Knocking out acne with a plastic patch

A new plastic from Israel that disables microorganisms can knock out acne, keep milk from spoiling, make juice boxes bacteria-free, and reduce infections.

teenagers

Teenagers suffering from acne will try anything to make the redness and infection go away, but current treatments have mixed results and numerous applications are usually necessary.

Thanks to Oplon of Israel, there may soon be rejoicing among acne sufferers. The three-year-old medical materials company in Rehovot in central Israel has come up with a unique patch that radiates an ‘energy field’ said to be capable of knocking out acne for good.

Beyond acne, Oplon, has high hopes for its technology which can also keep milk from spoiling, wipe out bacteria inside juice boxes, and even reduce the number of infections associated with hospital catheters.

Oplon works its magic by manufacturing polymers – a type of plastic – that have a very specific function: They disable microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. The polymers create an energy field “that can kill every microbe ever heard of,” says Omer Gonen, Oplon’s CFO. The energy field is safe: “It doesn’t radiate, it doesn’t heat and it doesn’t chill.”

Rather, it’s a chemical adaptation of a mechanism that has long existed in nature to help animals and plants defend against similar attackers. Indeed, these energy fields are “all around us,” Gonen says. “They’re in the air, in the room, and it’s much more energy than we create with a polymer.”

Acne patch on sale by next year

Oplon’s acne treatment consists of a patch with the polymers inside which the acne sufferer applies overnight. Within six hours, the redness, pus and pain associated with the acne will be significantly reduced, Gonen tells ISRAEL21c. “After 24 hours, the spot will be practically fully healed.” Best of all, “In most cases, it’s a one-time treatment,” he adds.

However, parents shouldn’t be too quick to rejoice, Gonen quips, “We don’t solve all the teenagers’ problems. Just the acne.” The acne patch, considered a ‘medical device’ and not a drug, will be on Israeli pharmacy shelves early next year, sold over-the-counter, with no need for a prescription.

Marketing to the US and Europe will come only after the patch has been thoroughly tested in Israel. In that sense, the country will be a sort of national guinea pig. “Israel is a controlled environment. We’re a relatively small country,” Gonen explains. “After a year or so, we’ll have a better sense of customers’ reactions.”

The price has yet to be determined, but Gonen is confident that it “won’t be a big barrier.” And if Oplon can break in, there’s a very large piece of pie waiting to be gobbled up – the market for acne solutions is estimated at $60 billion, he says.

Zapping bacteria and superbugs

A cure for acne is just the start. The same material in the polymer patch can be applied to the inside of milk and juice cartons to zap bacteria. That would represent a sea change for food manufacturers who today have two main options for keeping their products fresh. They can add preservatives or ‘hot fill’ the carton with a beverage heated to 70 degrees Celsius.

Both of those solutions have serious downsides. Preservatives may lead to health problems while hot filling destroys much of the nutritional benefit. Both affect taste. Hot filling also requires thicker plastic to hold the liquid while it’s cooling, which costs manufacturers more and causes additional damage to the environment.

Conceivably, a milk carton with Oplon’s polymers wouldn’t even have to be refrigerated after opening, Gonen suggests.

While the acne patch is essentially a stand-alone product, advancing fairly quickly, Oplon’s progress with the beverage-makers is somewhat slower. While it offers them many benefits, it also requires serious buy-in. Manufacturers would have to purchase new carton material, since you can’t just ‘spray’ the microbe-eating polymers on existing cardboard boxes. Nevertheless, Gonen is optimistic that Oplon can “correctly engineer the prototypes to fit a production line of a major company.”

A third application in the Oplon pipeline involves urinary catheters which, Gonen claims, are responsible for a full 50 percent of hospital-acquired infections (affecting some 90,000 Americans a year), resulting in more days away from home, greater expense, extra antibiotics and, of course, increased discomfort for the patient.

Gonen tells ISRAEL21c that Oplon’s material can even kill ‘super bugs’ – those microbes resistant to all current antibiotics – like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus). Oplon is just beginning clinical studies with catheters, so we’ll have to wait a little longer for that application.

“Huge potential partners”

As is often the case, Oplon’s polymer product line was discovered entirely by accident. The company was founded by a number of scientists – both chemists and physicists (key among them was Uriel Halavee who founded printed circuit board maker Opal which was sold in 1996 to Applied Materials). The scientists were working on an intra-cellular drug delivery system but the experiment went wrong.

“If it was me, I would have thrown it all in the garbage can,” Gonen smiles. But the scientists reviewed their formulas and realized they were on to something even bigger. “It really was a mistake,” Gonen says modestly. “Like the discovery of penicillin.”

Oplon is headed by Avi Shemer, a 42-year-old father of five who’s a physician by training. The company has 15 staff members and is looking to triple in size in the coming year. While Gonen wouldn’t reveal the source of the funds for that growth, he allowed that Oplon is “in contact with some huge potential partners.” The company previously raised $5 million from Wanaka Capital Partners in 2008.

Oplon’s products represent a “huge platform that will enable us to continue developing products for many years to come. Each product has a market in the billions,” Gonen concludes.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Oplon achieves all of its ambitious goals, but in the meantime the teenagers can break out the bubbly – acne relief is on its way.

About Brian Blum

Brian has been a journalist and high-tech entrepreneur for over 20 years. He combines this expertise for ISRAEL21c and Israelity as he writes about hot new local startups, pharmaceutical advances, scientific discoveries, culture, the arts and daily life in Israel. He loves hiking the country with his family (and blogging about it). Originally from California, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and three children.