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Santa Fe company part of push for Ebola vaccine

SANTA FE, N.M. — If the World Health Organization’s accelerated attempts to find a vaccine against the Ebola virus attain success, an inventor and company based in Santa Fe may be able to share some of the credit.

A container created by SAVSU Technologies is ferrying vaccines through Sierra Leone and Guinea in Africa for Phase II clinical trials, keeping the vaccines within critical temperatures under the tropical sun in places where refrigeration isn’t always reliable.

“We’re on the edge of a really catastrophic health crisis,” said Bruce McCormick, president of SAVSU, whose home and office are located southeast of Santa Fe. “The virus has not gone away … . The question is when it will re-emerge again.

“I hope this very expedited research on a new vaccine will provide a resolution.”

In an outbreak last year in West Africa, Sierra Leone reported 3,915 deaths from Ebola and up to 12,901 suspected cases, while Guinea logged 2,437 deaths and up to 3,670 suspected cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The United States reported four cases and one death, involving people traveling from areas where the virus was active.

Bruce McCormick, president of SAVSU Technologies, stands next to the CryoQ container used to ship Ebola vaccine candidates within West Africa. (Courtesy of SAVSU)

Bruce McCormick, president of SAVSU Technologies, stands next to the CryoQ container used to ship Ebola vaccine candidates within West Africa. (Courtesy of SAVSU)

Fatality rates vary from 30 percent to 70 percent, depending on a person’s access to modern medical care.

McCormick’s involvement in this modern-day scourge developed from work he did with another of his companies on nanoporous insulation. “I developed expertise in that and was looking for the appropriate applied technology,” he said.

A Santa Fe-area resident for 10 years, he came across a PATH challenge seeking technology to deliver temperature-controlled vaccines in developing countries. “This was exactly what the technology I was working on was well suited for,” he said. Program for Applied Technologies in Health, a non-governmental organization in Seattle that gets funding from the Gates Foundation, chose McCormick’s proposal (developed in conjunction with another company) and, some five years ago in November, SAVSU (State of the Art Vaccine Storage Unit) was born.

The company now produces four products, with CryoQ used for the Ebola vaccine distribution, and has seven people working in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, where the company has a warehouse and research and development resources near the Albuquerque Sunport, according to McCormick. Its parent company, Barson Corp., is based in Old Bethpage, N.Y.

Bringing vaccines to undeveloped areas often is hampered by inability to keep them cool for more than the short period of time that has been provided by the more common Styrofoam coolers. McCormick referred to it as surviving the “last mile,” when vaccines are transferred from central and regional distribution centers to final transport to health care workers and patients in the field.

CryoQ, customized with a Vial Rack system to meet the World Health Organization’s needs, can keep vaccines at minus 94 degrees F using a small amount of dry ice. In the case of the Ebola vaccine, deep-freezing is a requirement until actual use.

McCormick had met with WHO officials at its TechNet 21 Immunization Conference in 2013 and again in May to discuss vaccine transportation variables.

Other vaccines can suffer from freezing and need to be kept around 36-46 degrees F, a job that other containers made by SAVSU are designed to do. With help from Sandia National Laboratories and the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program, McCormick previously developed a technology using solar heat, methanol and carbon, a condenser and an evaporator to essentially make ice, keeping the container’s contents cool.

The company’s evo shipping container, which monitors temperature, location and other critical data for the unit, recently won a silver award for medical product packaging from the Medical Design Excellence Awards.