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Rolls-Royce, Anderson startup partner on vaccine transport pod

(photo courtesy of ChefsFridge)

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — Rolls-Royce Corp. in Indianapolis is partnering with Anderson-based startup ChefsFridge Co. to develop a novel way to store and transport COVID-19 vaccines. The ArcticRx system is an ultra-low temperature pod that the partners say is the first of its kind to support the delivery of a two-dose vaccine regimen, specifically to rural, remote and international areas. The companies say the pod will help bridge a gap in the cold chain that is currently challenging the global vaccination effort.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, ChefsFridge co-founder Shane Bivens says the cold chain doesn’t go as far as one might expect.

“A lot of the delivery of vaccines or anything that needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures…that’s not extremely common in the rest of the world,” said Bivens. “What we see out there is that in order to get a vaccine to someone’s arm, it might take 12 different groups in order to be able to take that package off of an airplane or a ship and then ultimately get it to a person. So we wanted to look at could we just send one box that could be dispersed from one area and go out to serve smaller populations, as well as larger populations, and serve them over the entire time they would need to vaccinate.”

The ArcticRx pod was designed by Rolls-Royce in Indy and developed by ChefsFridge. Most current shipping coolers, according to ChefsFridge, are expensive, bulky, and only able to carry one round of vaccine doses at a time, whereas the ArcticRx pod is lightweight, can carry both vaccine doses, and does not require electricity to maintain the necessary ultra-low temperatures.

“At ultra-low temperature, you’ve got to use dry ice or other materials that can get to that temperature,” said Bivens. “Right now, most devices, you have about 3-5 days before you got to keep replenishing that dry ice within that container, whereas (with ArcticRx), you’re going through an entire vaccination cycle without having to replenish.”

ChefsFridge co-founder Stuart Lowry says the stability of the temperature within the pod, which measures about 30 inches square, is key. 

Bivens says they have three prototypes manufactured and tested and the next step is to secure funding and manufacturing partners to bring the pod to market. He says the company has been able to leverage some of its existing relationships with manufacturers, but also find some new ones.

“I think probably the most interesting thing of this entire story, at least for me, is can you actually do something this advanced and find the experts in the world…can you find them when you’re in the Midwest? And, we keep finding out that when we search for the experts, we keep finding them in Indiana or the surrounding area. It’s been an amazingly heartwarming and enlightening experience to see how much expertise resides within this local area.”

Bivens says the company is now working with manufacturers to determine the overall cost of the pods and how much funding needs to be raised to help bring the pods to market. Lowry says being such a young startup creates advantages in speed and agility.

“That’s one of the reasons why Rolls wisely picked a partner in the startup world,” said Lowry. “So even though we’re starting at ground zero, we can go quickly. So, if we can get the right partners and get the right things lined up, as a startup and as someone with dramatic and really extensive contacts across the state right now that can help with this project, we can make this happen very quickly versus a larger company.”

Bivens says if the company can secure the necessary funding and begin manufacturing, the ArcticRx pods can begin shipping with vaccines around the globe in a matter of months.

Aside from the ArcticRx system, ChefsFridge is developing an asynchronous platform to allow for peer-to-peer food sharing within neighborhoods, particularly those facing food insecurity.

“We’re all about food equity. So, looking at equity for vaccine delivery really is a perfect match for what we do and how we approach our business,” said Lowry.