LivOnyx: Can you kill a pathogen in three seconds?

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a hyper-focus on hygiene and infection prevention. For LivOnyx, and its President and Co-Founder Carmela Mascio, that focus is at the heart of its mission. Founded in 2016, LivOnyx is an early-stage company developing a rapid, fully automated hand disinfection system to reduce healthcare-associated infections using its proprietary, patented thinSpray technology and antiseptic.

The company was as one of five women-led companies to receive $87,500 in funding and access to a network of executive coaches for a year as part of the second round of the Massachusetts Life Science Center’s (MLSC) Massachusetts Next Generation Initiative (MassNextGen). The program identifies promising women-led life sciences companies and provides them with critical funding and access to a robust panel of executive coaches.

“COVID-19 has opened many eyes to infection prevention and how mitigation matters,” said Mascio. “However, a lot of the behavior proving to be critical during the pandemic, from hand washing to the proper use of hand sanitizers, has always been critical to our health.”

For Mascio and her team, this echoes most sincerely for health care workers and patients. According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, one in 25 patients in U.S. acute care hospitals contract a healthcare-associated infection with close to 75,000 of those patients dying annually.

The LivOnyx origin story resides in Mascio and her team’s previous work at Cubist Pharmaceuticals in Lexington, Massachusetts. They investigated the nature of infections in hospitals, where they were coming from (contaminated hands, hospital room surfaces and durable medical equipment), and ways to stop them from manifesting. The Cubist infection prevention effort ceased following its acquisition in 2015, but there existed a sense of duty to continue the critical work in a new endeavor using a different technology.

“There was and remains still a genuine desire to help society and address an unmet need and to make a safe and effective solution,” said Bruce Carvalho, co-founder and Head of Product Development & Engineering.

The company’s goal is simple: aid healthcare practitioners in maintaining hand sanitization effectively and efficiently, so their prime focus is on direct patient care. The team’s ethnography research, led by fellow co-founder Lawrence Shubert, confirmed that a need exists for a hand hygiene solution that leaves hands dry, facilitates hand health, is available near the patient, and is effective against a host of pathogens that current products miss, all within three seconds.  Ultimately, it all boiled down to this question — is it even possible to kill a pathogen in three seconds?  Mascio confidently answers, “With the right combination of a controlled deposition method and antiseptic, yes!”

LivOnyx has demonstrated through proof of concept work that its thinSpray system rapidly inactivates clinically relevant bacteria – including Clostridium difficile spores, a pathogen which infects more than 220,000 hospitalized patients each year – by dispensing a minute volume of antiseptic to quickly and consistently coat test surfaces.

“We want to break the cycle for health care workers,” said Mascio. “They know best practices for hand hygiene but are stuck relying on solutions to an important transmission mechanism that has not experienced innovation in decades.”

As a first-time entrepreneur, Mascio is not shy to admit, her foray into biotech did not initially include an itch to start a company. However, the mission to help health care workers and patients drew her in. The funding from MassNextGen was indeed critical for the LivOnyx team, while she also lauds the access to serial entrepreneurs through the MassNextGen Executive Coaching network.

“The coaches and coaching sessions helped demystify so much for me and my team,” said Mascio. “It is hard to put a value on hearing directly about the successes, and even failures, of others and how they responded.”

Beyond MassNextGen, LivOnyx is an active member of the life sciences and MLSC community. The company utilizes space at the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) at UMass Lowell, where Mascio first learned about MassNextGen. M2D2’s Director of Operations Mary Ann Picard serves on the MassNextGen Executive Coaching Network. Before becoming part of the second cohort of MassNextGen Entrepreneurs, Mascio took part in the MLSC’s inaugural Pitch of Their Own event, which highlighted the groundbreaking innovations championed by women in Massachusetts.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth for the company and from Carmela,” said LivOnyx Research Associate Crystal Hardy. “The support through MassNextGen is helping drive progress in the lab and beyond.”

The company is actively fundraising to build a clinical-stage prototype. To further push development forward, the team is continuing to understand and crystalize their regulatory pathway. Catapulting off this work, LivOnyx was a presenting company at BIO’s Startup Stadium this past June and recently became part of MassMEDIC’s 2020 IGNITE MedTech Growth Challenge Cohort.

The MLSC was the lead funder of M2D2. A joint partnership between UMass Lowell and UMass Medical School in Worcester, M2D2 is a business incubator that helps medical device and biotech startups bridge the gap between idea and market. Since its inception in 2007, M2D2 has assisted more than 100 companies.