“The pandemic set us back, but it gave us a shot in the arm by raising consciousness about the threat of microbes on surfaces,” observes Hadley Beauregard ’22 (biochemistry and German; center in photo), one of three founders of the business start-up Bac-B-Gone. In September, Beauregard and her teammates, Hailey Charest ’21 (biochemistry and microbiology; right) and Bryanna Freitas ’20 (chemistry and psychology; left) earned first-place honors and $41,000 in seed money in the 2020 Innovation Challenge. The Challenge is an annual business plan competition hosted by the Isenberg-based Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. The team developed its novel application under the auspices of Margaret Riley, a UMass biology professor whose lab develops alternatives to antibiotics called bacteriocins, which are toxins produced by bacteria to inhibit the growth of similar or closely related bacterial strains.
Applied through a wipe, Bac-B-Gone creates a protein bind. “That accounts for its longevity on a surface of up to two months,” notes Charest. “In contrast, an application of bleach stops working in ten minutes.” After a member of the university’s lacrosse team told Charest about an outbreak of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that spread through equipment in the locker room, the UMass undergrad turned to the Riley lab, which had the know-how and resources to address a host of surface-borne contagions. Most urgent among those, the team emphasizes, is the pandemic pathogen MRSA, which the World Health Organization characterizes as “the most important health issue of the 21st century.” (Currently, the bacterium has 2 billion carriers and 700,000 annual deaths to its unsavory credit.)
At the Innovation Challenge finals, the team identified Bac-B -Gone’s initial target market as healthcare responders. Besides the application’s longevity, the partners offered three additional selling points—the wipes are nontoxic, organic, and kill bacteria on contact. And the young scientist/entrepreneurs shared a complex business plan that encompassed creation of intellectual property, patenting, licensing, production of a pilot quantity of the wipes, EPA testing, manufacturing, and bringing the wipes to market. In the team’s pitch for seed money, the lion’s share ($35,000) targeted licensing fees and navigation for EPA approval. Beauregard, Charest, and Freitas also asked for funds for market research and manufacture of their pilot product.
The technology transfer process, with its licensing, patenting, and navigation through the EPA, has slowed the pace of progress, Beauregard and Charest observe. They are trying to decide whether they should cede greater control to UMass to move things forward more rapidly. Beauregard adds that the COVID crisis has presented unexpected roadblocks: “Material for wipes became scarce and we were locked out of our lab until September. But we adapted. And on the positive side, the crisis flagged the importance of prevention in combating transmission. That is what our own product is all about.”