Rory Donnelly, clinical research director of Copper Clothing, discusses the need to fast track copper for use in the NHS as an antimicrobial material in light of the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
COVID-19 has pushed the topic of public health to the forefront of people’s minds. From the outset, the question on everyone’s lips was, “when will we get a vaccine?”. Now that has been answered, we have seen COVID-19 vaccines rolled out at record speed, requiring immense collaborative efforts across the medical sector to ensure they can be supplied to the population as quickly and as safely as possible. But other medical innovations have not enjoyed this same experience.
Whilst COVID-19 is clearly a top priority, it is important that the medical community does not get complacent in tackling other public health issues in its wake. The World Health Organization has named anti-microbial resistance (AMR) as one of the world’s top 10 global health threats facing humanity. By 2050, drug-resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide, more than currently die from cancer, and perhaps surprisingly to some, the metal copper can help reduce that threat.
Now is the time to look at fast-tracking other innovations, much like we have seen happen with the COVID-19 vaccine.
Barriers to medical innovation
The use of copper in medical settings still faces many regulatory hurdles despite being proven to be cheaper, more sustainable, and as having better antimicrobial activity than silver surfaces – which continue to be widely used today. Academic and industrial research of innovative medical devices is occurring at high speed but the introduction of these devices into the health service is slower than for other consumer products. Whilst regulatory processes are needed to ensure high standards for quality, safety, and effectiveness, it is crucial that these agencies do more to streamline the approval process and ensure the medical sector can keep up with evolving technologies.
The pandemic itself has also played a part in halting medical innovation with nearly 100 companies reporting some sort of disruption to a clinical trial at the start of March 2020.
How copper can help
Copper is just one solution. Its main benefits stem from its oligodynamic properties. This is where copper has a toxic effect on pathogenic microorganisms that it comes in to contact with. At Copper Clothing, we are carrying out research and development to highlight the transformational change copper can have in the medical device industry in helping to fight infectious diseases. But agencies are yet to realise copper’s full potential.
Various studies have demonstrated the antimicrobial properties of copper, with our tests showing that our copper-infused products destroy 99.99% of bacteria, fungi, and viruses within minutes of contact.
Not only can copper help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it can also be used to tackle the global public health threat of AMR as well as save vital costs to our NHS. Copper-infused wound dressings were found to reduce surgical site infection by over 80% in a peer-reviewed study. If widely used, this technology can significantly reduce the use of antibiotics in disease treatment, and ultimately help to prevent antimicrobial resistance. So why isn’t copper being used everywhere?
The future of infection prevention
Medical equipment can lead to infection, often treated with antibiotics. With a drug-resistant infection crisis looming, it is important to look to new innovations that can solve this issue in ways we haven’t yet adopted, such as using medical equipment infused with materials like copper.
Whilst the focus remains on COVID-19, it is crucial that the medical community continues to take a long-term view for other disease solutions. Cross-collaboration across the medical supply chain is needed to ensure innovative solutions can gain the approvals required in a timely manner and join the fight in tackling current and future public health threats.
Clinical research director