Panasonic enters race to stock $ 22 billion vaccine with freezer boxes

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Panasonic has received a deluge of requests from European and American logistics companies to test an ultra-cold freezer box it has developed for transporting Covid-19 vaccines, the Japanese group said.

Supplier Tesla enters the race to develop products for the fast-growing world vaccine storage company Comes as Japanese government prepares to roll out its Covid-19 inoculation program end of February. Public criticism is mounting in Japan over the slowness of the program.

“There is a serious shortage of freezer boxes even as vaccine rollout has started globally,” Shinya Kojima, chief engineer of Panasonic’s home appliances unit, said in an interview. “We have already received so many inquiries from all over the world, including Japan, the United States, Singapore, France, South Korea and China.”

Mr. Kojima adapted Panasonic’s energy-saving technology in refrigerators to develop a portable box that can be used to transport vaccines and other materials at a temperature of minus 70 ° C.

Of the two types of boxes, the larger 120-liter box is capable of storing 5,000 doses of vaccine at ultra-cold temperature for 18 days by packing it with 34 kg of dry ice.

The company had previously made a similar product in 2019, but Mr Kojima launched a new project in December to improve storage conditions to meet the unique requirements of the Covid-19 vaccines under development.

With upgrades, boxes can now be used to store the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which is to be transported at minus 70 ° C. Last week, the Japanese government reached an agreement with the US pharmaceutical company for 144 million doses of its injection, enough to inoculate about half of the country’s population.

Panasonic plans to distribute samples of its boxes, called Vixell, to pharmaceutical and logistics companies from the end of March. He will start selling or renting them soon after.

The group did not disclose the prices and production plans for the boxes, but Mr Kojima said it would start producing several thousand of them per year and increase its capacity according to demand.

43 billion dollars

Expected size of global vaccine storage and packaging business by 2027

Shares of Panasonic have risen 8.4% since the company unveiled the technology on Thursday, underscoring strong investor interest in the growth potential of the vaccine storage business.

Considering the scale that Panasonic envisions, storage boxes are unlikely to have a big impact on its revenue in the short term. But it has a long history in refrigeration and freezing technology as well as a minority stake in PHC Holdings, its former healthcare unit and a large player in vaccine storage which is now controlled by the private equity group. KKR.

The global vaccine storage and packaging business market is expected to grow from $ 22.3 billion last year to $ 43.3 billion by 2027, with storage accounting for the largest revenue, according to the American market research firm Grand View Research. Other key players in the medical freezer market include Thermo Fisher Scientific in the United States and Chinese home appliance maker Haier.

Beyond vaccines, Mr Kojima also said the boxes could be used to store other medical drugs as well as semiconductor materials that require strict temperature control. “We will study the market reaction and look at how to develop this business,” he said.

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