EnsiliTech wins contract to develop ‘freezer-free’ global mRNA vaccine
28 Jan 2024
EnsiliTech, the University of Bath spin-out pioneering new methods of transporting medicines and food without reliance on refrigeration, has won a £1.7 million contract to develop the world's first thermally stable mRNA vaccine.
Co-founder and CEO Dr Asel Sartbaeva maintains the company's ensilication technology could save many lives each year and overcome the inadequacies of the global cold chain. It is estimated that up to half of vaccines and food transported in parts of the developing world are wasted because of lack of reliable freezing methods.
While mRNA vaccines have great potential combatting infectious diseases and a range of previously unpreventable conditions, the vaccines depend upon ultracold storage, requiring they are kept at -70 or even -80 °C. Ensilication potentially removes the need for maintaining these temperatures and thus the considerable cost arising from technological, preservation and transportation challenges.
Said Sartbaeva: “We’re so proud to have won this important government grant. It comes after about 11 years of research on ensilication and means we can develop mRNA vaccines that are truly independent of the fridge and freezer.
“As transport and storage of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been shown to cost more than the cost of many actual vaccines, removing the fridge dependence will have a truly game-changing impact on our ability to distribute vaccines all around the globe, and can help save millions of people.”
The two-year contract is to be funded by the Department of Health and Social Care as part of the managed by Innovate UK-managed UK Vaccine Network, which is developing vaccines for diseases with epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries.
Removing the fridge dependence will have a truly game-changing impact on our ability to distribute vaccines all around the globe, and can help save millions of people
Asel Sartbaeva, CEO, EnsiliTech
Initially, the focus will be on developing the first commercially-available vaccine against Hantaan virus. Prevalent in Asia and South America, it is spread mainly by rodents and can cause the sometimes fatal, respiratory disease Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) – whose common side effect is Haemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, for which the mortality rate is estimated at 15%.
By the end of the pre-clinical project, the vaccine technology is intended to be ready for clinical trials. A second five-year Government contract is likely to follow, by the end of which ensilication should have completed, or nearly completed, clinical trials and overcome all regulatory hurdles. Whitehall could then license the technology from EnsiliTech when there is a demand.
The project is intended to develop of a thermally resilient mRNA vaccine platform that then can be applied speedily to various mRNA vaccines.
“This is all part of a wider push to be ready for the next pandemic,” said Sartbaeva. “The government wants to be in a position to act fast with vaccine rollouts next time.”
Project partners include South African mRNA manufacturing and development consortium Afrigen and Texas-based EmerVax, which formulates novel vaccines against neglected diseases.
To learn more:
Hear Asel Sartbaeva discuss the potential of ensilication in this podcast or in the video below.
Read our report from 2023 on EnsiliTech (page 24), plus a Q&A interview with Dr Sartbaeva in our sister title Process Engineering (page 26).