Pharma logistics providers have long experience in cold chain management—generally, keeping pharmaceuticals at 2-8°C during storage and shipment. The push in recent years for cellular and genetic therapies, which can involve live cells, has created a growing need for so-called deep-frozen storage: -80°C or even -180°C (requiring liquid nitrogen). Now, it appears that at least some of the coming capacity surge for Covid-19 vaccines will require deep-frozen as well.
According to a recent Bloomberg News story, UPS is building “freezer farms” in Venlo, Netherlands and Louisville, KY (both near UPS air hubs) featuring banks of -80°C freezers (see photo). The farms will contain a total of 600 freezers that can each hold 48,000 vials of vaccine, according to Bloomberg News. Additional freezer capacity will be installed in South America, Germany and the UK.
“Moving parcels with dry ice and critical drug product is not a new thing for UPS. Transportation is our bread and butter,” Wes Wheeler, president of UPS Healthcare and Life Sciences, told Bloomberg. “Storing at -80, blast freezing at -80, making sure that time and transit is reduced to a minimal amount, all that is pretty new to us.”
While there is no mention of what vaccine UPS is preparing for, the -80°C specification would presumably not be suitable for various vaccines based on deactivated viruses, which typically require refrigeration but not freezing. The mRNA vaccines being developed by Moderna, Pfizer and others, however, likely do require freezing to keep the mRNA proteins viable prior to administration. (On the other hand, a freezer that can reach -80°C can also hold a warmer, but still refrigerated, temperature.)
In a related announcement, DHL Global Forwarding, the air and ocean arm of DHL, has just opened a 20,000-sq.ft. facility in Indianapolis, dedicated to life sciences and healthcare logistics. The facility has temperature-controlled storage at 15-25, 2-8 and -20° temperatures, and is within a Free Trade Zone, allowing for international cross-shipping. The facility “expands our global network for the LSH sector [which is] especially important now during these challenging times, when temperature controlled logistics is crucial in helping customers navigate the pandemic,” said David Goldberg, DHL Global Forwarding, US.