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PATH will test two innovative technologies to prevent vaccines from spoiling and deliver them to where they are needed most with support from new grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative.

The two PATH proposals are among more than 100 winners announced today in Round 8 of the Gates grant program. Each winning proposal receives US$100,000. The initiative funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in identifying solutions to persistent global health and development challenges.

Protecting vaccines during transport

The first grant supports a PATH project to advance the development of a protective liner for vaccine carriers. The liner is prefilled with a newly developed material derived from biomass known as an engineered phase-change material. It can prevent vaccines from freezing during transport to remote locations while also extending the cooling capacity of vaccine carriers.

Health workers often place frozen ice packs in vaccine carriers to keep vaccines cool when transporting them to remote areas. This poses a risk of vaccine exposure to freezing temperatures, which can irreversibly damage many vaccines and reduce their potency. Damaged vaccines must be discarded, resulting in vaccine wastage. If the vaccines are not discarded, patients who receive those vaccines may be inadequately protected from disease.

The low-cost liner will use the novel phase-change material to protect vaccines from temperature extremes. The nontoxic material helps stabilize the temperature inside the carrier as frozen ice packs gradually warm, buffering vaccines from freezing temperatures. The liner can be retrofitted for use in existing carriers. PATH will work with companies that make vaccine carriers to conduct lab and field tests and develop product specifications that can be shared broadly with manufacturers.

Managing supply, meeting demand

The second grant-funded project will assess the feasibility of using bar code technology to improve vaccine inventory management and supply forecasting when introducing new vaccines in low-income countries.

Bar code technology and web-based data repositories hold promise for improving the availability and accessibility of real-time data on vaccine inventory and helping to prevent stockouts. A stronger data system could help ensure a country’s vaccine supplies are sent where they are needed most, reducing wastage and inventory holding costs. The information also could help match vaccine supply and demand at the global level, ensuring vaccines are allocated effectively.

The search for daring solutions

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, the initiative has provided grants to more than 600 people in 45 countries and is open to anyone from any discipline or organization. Successful projects have an opportunity to receive a follow-up grant of up to $1 million.

To receive funding, grant winners must submit a two-page application proposing a bold idea in one of five critical global health and development topic areas, including optimizing immunization systems. That focus area builds on work facilitated by Project Optimize—a collaboration between PATH and the World Health Organization—to develop a common vision for the future of immunization supply systems and logistics.

The Gates Foundation has issued a new call for proposals for Round 9 of its Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, with proposals due May 15.

More information

Posted May 9, 2012.