Manipal-based Blackfrog Technologies wants to reduce the wastage of both COVID vaccine and routine vaccines in last-mile delivery by deploying its product, Emvolio.
According to the World Health Organization, more than half of vaccines wasted globally each year occur during distribution, most notably during last-mile delivery. The reason for this is that these temperature-sensitive vaccines degrade thermally due to insufficient temperature control. To maintain the efficacy and potency of vaccines, including the COVID vaccine, robust cold chain equipment is required, particularly in the final mile of their lengthy and complex journey.
To close this gap and ensure that both Covid and routine vaccines are not wasted during last-mile delivery, Manipal-based startup BlackFrog Technologies is in talks with government officials about deploying Emvolio, a portable temperature-regulated carrier for the safe last-mile transport of Covid vaccines and other biological products such as blood serums, specimens, and marrow.
Emvolio has already been deployed in remote areas of four states across the country — Manipur, Bihar, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — to ensure vaccines retain their efficacy until they are administered.
This is accomplished by ensuring that vaccines, both routine and COVID, are properly stored and transported during the final mile of delivery.
Safe last-mile delivery of vaccines
Covishield and Covaxin are both freeze-sensitive and must be stored and transported at temperatures ranging from 2 to 8 degrees celsius, while Emvolio — which was developed in accordance with WHO PQS E003 specifications — ensures the strict maintenance of pre-set temperatures for up to 12 hours.
The battery-powered device, which has a capacity of two litres, can transport approximately 30-50 vials, which is sufficient for day-long immunisation drives.
Last month, this BIRAC and Tata Trusts-supported startup, in collaboration with SELCO Foundation and SVYM Hospital, helped ensure the efficacy and complete protection against thermal degradation of over 1580 vaccines administered during a fortnight-long inoculation drive in Mysore.
Also in April, the C-CAMP-backed startup, in a move facilitated by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, received CSR support from the HT Parekh Foundation for the manufacture and dissemination of 100 Emvolio units to deliver vaccines in North East Indian states, such as Assam and Manipur.
These 100 units will be deployed in the month of June, and the Blackfrog Technologies team, in collaboration with C-CAMP Bangalore, “…is working relentlessly to ensure these devices reach the far-flung areas of Assam and Manipur,” Blackfrog CEO and Co-founder Mayur Shetty
The team, which is led by two other Co-founders Donson D’Souza and Ashlesh Bhat, is also working on an additional 50 units for Bengaluru and Tamil Nadu in another project, he adds.
“Beyond that, any large-scale procurement would certainly be through the government of India itself, and we are in talks with officials for this. COVID-19 vaccination is going to go on for a while; it’s not something we will overcome this year or next, so immunisation will go on. But our product and solution has been developed with the support of the government and with taxpayers money, so it’s not just about COVID-19, but about the entirety of the immunisation schedule and ensuring that India’s overall immunisation programme is strengthened with our solution,” Mayur says.
The economic burden of vaccine wastage
Indeed, Emvolio was developed by Blackfrog Technologies, a five-year-old startup, to increase the efficiency of vaccine supply chains and to ensure an unbroken cold chain system.
The company developed the portable, biomedical-grade refrigeration device with support from the Department of Biotechnology’s BIRAC, Qualcomm, and impact investors such as Social Alpha and Venture Centre.
“We’ve designed it as per the design specifications laid out by the WHO. So it’s easy to use and operates under varied geographic conditions. India is great that way to test any new product because we have everything from deserts to mountains to the coastal regions, so we’ve tested it in almost all geographies. So it is definitely adaptable in multiple setups and with potential to create global impact,” Mayur says.
He notes that Emvolio can address the issue of heat in regions such as Africa and South Asia, as well as the issue of cold in regions such as Eastern Europe where freezing is a concern. Commercially, the company is focusing on laboratory and pathology clinical requirements.
And yet, Mayur says, Blackfrog Technologies immediate priority is to be “a small part of the solution in assisting humanity in emerging from this pandemic slightly sooner than we would have done otherwise” and reducing the economic burden of vaccine wastage during last-mile delivery.
“There is plenty of evidence on how many vaccines are going to go to waste and the kind of economic burden that the government of India and the rest of the world are going to face because of poor temperature control with ice boxes. So when you look at the bigger picture here, we definitely have the numbers in place to ensure government officials and purchasing authorities understand why larger investment and concerted efforts in this particular area has to be made.”
Watch full video to know more about Blackfrog’s Emvolio solution: