Covid vaccines may have brought the world out of lockdown, but keeping the freedom-granting doses cold enough to travel long distances without spoiling has always been a huge supply chain challenge.
Around half of vaccines — not just for Covid — are wasted because of failures in the “cold chain” — the rules and procedures designed to ensure vaccines are properly stored and distributed to national and local health services. Those failures cost the pharmaceutical industry $35bn a year.
British spinout EnsiliTech thinks it might have a solution. It’s developed a way of storing vaccines and other organic materials like antibodies — which usually need to be kept in sub-zero conditions — at room temperature.
The startup has just raised a $1.2m pre-seed round as it looks to validate the technology and build its own lab.
EnsiliTech’s technology coats the vaccine or antibody with tiny layers of silica — the material sand is made out of — which protects it from external temperatures and humidity by forming a sort of resistant cage around it. When the vaccine is delivered, the cage simply cracks and falls away. The whole process is known as ensilication.
The startup’s technology isn’t on the market yet, but it's currently working with two organisations to develop the product (though it can't share which ones).
The challenge will be getting regulatory approval for the technology, founder and CEO Asel Sartbaeva says. “These products require extensive research and development and clinical trials, and the expectation is that these products might take several years before appropriate approvals could be granted.”
She hopes the tech could be used to transport antibodies — which are used in diagnostics kits — within the year. EnsiliTech will then look to apply the technology to animal vaccines, in about two years, before finally using it on human vaccines.
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Validating the product
While getting to that stage will likely be a lengthy process, the startup — which spun out of the University of Bath last year — plans to use its pre-seed raise to establish proof-of-concept studies for selected animal vaccines and diagnostics antibodies. That’ll allow its ensilication product to undergo pre-clinical validation studies.
It’s the first step in a number of hoops the startup will need to jump through, including animal trials, clinical studies and regulatory approval.
It’ll also spend a chunk of the cash on establishing and equipping its own lab — it’s been using the University of Bath’s labs up until now — before expanding its technical team to accelerate the R&D pipeline.
The funding round was led by Bristol-based Science Angel Syndicate and British hedge fund manager Stanley Fink’s family office. UK-based VC’s QantX and Elbow Beach Capital also got involved, as did a number of angel investors and the government-backed fund Innovate UK.
The vaccine tech market
Unsurprisingly, it’s huge. The global vaccine market was worth a whopping $45bn in 2021 and is projected to more than double in size to $102bn by 2023 — and a number of startups are looking to get in on the action.
Imophoron, a Bristol-based startup, is working on vaccine development while London’s Baseimmune, which raised a $4.8m round in 2021, is using an AI-based design algorithm to shorten the time it takes to develop vaccines. Swiss startup RocketVax also raised in 2021, picking up $6.6m to fund the pre-clinical development of its Covid-19 vaccine.