TOKYO -- A Japanese company has moved up plans to mass-produce an ultraviolet lamp developed with Columbia University that it says renders viruses harmless without damaging people's eyes or skin.
The light has been shown to be effective against influenza and a type of coronavirus specific to cats. Results from U.S. tests involving the novel coronavirus are expected to come soon.
Tokyo-based Ushio aims to supply several hundred of the UV ceiling lamps by this summer, with a goal of starting mass production around October of a smaller type that can be added to lighting fixtures.
"We have seen demand in the hundreds of thousands of units," said Naoki Kawamura, a senior executive at the maker of lighting devices, whose main customers include chipmaking equipment suppliers.
Prototypes of the lamp have been installed at U.S. and Japanese medical centers since April. The box-shaped device weighs around 1 kilogram and bathes beds, desks and clothes in UV light. It has a timer to schedule hourly exposures.
UV lights are used routinely to kill microbes. But such equipment typically emits rays at wavelengths of 254 nanometers, which can cause skin cancer. The 222-nm lamp in Ushio does not pose a risk to eyes or skin, the company said.
Ushio had intended to market the lamp next year, but the coronavirus pandemic accelerated those plans. The lamps will be priced between 200,000 yen and 300,000 yen ($1,900 and $2,800), with some provided for free.
The intended customers for the smaller UV module include manufacturers in the U.S. and Japan.
Production will take place at a factory in Himeji, a city west of Kobe, where the company makes lighting for semiconductor- and liquid crystal display-related equipment.
Ushio has long sought to apply its UV lighting technology to health care. The company is working on a therapeutic device that shines UV beams on patient incisions to prevent infections during surgeries. It targets three to five years for bringing such a product to market.