SkyCell Raises $ 35 Million Series C Funding and Enters COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Market – TechCrunch
Celestial cell, a Swiss company developing smart containers for the transport of medicines and vaccines, announces a significant fundraising. In addition to a $ 62 million funding round that closed last year, the company has now raised a $ 35 million Series C to improve shipping of heat-sensitive drugs – including COVID vaccines -19.
The round, which is a combination of equity and debt financing, lists investors from the Middle East, including DisruptAD and (the VC arm of ADQ, an Abu Dhabi-based sovereign wealth fund), and SHUAA (a major asset manager and investment bank of UAE banking company). The investment also includes, according to the company, family offices “based in China” and in Zurich “, as well as an investment of Mobiliar, a major Swiss private insurance company.
This round brings the company’s total funding to $ 133 million.
Essentially, SkyCell has developed a shipping container that maintains temperature, controls vibrations and is equipped with sensors that constantly report the status of the cargo. The idea is to minimize temperature swings – harmful fluctuations that can spoil pharmaceuticals – and other damage that occurs during shipping.
An often cited number in the vaccine logistics community comes from a World Health Organization Report 2005 suggesting that up to 50 percent of vaccines are wasted – in part due to temperature, logistics and shipping issues. The biopharmaceutical industry uses more optimistic figures. SkyCell co-founder and CEO Richard Ettl says the industry typically considers a failure rate of around 4% for established markets and 12% for emerging markets when shipping drugs globally. whole.
SkyCell’s temperature excursion rate so far has been less than 0.1%, according to a external technology audit.
When TechCrunch last covered SkyCell in April 2020, the company was working with eight major pharmaceutical companies and was in the trial phase with seven more. The company “now works with the majority of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies,” according to a public relations representative – although the company does not provide further details.
Before COVID-19, the company shipped around 250 million vials of pharmaceuticals per year to all of its customers. Since then, the technology has come a long way: it has been redesigned to be able to transport mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the raw materials necessary for their manufacture.
Newly designed containers use dry ice – a necessity to reach temperatures of around -80 to -60 degrees Celsius preferably (but is no longer always necessary) to transport vaccines like those from Pfizer.
When it comes to shipping ultra-cold vaccines, dry ice is fundamentally inevitable. (UPS Healthcare manufactures its own dry ice and has been increase production to meet demand for COVID-19 vaccines). SkyCell’s technology, Ettl says, uses far less of it than its competitors. He uses 100 kilograms of dry ice for about 120 hours of use, although it can store vaccines longer, if more dry ice is added on arrival.
“The competition would need 200 kilos or more of dry ice,” he said. “So that was a major feat of engineering.”
Ettl says the company is now transporting either raw materials or vaccines for three of the major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers (he did not disclose which ones – although based on ultra-cold temperature requirements, you may be able to. be guessing.
“For two [of the three] we transport almost exclusively the raw material that leaves the factory, ”he says.
Another big step forward is the expansion of the business from aviation to trucking services.
Although many vaccines first arrive in countries by air, it is often trucks that bring vaccines to central medical warehouses. Ideally, these trucks are refrigerated, but they are not always available, meaning that cold boxes and large-scale transport trucks are used instead, according to one. McKinsey 2021 Report.
The expansion into trucking dramatically increases the reach of SkyCell’s vaccine distribution network. The company has been involved in European vaccine distribution for a major vaccine player, Ettl said.
“Before, we didn’t do trucking,” Ettl says. “Our container is used on trucks to transport those -80 degrees Celsius and very cold temperature [products] about. So it was definitely a big change. ”
Ettl says shipping COVID-19 vaccines will likely continue to play a role in the company’s future. But this is not the heart of their activity. Many pharmaceuticals, from cancer drugs to other vaccines, require cold chain handling.
Center of Excellence of the International Air Transport Association for independent validators in pharmaceutical logistics suggest Global sales of cold chain drugs and biologics will exceed $ 440 billion by 2024 – and that does not include spending on COVID-19 vaccines.
Within this industry, there also appear to be three macro-trends, the report continues. There is a growing number of container reuse services, the development of more recyclable shipping containers and finally the use of electronics to track shipments in real time.
For its part, SkyCell overlaps all of these trends. The fact that SkyCell’s container is reusable is a “major driver” that has helped the company secure pharmaceutical partnerships, Ettl says. The company also installed sensors in the boxes and collects a constellation of data points on each shipment.
Ettl believes SkyCell is ready to respond to changes in the industry and the growing demand for cold chain products. So far, the numbers seem to be in favor of the company.
“We have never lost the product in the history of the company,” he says.