ve never proven that they work. Nobody would deny that they can kill something on a glass slide. That’s different than producing results in the hospitals themselves. We just had one study that was a 100 percent reduction. Basically the hospital had no infections. We had another one that was a skilled nursing facility, a 90 percent reduction. The only person who had the infection was one

Morris Miller

Morris Miller

man who refused to be removed from his room. We had another 56 percent reduction in C. Diff. You ever had the stomach flu? You know how uncomfortable it is. Imagine your discomfort multiplied by 20. Something like 30 percent of patients who have this intestinal discomfort, like you’ve never had, and I can’t imagine, they end up having to have their intestines removed for the rest of their life and they have to walk around with a bag. Another 10 to 15 percent die. It’s unbelievable.

X: When you say drop in infections, you’re not talking about contamination?

M.M.: No, no. That’s 99.9 percent-plus. This means that the infection rate dropped. Last year, take Lowell Hospital: They said they had 46 surgical infections. They used Xenex at the end of the day. This year, they had 23. That means that 23 people didn’t get the infection. When (Trinity Medical Center) said they had a 100 percent reduction, that means they had zero infections. The year before, patients in the hospital had 7 infections on their joints, knees and hips. That doesn’t sound like much but let’s say you just got your hip replaced. Now they say, “Hey, we’re really sorry but you need to come back in for that infection. We have to put you out, and we’re going to remove that hip. You’re going to be immobilized for the next three weeks. We’re going to start treating you with high-dose antibiotics, try to get rid of the infection in your body, and figure out a new implant to put in. It’s probably going to be another three to five weeks.”

X: How are you getting greater adoption?

M.M.: When you think about a missionary business, I can look around and I can say, anyone that is going into a hospital, I am fighting for them. They need someone that’s going to insist that the hospital … Next Page »

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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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