Earlier this week, Bath University announced the results of research into ensilication, a process which involves encasing a protein in silica, which could have far-reaching effects on the transport of vaccines.
The research, which was carried out by teams at both Bath University and Newcastle University, found that vaccines treated in this way could be heated to 100°C or stored at 22°C for at least six months without loss of function.
Currently, vaccines have to be transported using cool-chain logistics, because a small change in temperature can render them useless. Despite advances in both technology and regulation aimed at making cool chain management more reliable, millions of doses are still lost each year.
The researchers trialled ensilication with three different proteins – one from a tetanus vaccine, horse haemoglobin, and an enzyme from egg white, all with great success. It is hoped that this technology could be expanded to other biopharmaceuticals, such as antibodies, anti-virals, and anti-venom drugs.
Such advances in technology are changing the shape of logistics at an increasing rate, and it fascinating to watch how the numerous challenges faced by the healthcare and life-science logistics industry are gradually being reduced. However it is important to remember that the challenges we face are both numerous and varied – temperature regulation is only one part of the puzzle.
Pharmaceutical cargo is often the target of both thieves and those who deal in counterfeit drugs, and so Supply Chain Security must remain a high priority. For instance, in 2009, a truck carrying vaccines in Wisconsin, US, was reportedly left unattended with the engine running at a delivery point. The truck was stolen and later abandoned, with the cargo seemingly untouched, however the vaccines had to be returned to the manufacturer as a precautionary measure.
Technology cannot prevent user error, and so we must always remain aware of best practice at every stage of the supply chain. However it is exciting to see such promising technological advances being made, and we shall be watching for further news on this research to see how it develops.