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COVID-19 pandemic brought in a lot of focus to the medical refrigeration industry

B Medical Systems is a global manufacturer and distributor of vaccine cold chain and medical refrigeration solutions. Jesal Doshi, Deputy CEO, B Medical Systems, talks about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the medical refrigeration sector, the shifts and transformations in the industry and the company, strategies for growth and more, in an interaction with Lakshmipriya Nair

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant shifts across businesses. What were the major transformations that B Medical witnessed?

COVID-19 did trigger several changes for us, the major one being the significant increase in demand for reliable cold chain products. As we are directly involved in the fight against COVID-19 by providing the necessary equipment to store and transport test specimens (during the initial stages of the pandemic), vaccines, etc., suddenly, there was a huge requirement for our products across the globe forcing us to re-design our assembly lines and multiply our production by several folds. During a pandemic, this is not easy to achieve. But our employees ensured that the company quickly adopted these requirements. We invested several millions of Euros to expand our production capacity in Luxembourg. We were also able to set up our Indian subsidiary quickly, thanks to the support we received from the Government of India.

Even internally, there were several shifts. Safety of the workforce is our first priority and we introduced several initiatives to minimise the risk of infection to our employees. For this, we upscaled and fast-tracked several digitalization initiatives. Some of these initiatives constituted a significant change in how we operate and create value for our partners and end customers. This helped us to continue our work in a safe, responsive and well-integrated manner.

What kind of new opportunities and challenges did the pandemic bring about for your organisation? How did you tackle them?

COVID-19 pandemic brought in a lot of focus to the medical refrigeration industry. In the initial days, it was more related to the storage and transport of test specimens. However, the roll-out of the first COVID-19 vaccine changed the vaccine cold chain landscape totally. We have been a market leader in the vaccine cold chain for the last 40+ years. But the scale of the global requirements was something that we never witnessed before. The pandemic necessitated the need for a broader cold chain spanning from -70C to 80C. And this requirement was across both storage and transportation. B Medical Systems was able to support governments across the world by providing them with ultra-low freezers, vaccine refrigerators and freezers, and transport boxes. Our transport boxes are medical-grade boxes, contrary to the domestic-grade products a lot of companies are supplying in the market and has the unique benefit that it could transport vaccines at -70°C, -20°C, and +5°C. This helped several countries to scale up the cold chain infrastructure quickly and safely. Another important aspect that needs to be highlighted is the need for end-to-end monitoring. Some of the ultra-low freezers can store more than 250,000 doses meaning any failure of these units can lead to the loss of millions of Euros, making 24×7 remote monitoring very important. Even during transits, ensuring that vaccines are not exposed to a high temperature is important to maintain their efficacy. B Medical Systems provides end-to-end real-time monitoring capabilities, which further ensure safe storage and transport.

What are the major lessons your organisation learnt from this health crisis and its management? How will it impact your future offerings, capabilities development for the life sciences sector?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought in unprecedented times and adapting to the conditions that seemed impossible during pre-COVID times made us all realise that ‘versatility’ is the first and the most important step towards resilience. We replicated this principle across our products and services. We started developing products that offer flexibility to our end customers. This led to the feature optimisation of our ultra-low freezers that now offer varying setpoint between -86°C to -20°C. This means that they can easily store Pfizer, Moderna, and Sputnik vaccines. Similarly, we can also provide multimode refrigerators and freezers that can operate at temperature ranges of -20°C to 8°C, thereby ensuring the storage of Moderna vaccine at sub-zero temperatures and storage of Covaxin and Covishield vaccines at 2-8°C. As there are uncertainties related to dose availabilities and temperature profiles, the best strategy for any country is to give its vaccine cold chain infrastructure this flexibility, so that it’s well prepared to store any COVID-19 vaccine that it receives. We are also exploring and piloting new alternative financing schemes in some countries to empower the government to procure more vaccine cold chain products.

Innovation and collaboration are buzzwords these days. Please elaborate on B Medical’s progress and initiatives on both these fronts.

Innovation is the core of our business. We are always looking for new opportunities to optimise the efficiency and effectiveness of the cold chain in order to provide the most reliable medical cold chain on the planet. We want to ensure that vaccines and specimens are stored and transported in the most reliable conditions at the lowest total cost of ownership. We, therefore, introduced remote temperature monitoring 6-7 years ago, much before it became a buzzword. The use of natural/green refrigerants throughout our product range is another innovative achievement that I am personally very proud of.

Collaborations are also very critical for us. This empowers us to bring different types of solutions into the market. For e.g, we recently developed the world’s first WHO PQS pre-qualified refrigerated vehicle in collaboration with Toyota Tsusho Corporation. For us, collaborations are not just technology-related. We are also always looking for new commercial partners. Strong partners help us with the proximity to end customers and to serve them faster. Specific to the Indian market, we recently announced partnerships with Adani Group, Spicejet, Parikh Integrated Services, Omega Seiki and we will be shortly announcing a few more. Having them as our strategic partners helps us to cater to the needs of the Indian market more efficiently.

What will be the next frontiers for B Medical? What are your strategies to achieve them?

We are the world’s oldest and largest vaccine cold chain company, having been established more than 40+ years ago. Our goal is to help vaccinate the entire world and to save lives through reliable and innovative technology. We will continue our efforts to develop new and innovative products and expand to new regions to achieve these goals. The next frontiers for B Medical are on expanding our vision and product offering; to emerge as the leading player in the medical temperature-controlled logistics space globally, leveraging on our manufacturing capabilities in India and Europe and our extensive presence around the globe including our subsidiary in the US.

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