Grant issued to study sheep's wool for packaging and shipping vaccines

To combat growing vaccine waste, a U.K. government initiative reportedly will back R&D of sheep's wool packaging for pharmaceuticals.

Developments in biopharmaceuticals, combination products, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals continue to expand the need for temperature-controlled distribution in a variety of temperature ranges. To protect these advanced therapeutic products through the distribution chain, complex packaging, such as phase-change materials, may be employed. With that in mind, who would have thought wool would enter the discussion as a material consideration?

Enter a U.K. government-funded initiative that is backing research and development of sheep's wool packaging for pharmaceuticals to help combat the global problem of more than 50% wastage in vaccines, as reported by the World Health Organization.

The Wool Packaging Company Ltd. says it was awarded a six-figure grant by the Technology Strategy Board to focus on a specialized pharmaceuticals version of its Woolcool® insulated packaging to protect temperature-sensitive vaccines in transit.

The Technology Strategy Board's Web site sates, "Our role is to stimulate technology-enabled innovation in the areas [that] offer the greatest scope for boosting U.K. growth and productivity."

Woolcool was originally designed to provide sustainable insulated packaging for the direct delivery of fresh and frozen foods. The company now supplies food retailers nationwide, from Abel & Cole to Fortnum and Mason. The product range includes insulated courier boxes, pouches, and envelopes.

The insulated packaging maintains stable internal temperatures between 2°C and 8°C in excess of 72 hours, says The Wool Packaging Co., and provides cushioning protection for fragile contents, such as vaccine vials. The company says, "These two factors alone demonstrate how important the grant to further research and develop the concept could prove in tackling the challenges of distributing vaccines so they arrive in a fit condition for use."

The products are said to provide sustainability because sheep's wool is a naturally effective insulation available in abundance worldwide, and is compostable.