Transforming cold chain infrastructure: ‘Ultra-cold smart container can transport all of the leading vaccine candidates for COVID-19’

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/gesrey
© GettyImages/gesrey

Related tags: dry ice, Cold chain, Vaccine, COVID-19

Up to 10% of vaccines can be reportedly lost in transit due to breakage or fluctuations in sub-zero temperatures required for preservation, but a manufacturer of data-driven temperature-controlled smart containers says it can cut that rate to just 0.1%.

Switzerland headquartered, SkyCell, claims its IoT-enabled, temperature-controlled air freight containers will transform the vaccine supply chain; it said its smart container ensures the safe transportation of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, regardless of outside temperatures. 

The technology will allow new shipments to areas that previously couldn’t be supplied, preventing inequity in distribution, it added. 

SkyCell smart ultra-cold vaccine container © SkyCell

Overcoming the limitations of dry ice

Moreover, by combining its existing precision-engineered containers, patented cooling technology, and proprietary software, SkyCell says it is able to cool to -80°C and utilize full aircraft capacity, mitigating the traditional limitations caused by the use of dry ice by making energy transfer more efficient. The containers are also equipped with IoT sensors to measure internal and ambient temperature as well as other environmental factors.

To date, dry ice has been central to maintaining the ultra-cold temperatures that certain pharmaceutical products - such as the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine - need to be stored at while they are in transit. The capacity of ultra-cold shipments has been significantly limited, especially in aircraft, as a result of this dependence - only a small amount of dry ice can be used per shipment, as it is poisonous in large quantities and therefore presents a risk to individuals involved in handling cargo stored in such containers.

Full range of COVID-19 vaccines can be catered for 

The Skycell containers maintain a steady temperature of -60°C to -80°- C  for more than 120 hours without recharging, which is cold enough for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, said the developer. 

Using such smart containers, up to 1.75 million doses can be transported in a single aircraft - enough to vaccinate between 875,000 and 8.75 million people depending on the vaccine and concentration. The is 10 times the capacity of common existing solutions, reports SkyCell.

Richard Ettl, CEO and Co-Founder of SkyCell, said: “With the launch of this ultra-cold smart container, we are now able to transport all of the leading vaccine candidates for COVID-19, serving both the mass volume 2 to 8°C market and now the important market segment of -60°C to -80°C. We have already seen 60% year-on-year growth in 2020, as pharmaceutical companies and governments around the world recognize the need to ensure their supply chains are robust enough to deliver critical vaccines in viable condition and at sufficient volume.”

New year will see first fleet rolled out 

To develop these smart containers, the Swiss manufacturer said it adopted Ansys’ physics-based simulation tools, which enable everything from the structure of the bespoke material to resist impacts, the air and energy flows, and the communication systems embedded in the containers to be analyzed altogether and perfected.

Manufacturing of the reusable, ultra-cold chain containers will begin next week, with a fleet of at least 100 to be ready in January. This would deliver capacity to move at least 7 million ultra-cold COVID-19 vaccine doses per month safely around the world from the beginning of 2021 - in the case of concentrated vaccines, this could translate to as many as 35 million patients per month able to receive shots.

SkyCell says it has set up processes so that containers can be transported door-to-door from factory to hospital, which is vital when transporting ultra-cold cargo as local fixed ultra-cold infrastructure can be limited.

Real-time logistics monitoring 

Meanwhile, a player in shipment tracking, the Silicon Valley, US headquartered Roambee reported yesterday [November 23] that its real-time logistics monitoring solution had been used by a leading global pharmaceutical company for the clinical trial distribution of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

It said the platform overcame some of the major challenges of vaccine delivery including:

  • Active sensors monitor temperature, condition and location in real time
  • Automated workflows to recognise and predict temperature excursions and take measures to prevent these becoming a problem
  • Real-time monitoring of new delivery routes and suppliers
  • Optimisation of entire supply chain using cloud-analytics and machine learning to recognize bottlenecks
  • Trust in the supply chain from door-to-door, satisfying regulatory demands to deliver quality product in a time-efficient manner

New US cold chain facility to support rollout of COVID-19 vaccines 

Cold Chain Technologies (CCT), a global provider of reusable and single-use passive thermal packaging solutions for the shipment of temperature-sensitive products for the life sciences industry, has announced the opening of a new cold chain facility in Tennessee, in the US. 

The company said the new site will be critical in supporting the needs of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, with a broad portfolio of single-use and reusable systems for parcel and pallet shipments scalable to vaccine temperature needs.

COVID-19 vaccine cold chain work set to have wider impact  

Looking ahead, Mahesh Veerina, CEO of supply chain specialist company, Cloudleaf, reckons the mass production of COVID-19 vaccines will have residual impacts on broader delivery of other vaccines.

As it comes to fruition, the operation to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine will put enormous pressure on the supply chain to share resources in relation to other products that demand cold chain transit, including flu vaccines, cancer treatments, and genomics and precision medicine, he said.

He forecasts that the industry will make an unparalleled collaborative effort to communicate and share information on, for example, new capabilities for tracking assets such as palettes along with data on temperature-controlled transport and storage devices.

“Furthermore, the work done in the cold chain for COVID-19 has put the industry 16-18 months ahead of schedule on digital transformation. In the long term, the supply chain practices adopted in response to the pandemic will position companies to avoid costs associated with lost or damaged products - a critical capability as the future of medicine points toward smaller batches of more personalized, higher value medicines, many of which will require cold chain transit.”

Related topics: Markets & Regulations, COVID-19

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