A University of Bath spinout company has raised £1.2 million in pre-seed funding to refine technology that allows vaccines and other biological materials to be transported and stored without the use of refrigeration, and to bring their award-winning tech to market.
The founders of Ensilicated Technologies Ltd (EnsiliTech) have developed a patented platform technology – ensilication – that can be applied to both existing and new biopharmaceuticals to make them safe and stable at room temperatures.
Ensilication preserves the integrity of vaccines and other biological materials at temperatures that range from -20C to +80C. Currently, most vaccines need to be stored at sub-zero temperatures, and some – such as the new mRNA Covid-19 vaccine – must be kept at ultra-low temperatures.
The funding round was led by Science Angel Syndicate (SAS) and the Fink Family Office with co-investment from QantX, Elbow Beach Capital, angel investors and Innovate UK.
Biological products are shipped and stored using a 50-year-old global network of refrigerators and freezers known as the ‘cold chain'. With an annual running cost of $35bn, the network is expensive to operate and prone to failure, leading to significant levels of spoilage and waste – around half of vaccines have to be discarded as a result of such failures, denying millions of people around the world access to potentially life-saving products.
According to WHO, around 50% of vaccines spoil and must be discarded as a result of such failures.
Dropping our dependence on refrigeration
EnsiliTech's technology has the potential to greatly improve the distribution of vaccines and other biological materials in developing countries, where access to reliable refrigeration can be a major barrier to healthcare. It could also have a significant impact on the global effort to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, by enabling the rapid and safe distribution of vaccines to communities in need.
Using ensilication, tiny layers of an inorganic material are applied to the vaccine or other biological material to render it stable outside the fridge or freezer. The technology uses silica – the material sand is made from - to create individual, protective ‘cages’ around the active ingredients. These cages keep the biological material within it intact, meaning its properties won’t change regardless of variations in outside temperature or humidity.
Silica is biocompatible, inert and cheap. When the vaccine or other biological material is ready to be administered, the silica cage cracks open and falls away, leaving the active ingredient in its pure, safe, fully functional form.
Dr Asel Sartbaeva, Chemistry researcher at Bath, and co-founder and CEO of EnsiliTech, said: "Our goal is to make the transportation of vaccines and other life-saving biological materials more efficient and cost-effective, while also reducing the carbon footprint of this critical supply chain. We are thrilled to have the support of our investors as we work towards this mission."
Co-founder and CTO of EnsiliTech, Dr Aswin Doekhie, added: “We express our immense gratitude to all parties that made this investment a reality. Our technology has vast applicability across the biopharmaceutical space where we can deliver impactful improvements. This investment will allow us to develop robust products that have enhanced stability, longer shelf life and do not require continuous refrigeration.”
Dr Johnathan Matlock, director and co-founder of SAS, said: “EnsiliTech has a unique platform that is applicable to a broad range of vaccines and other biologics that could revolutionise how we think about the distribution of these important therapeutics. Asel and Aswin and the rest of the EnsiliTech team have deep expertise in inorganic silica chemistry which gives them a unique edge. Supported by strong proof-of-concept data across a range of potential assets, EnsiliTech is well positioned to engage with industry partners even at this early stage of their life cycle.”
Richard Haycock, co-founder and CEO of QantX, said: “We’ve seen from recent years the incredible need for a globally coordinated response to infectious diseases and the inequality of capability between nations. Ensilitech is on a journey to solve this problem and help ensure all countries are able to safely transport and store life saving medications. We are delighted to be able to support the team on this mission.”
Alexander Fink and Richard Haycock will join the Ensilicated Technologies board as investor directors representing Science Angel Syndicate/Fink Family Office and QantX respectively.
Lord Stanley Fink said: “The Fink Family office is proud to invest in EnsiliTech and our seventh female founder Asel. When validated and put to use, EnsiliTech's technology has the potential to be used to deliver much needed vaccines and other treatments to Africa, parts of Asia and large parts of the world that don’t have the infrastructure to cope with the mobile cold storage required for many modern treatments – not forgetting the huge savings of costs on refrigeration that currently cost the pharmaceutical industry many billions of pounds a year.
"There will also be a huge carbon saving for the planet as cold storage and transportation is a major contributor to carbon emissions.”