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Zoono Group's COVID-19 killer claims raise questions

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Zoono Group CEO Paul Hyslop has made claims about his virus-killing products that have raised questions (Screenshot via YouTube)

Former secondhand car mart owner Paul Hyslop has built an ASX company selling antimicrobial products with claims they contain a unique virus-killing molecule.

With COVID-19 ravaging the world, Mr Hyslop, founder and managing director of Zoono Group Ltd, has established a global presence for his products: Zoono Z-71 Microbe Shield and Zoono GermFree24 Hand Sanitiser.

Independent tests have confirmed Zoono’s efficacy and it is one of more than 130 products allowed by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Authority to advertise it is effective on hard surfaces against COVID-19.

But Mr Hyslop’s claim in an ASX document that the “Zoono Molecule” is a ‘unique antibacterial molecule’ is one of several open to questions.

A sword-like diagram of the “Zoono molecule” reveals its composition to be identical with the contents of the sword diagrams published by Aegis Microbe Shield, Polser’s AMB technology, PreventX 24/7, SPADA, Medicaltex and Saniguard 9000.

Zoono says its ‘18 carbon length chain acts as a sword’, while PreventX 24/7, SPADA and Aegis all say ‘the C-18 molecular sword punctures the cell membrane’.

In all cases, the identical Si-Quat (silicone quaternary ammonium compound) is used: 3-(trimethoxysilyl) propyl dimethyl octadecyl ammonium chloride, also known as Dow Corning 5700, having been invented by Dow Corning in the 1970s.

There are other interesting claims.

Zoono’s impressive-looking “technical overview” includes a list of bugs ‘killed or inactivated by Zoono Application’.

But the list has many bugs of its own.

For a start, 306 of the 311 examples are dated before Zoono was founded (in 2007, 2008 or 2009 according to different documents), with 291 of them being from the last century.

With minor exceptions, the intricate and highly-detailed list of bugs and the scholarly papers and tests referenced are identical with lists published by other antimicrobial brands such as Microshield, Premier90X, Biocraft, IPO Real Medical Group, KT Microbes, White Tiger Organic Solutions and PreventX 24/7.

The Zoono Group Ltd annual report for 2020 includes Mr Hyslop saying:

‘The idea of protecting surfaces from infection and cross-contamination was novel when I started this company.’

But Germ Shield Antimicrobial Coating, using the same Si-Quat, says it ‘has a 30-year history of durability’.

The same Zoono report says:

‘The idea of something that was long-lasting was totally different and immediately captured my imagination and in 2007, Zoono Group was born.’

But it appears long-lasting surface protectants using Si-Quats were already on sale at this time.

A 2007 Environmental Protection Agency report says:

‘...trimethoxysilyl quats are... formulated to provide residual fungistatic activity in household and domestic dwellings on hard non-porous surfaces, bathroom premises (hard non-porous surfaces) and in garbage cans.’

Mr Hyslop told Alan Kohler the Zoono story started when he invested in a company using the antimicrobial product as an anti-mould treatment for swimming pool tiles and ‘...ended up owning the whole company. We had to turn it into a commercial product and that took a few years, to be honest, and a few million dollars.’

ASX investors were told that in 2008:

‘Paul Hyslop commissioned a major project to create an advanced antibacterial formulation for consumers.’

But various websites say that Zoono is also known as Zoonocide, an antimicrobial surface sanitiser which Arizona company Coating Systems Venture had filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as early as 3 July 1996.

Indeed, the USA trademarks for Zoonocide and GermFree 24, previously held by Coating Systems Laboratories, were registered by Zoono Group Ltd in June 2009, with Zoono being registered at the same time as Zoonocide and with identical wording.

This would seem to fit with a website run by UAE Zoono CEO Michel Wehbe which says:

A number of years ago, the Zoono Group, a New Zealand company, secured the exclusive world distribution rights for the two unique products originally produced by a U.S.-based manufacturer. The Zoono Group ultimately reached an agreement with that company for the acquisition of the manufacturing facility, its Intellectual Property and all associated patents.

According to Cellargroup Limited, founded in 2011 and a licensed distributor of Zoono products, “Zoonocide Z71 (Zoono) and GermFree24” were being manufactured by Coating Systems Laboratories in Arizona.

Mr Hyslop told me the company had, indeed, bought product from Coating Systems Laboratories Inc.

A Zoono site says:

‘Zoono started redeveloping a unique antimicrobial technology in 2008 — spending the first years improving and re-engineering a technology first developed pre WWII.’

But Zoono Fact Sheet 33 says:

‘As the active ingredient in Zoono is exactly the same as originally introduced and registered by Dow Corning, all previous testing results remain valid.’

And a website with the Zoono logo says Zoonocide and GermFree24 Hand Sanitiser were approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October 2001.

An ASX document says that in or around the time when the company was incorporated, ‘the base technology had several inherent problems including a very short shelf life...’.

But Zoono Fact Sheet Number 11, prepared by a Zoono affiliate, says:

‘We have samples prepared in 1996 that are still stable...’

Mr Hyslop spent more than a decade establishing his company before floating on the ASX in 2017. After making a loss of $2 million in 2019, Zoono went viral in the 2020 financial year to record a pre-tax profit of $20 million.

Each dollar invested in Zoono Group Ltd shares at $0.07 each in September 2019 was transformed into as much as $46 in nine months when shares zoomed to $3.20 by 8 July 2020.

The 2020 Zoono annual report claims:

‘Prior to establishing Zoono, Paul was involved in several successful entrepreneurial ventures.’

These included ‘a successful private car sales business in Auckland in 1990, to real estate development and business brokerage. He also set up a franchise business in the USA 2002–2005’, says a Zoono document.

But the USA business was not a success, according to news website Stuff, which says that a company named Vending Technologies Ltd (VTL), a subsidiary of finance company Nathans, gave Mr Hyslop and his company, Intelligent Vending LLC, a $17 million loan with a 30-month interest-free period from Nathans to buy the Californian master franchise licence to sell new vending technology.

Stuff revealed that in 2005:

‘On December 22 Mr Hyslop informed VTL's board that Intelligent Vending was filing for bankruptcy and he abandoned the business along with his loan liabilities soon after.’

In a subsequent court case in which three directors of Nathans and VTL were charged with issuing untrue statements about the company’s prospects, Mr Hyslop said:

‘...his departure left a bad debt of $20m on Nathans' books.’

And before that, New Zealand broadcaster NewstalkZB mentions that at the turn of the century, Mr Hyslop had ‘made $40,000 trading on insider information’ and in a separate issue had been one of three directors of a company fined a total $30,000 for Companies Act breaches.

In the UK, the Zoono brand hit the headlines in 2020 when a company headed by a man named Andrew Hughes and claiming to be an authorised agent was fined £60,000 (AU$106,806) for sending unwanted texts advertising Zoono to 16,190 people.

Hughes founded the company, which operates from an accommodation address and uses an Indian Ocean (.io) domain name costing as little as about $30, nine days after his previous company went bust owing millions.

Questions relating to Zoono’s claims and history were put to Mr Hyslop on 25 January but he has not responded.

Steve Bishop is a journalist and author. You can read more from Steve at stevebishop.net

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