Ziccum, a startup based in Lund, Sweden, has a plan to make powdered vaccines from liquid vaccine doses via a spray-drying process to overcome the logistical issues with keeping vaccines in cold storage. Thus far, the Pfizer, Moderna, and other COVID-19 vaccines require cold storage at down to -94°F after production and before being administered. This has proved to add to the logistical challenge in delivering the vaccine doses.
Ziccum was formed in 2017, and according to Göran Conradson, CEO, “Essentially, we separate the water from the active ingredients, and we transport them side by side. Then, just prior to vaccination, you add the water again, and it goes immediately into solution.” In the factory the company is planning to build, vaccines are sent through a nebulizer inside a machine to create airborne droplets that are then exposed to dry air owing outside the downward-owing column of droplets, a process called spray drying. The vapor flows upward and the nonwater portion of the vaccine is collected in a filter. The resulting powdered vaccine can survive at ambient temperatures for more than a month.
Freeze-dried versions of the vaccine do exist. Pfizer itself is working on a powdered vaccine, but it too requires conventional cold storage to maintain potency. In contrast, Ziccum asserts that its process will use 80 percent less energy than a freeze-drying process that takes days. Ziccum has proposed that small factories could be built within developing countries where large-scale cold storage isn’t practical. Per the World Health Organization, more than 50 percent of vaccines are wasted globally for various reasons, including because of cold chain and stock management issues. One potential challenge to the introduction of new powdered vaccines is that additional studies do have to be completed to ensure that the immune response to the vaccine remains the same as the liquid form.