This Air Purifier Maker Is Accelerating Tests on Coronavirus

Jaya Rao received a warm welcome from passengers next to her when she plugged in her air purifier on a recent flight from San Francisco to New York.

“The guy sitting next to us was freaked out about all this viral stuff,” said Rao, co-CEO of San Francisco-based Molekule, which makes one of the most expensive air purifiers in the consumer market.

That’s the reaction that helped prompt Rao to accelerate tests to boost her products amid the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed almost 2,500 people and infected more than 78,000.

Working with the University of Minnesota to test so-called proxies for the coronavirus — which mimic the agents of the epidemic — the company hopes to get a more accurate reading on exactly what it takes to kill the virus, the Stanford-educated engineer said.

Killing Coronavirus

“Coronavirus is actually a rather simple structure for us to be able to be destroy,” Rao said in an interview.

“Oftentimes, the fastest way for companies to get results is to test on proxies that closely mimic the viruses,” she said.

With its air purifiers priced at as much as $799 each, Molekule faces competition from solutions that cost far less, such as surgical masks. As consumers snapped up these items, 3M Co. said it’s ramping up production of respirators and other products, while Honeywell International Inc. is making more face masks.

Molekule’s air purifiers have already killed other viruses in lab tests, Rao said. The initial results from the tests on the coronavirus proxies could come in six to eight weeks, as the company races to get a bigger share of a $2.6 billion air purifier market in the U.S., which is projected to expand to $3.9 billion by 2023, according to TechSci Research.

As Molekule pushes for more tests, the virus is moving and expanding in unforeseen ways.

In the past few days, there has been a sudden surge in cases in South Korea and northern Italy. Iran also reported more deaths, which the World Health Organization said is “very worrisome” because of the lack of any direct link to China.

Coronavirus May Be the ‘Disease X’ Health Agency Warned About

The company got a boost with a surge in wildfires in places such as California. It’s also expanding overseas, where business in markets such as South Korea, India and China have grown by more than 50%, she said.

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