Can a Norwegian-developed product make the military more resistant in pandemics, to infections and to biological warfare agents?


The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shown us how vulnerable society is to different viruses. This vulnerability also applies to the military. Photo: Frederik Ringnes / Forsvaret

“In the future, we cannot ignore that groups or nations will use disease-causing microbes and viruses to harm a society or weaken its armed forces”, elaborates Research Manager Dr Øyvind Voie at FFI. 

FFI and the Norwegian company SoftOx Solutions are joining forces in a new research and development (R&D) project where the goal is to ensure the best possible prevention of infection, and treatment of wounds and infection injuries in the Norwegian Armed Forces.

Alcohol-free alternative

SoftOx patented a method for disinfection without the use of alcohol several years ago. The product is based on hypochlorous acid and acetic acid, which are well-known substances in the human body. 

Hypochlorous acid is the substance white blood cells produce when they attack bacteria and viruses. The SoftOx-patented technology has been developed in collaboration with the universities of Lund and Copenhagen. Tests show that it kills bacteria, viruses, fungi and spores without increasing the resistance of microbes. Because it is not alcohol-based, it is also gentler on skin and hands. 

The company has already marketed a hand and surface disinfectant in Scandinavia. They are currently conducting R&D of several new products based on the same technology – including an agent for wound rinsing, an agent for the treatment of chronic wounds and a product for the treatment of viral infections in the respiratory tract. SoftOx expects that the new products will complete the clinical tests by 2022. 

Aim to develop a dual-use product for the Norwegian Armed Forces

The collaboration between FFI and SoftOx will initially last until 2024. The goal of the R&D collaboration is to better adapt and configure the civilian-based products for use in the military. 

In the first part of the project, FFI will make a gap analysis. What do the Norwegian Armed Forces use today for disinfection and wound rinsing? Are there any new products or methods that can provide better prevention and effect? Part two involves testing and experimenting in the laboratory and in the field during exercises. In parallel, FFI will contribute to continued R&D of SoftOx’s technology. 

“This means, among other things, testing how well the product works when the soldiers are out in various military operations, ranging from extreme cold weather operations to hot desert operations. The question is whether the product must be modified in order for it to work well enough in the variety of military operations and conditions”, says Principal Researcher Frank Brundtland Steder at FFI. 

FFI will also test and experiment with various forms of practical logistics solutions and packaging that allow soldiers to use the products as intended. Here, the military will have other requirements and configurations than those employed in emergency rooms (ER) and regular public health services. 

“If, for example, we can find a dual-use product that can be carried in the soldier’s inner pocket and used for both disinfection and wound rinsing, it can be a very useful product in the military context”, says Steder. As part of the project, FFI will also use its own laboratories to test whether SoftOx’s technology can have a soothing effect on various biological warfare agents. 

SoftOx has already established a R&D collaboration with the US Navy, financed by the US Department of Defense with approx. NOK 20 million, to develop an antiseptic that treats biofilm infection in chronic wounds.

Better security and preparedness

Initially, SoftOx funds the FFI effort, but the newly signed R&D agreement describes how FFI will contribute to identifying new sources of collaboration, partners and financing to keep up the R&D effort on new and improved disinfectant and wound rinsing products tailored for military use. 

“We have high expectations, and we appreciate that FFI has entered into a collaboration with us. Together, we will improve the security and preparedness for the military, home and abroad. We also believe that this agreement can contribute to developing our products and becoming part of the national preparedness in the fight against infections and multi-resistant bacteria”, says CEO Geir Almås of SoftOx Solutions.

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