[Tech30] How Manipal-based Blackfrog Technologies’ patented tech enables safe last-mile transport of vaccines
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 50 percent of vaccines lose their potential before they are administered, very often due to disruption in cold chain supply.
Temperature-sensitive vaccines must be stored between two and eight degrees Celsius, but ice boxes and other portable refrigerant mechanisms do not sustain this optimal temperature for longer periods, especially when transported to remote areas.
The need for efficient logistics, especially for swabs, vaccines and other biological samples, has been heightened amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the problem that Manipal-based Blackfrog Technologies wants to solve.
Founded by Mayur Shetty and Donson Dsouza in 2015 as an engineering consultancy, the startup transitioned into a product company to address the need for efficient vaccine storage and transportation. It has one aim: to be “the future of medical-grade refrigeration”.
“We realised that the problem did not lie in the healthcare aspect, but in logistics when it comes to vaccines. That’s when we took up cold-chain management technology,” says Mayur, on why they decided to create a portable, temperature-regulated carrier for transport of biologicals.
Blackfrog’s flagship product, Emvólio, is a portable, battery-powered refrigeration device that strictly maintains any pre-set temperature up to 12 hours for last-mile transport of vaccines. The startup has made it to YourStory’s Tech30 list for its patented rapid cooling technology.
Credits: YS Design
How Emvólio helps
Emvólio, which means vaccine in Greek, stands out for its patented rapid cooling technology. The device maintains the optimum temperature of two and eight degrees Celsius that vaccines and other biological samples need.
The patented rapid cooling technology can be used for safe last-mile transport of vaccines, breast milk, blood serums and plasmas, medications, and specimens with minimal freeze-thaw cycles.
Emvolio, a patented rapid-cooling technology device
Each time a user opens the device to retrieve contents and subjects the cold chamber to ambient air, the technology ensures the temperature in the cold chamber returns to the set levels. This ensures minimal freeze-thaw cycles for critical biological samples.
Other capabilities include continuous temperature monitoring, location tracking, state of charge indication, communication with headquarters via live tracking, and vital statistics for improved coverage.
“We believe this device will reduce the economic burden of wasted vaccines and optimise human resources in vaccine delivery by nullifying the need for repeated immunisation visits due to unviable vaccines,” Mayur says.
The device has a two-litre capacity; it can easily carry about 50 vials of vaccine, enough for at least 300 children in a day. It also helps transport COVID-19 swab samples.
The level of portability and ease of charging sets the device apart. It can also operate as a standalone refrigerator during power outages and is presently being solar-operated at a remote health centre off from the grid.
The challenges along the way
Most of Emvólio’s parts are sourced from different states and countries. During the lockdown, Blackfrog faced major supply chain challenges as logistics were severely impacted. But they worked through them as they were focusing on mitigation of COVID-19.
“Our next steps will be to determine how we can produce large volumes in a short period as a COVID-19 vaccine might be on the way,” the co-founder says. He adds that it might be a challenge to scale production to 20,000-100,000 units.
“We’re trying to partner with organisations like Andhra Pradesh Medtech Zone (AMTZ), Visakhapatnam, which specialises in medical device manufacturing,” Mayur says.
Making an impact
Blackfrog has been closely working with many clients, including NGOs PRADAN and Support Jharkhand, with Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) by Tata Trusts, and medical institutes like Ashwini Hospital and Vivekananda Memorial Hospital, and SVYM in Sargur, Karnataka. SVYM conducts vaccine runs for children of a local tribal community.
"We’ve been using Blackfrog’s cold chain solution for about a year now and have witnessed a significant difference in the impact we’re generating on ground. We now spend almost double the time immunising children, thanks to Emvólio’s longer cold life,” says Dr Dennis Chauhan, SVYM.
Donson DSouza (left; Co-founder), Ashlesh Bhat (CTO) and Mayur Shetty (Co-founder)
“We’ve also estimated Rs 13,000 in savings every month as we can bring back unused vaccines to the facility in appropriate conditions,” he adds.
Blackfrog is also working with SELCO Foundation to transport vaccines from private hospitals to peripheral cities. They are also working with CInI to transport animal vaccines, and have deployed four units so far with an additional order for 15 more units.
What comes next?
Blackfrog, part of the first cohort of Karnataka Startup Advancement Programme (KSAP) conducted jointly by CCAMP & K-Tech, aims to raise Rs 5 crore to scale up production in the next year.
The startup is incubated with Manipal Universal Technology Business Incubator, and has received a BIRAC (Biotechnology Ignition Grant from Government of India) to develop its concept supported by Venture Centre, Pune, as the implementation partner.
Blackfrog has also won awards and recognitions at many events, including CamTech-X Medical Devices Hackathon, Qualcomm Design in India Challenge (QDIC-2020), and SAMADHAN - COVID-19: Ministry of Human Resources Development.
Going forward, Blackfrog will use its patented cold chain management technology in other sectors. “We have already pivoted to address cold chain requirements in F&B,” Mayur says.