Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have manufactured vaccines which use messenger RNA technology. The Pfizer vaccine is currently being rolled out in the UK after being approved for use. Both of the mRNA vaccines need to be kept frozen during transport and storage. This poses a potential problem for developing countries where infrastructure is poor and distribution could be slowed. South African firm Renergen has patented technology that will enable vaccines to be transported without the risk of spoiling before they reach rural communities. The device can be operated at low cost and is intended for distribution in Africa and Southeast Asia. – Melani Nathan
Renergen patents helium-cooled cases for Coronavirus vaccines
By Loni Prinsloo
(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s Renergen has patented cryogenic cases that can keep vaccines at ultra-cold temperatures for 30 days, a potential way of getting some of the first coronavirus shots to be approved to remote areas, said Chief Executive Officer Stefano Marani.
Renergen’s design uses helium to keep the vaccines at between minus 70 and minus 150 degrees Celsius without the need for a power supply, Marani said in an interview on Wednesday. It could be used to transport inoculations to remote parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, he said.
“We built this with the African market in mind,” said Marani. “This isn’t to move the vaccine from the factory to the local pharmacies or inner-city transport — this is for Africa and Southeast Asian countries where the logistics and supply chain takes a lot longer to get to a destination.”
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, which has been approved for use in the UK, must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius for extended periods of time. Moderna’s vaccine must also be kept at ultra-cold temperatures.
The cases are made from aluminum and can transport at least 100 doses of the vaccine. When in its liquid form, helium can stay cold for much longer than dry ice and liquid nitrogen, said Marani. Renergen is in the construction phase of South Africa’s first commercial liquid natural gas plant that will also produce helium, with production starting in the third quarter of 2021.
Depending on where the helium is sourced, the operating cost of the device should be under R1,00 ($0.07) per dose per day, he said. Renergen is seeking partners for the large-scale manufacturing of the cases, said Marani.