Inconvenience Or Innovation? Lead Scientist Maha El-Sayed Shares How To Spot The Difference
What you need to know:
- Maha El-Sayed, CSO at Allied BioScience, came out of retirement to develop life-saving products.
- A crucial decision disguised as a scientific curiosity led her team to innovate SurfaceWise2™.
- SurfaceWise2 is the groundbreaking solution that kills bacteria and viruses on surfaces for up to for weeks.
What would it take to pull you out of a well-deserved retirement following a prestigious career? For our Chief Science Officer Maha El-Sayed, it took the opportunity of a lifetime to develop a revolutionary product that could save lives, and change hers in the process.
El-Sayed joined Allied BioScience in 2018, but she’s been paving the way for women scientists for decades. After receiving her MS and Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from MIT at the remarkably young age of 23, she got her post-doctoral degree from Stanford. She then went on to develop her expertise in technology and product development and deployment as a leader at The Clorox Company.
We sat down with El-Sayed to hear what it’s like to lead a team of America’s top scientific minds in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology and material sciences, and how to know when an idea is worth investigating.
Tell us a bit about your background. You graduated so early! Tell us all your studying tips.
Ha! I did graduate at 23 with my Ph.D. from MIT. After that, I spent most of my career at Clorox. I held different leadership positions there. The highlight of my Clorox career there was leading the forefront of our innovation work, including trying to develop a continuously active antimicrobial product. We tested a ton of approaches, but none worked. I retired without finding the solution.
And that’s when Allied BioScience called.
That’s right. Well, really it was my friend, Mike Ruley. He’s the CEO of Allied BioScience. He called me — and kept calling me — going on and on about this new product. Once he shared the data they collected after testing SurfaceWise® in hospitals, I knew I had to join the team. It demonstrated that SurfaceWise could reduce Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs), and any reduction of infection rates is a big deal. A jumbo jet amount of people die every day due to HAIs, especially the elderly.
I realized I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. Developing a product like SurfaceWise2 is what I’ve spent my whole career working toward.
So you joined the team. What have you been doing since?
Well, I’m the Senior Vice President of Science and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Science Officer. A long title, but basically it means I oversee our science strategy, including product development, research, testing and regulatory approval. I work with a team of scientists and thought leaders, and my main goal is to support their curiosity and give them the tools they need to create revolutionary products.
“Support their curiosity” — what do you mean by that?
Yes — I give them room to ask questions and explore new directions, even when it’s inconvenient.
I’ll give an example: SurfaceWise was performing very well in the healthcare sector. We were working very hard to expand its registration with the EPA for killing bacteria. In the middle of all the rush to get EPA approval, a couple of my scientists came to me with some ideas for how they could improve SurfaceWise, making it more durable and able to kill viruses in addition to bacteria. I was more focused on getting approval than going back to the drawing board, if I’m being honest. But I realized I needed to support their curiosity and create some time for them to explore this idea.
In the end, they created SurfaceWise2, which could kill viruses on surfaces for weeks — just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wow. Talk about a life-changing decision. So your team developed SurfaceWise2, and nothing else comparable exists. Tell us more about it.
SurfaceWise2 is a transparent, non-tacky, odorless coating that our testing has demonstrated bonds to surfaces for weeks, creating a hostile, upsetting environment for bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus, causing them to die when they land on it.
Is SurfaceWise2 effective against COVID-19?
Yes. SurfaceWise2 can play a unique role as an additional weapon in our arsenal against COVID-19. Right now, we’re being told to wear masks and social distance. And those things are really, really important. But there really isn’t a good solution for the contamination that’s on the surfaces we touch.
Right now, any place that’s open — the business owners are trying to clean as continuously as they can. But the reality is contamination is constant, and traditional disinfectants alone just don’t cut it.
That’s where SurfaceWise2 comes in, helping people keep surfaces clean, reducing the load of the virus that’s on it, and really give people the confidence to leave their homes.
Are there any other products that can provide long-lasting protection against coronavirus?
No. SurfaceWise2 is the only product approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make that claim. If others make that claim, they’re doing it illegally.
The EPA is here to make sure products are safe and effective. Their hurdles are high and hard to get through. To sell products that claim to kill microorganisms, you need EPA approval.
Any other companies that sell products making those claims are breaking the law and misleading consumers.
What does the future hold for SurfaceWise2?
Well, right now, with the pandemic still affecting us all in very real ways, it does its part to protect us. And keep in mind that the virus will never go completely away — we’ll just develop better ways to fight it.
Today, SurfaceWise2 helps protect us against COVID-19. In the future, as it becomes registered for broader use, it will be able to be used to kill a broader variety of potentially future unknown viruses and superbugs. It will also help us fight known issues, like the flu, MRSA, HAIs and more.
There will always be infectious bacteria and viruses on surfaces. SurfaceWise2 is just another way to protect ourselves against them. It will keep surfaces safe so people can live their lives without fear.