Pandemic-proofing with cutting-edge vaccine technologies

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Dr Asel Sartbaeva holds a 3D molecular model of silica – its super-stable structure wraps around vaccine proteins and stops them falling apart.

Credit: University of Bath


A University of Bath spinout company dedicated to making vaccines safer has been awarded a highly competitive UK government contract through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The aim of the two-year contract, valued at around £1.7million, is to develop the world’s first thermally stable mRNA vaccine.

In its work at the university, the team behind Ensilicated Technologies Ltd (EnsiliTech) has developed ensilication – a technology that allows vaccines and other biological materials to be transported and stored without the use of refrigeration.

Dr Asel SARTBAEVA, a chemistry researcher at Bath and co-founder of EnsiliTech believes that this technology could save tens or thousands of lives each year. The government contract will bring her team closer to bringing the technology to market.

“We’re so proud to have won this important government grant,”Sartbaeva said. “It comes after about 11 years of research on ensilication and means we can develop mRNA vaccines that are truly independent of the fridge and freezer.

“As transport and storage of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines have been shown to cost more than the cost of many actual vaccines, removing the fridge dependence will have a truly game-changing impact on our ability to distribute vaccines all around the globe, and can help save millions of people.”

The SBRI project is titled ‘Heat proofing immunity: pioneering a thermally resilient ensilicated mRNA-LNP vaccine platform’It is part a larger call to develop vaccines, and tools to fight against the next pandemic.

The vaccine technology should be ready to go into clinical trials by the end of the project. A second contract with the government for five years will likely follow. By then, ensilication is expected to have completed or nearly completed its clinical trials and cleared all regulatory hurdles. EnsiliTech will then be able provide the technology to government agencies when they need it.

“This is all part of a wider push to be ready for the next pandemic,”Dr. Sartbaeva. “The government wants to be in a position to act fast with vaccine rollouts next time.”



The project will be carried out by EnsiliTech alongside two partners: Afrigen, an mRNA manufacturing and development consortium based in South Africa, and EmerVax, a Texas-based company that formulates novel vaccines against neglected diseases. The research will be funded by the Department of Health and Social Care as part of the UK Vaccine Network (UKVN) – a UK aid programme developing vaccines for diseases with epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries.

The project will focus primarily on the development of a world-first vaccine against the Hantaan virus which is extremely common in Asia and South America.

Hantaan is spread mainly by rodents and can cause, among other things, Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) – a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease. Globally, there are more than 200,000 cases per year. Haemorrhagic Fever and Renal Syndrome is a common side effect. It has a mortality rate around 15%.

Currently, there is no commercial vaccine available for this highly contagious and deadly disease. This leaves many communities at risk.


Ultracold vaccine storage is a problem

EnsiliTech is expected to save lives by developing a platform for mRNA vaccines that are thermally resilient. The technology developed to administer the thermally stable Haantanvirus mRNA will be applicable to a variety of mRNAs.

mRNA vaccinations can prevent not only infectious disease but also certain cancers, and a variety of other conditions previously unpreventable. However, these vaccines currently require ultracold storage, needing to be kept at -70 or even -80 °C.

The cost to operate the system that stores and transports ultracold vaccinations around the globe is estimated at $35bn annually. Not only is this cold-chain network expensive to operate but it is also prone to failure, leading to significant levels of spoilage and waste – around half of vaccines have to be discarded as a result of such failures, denying millions of people around the world access to potentially life-saving products.

According to UN environment program, around 50% vaccines spoilage and must be thrown out as a result. Dr Sartbaeva said: “Our ensilicated mRNA platform has the potential to revolutionise vaccine distribution, particularly in remote or resource-limited areas where maintaining cold chain storage can be challenging.

“EnsiliTech’s pioneering work in this field will contribute to advancing global health and improving accessibility to life-saving vaccines.”

Small Business Research Initiatives (SBRIs) support research and development solutions to challenges in the public sector. The funding is available to any organisation, regardless of size.


Video – Dr Asel Saratbaeva explains why vaccines must be kept stable at all temperatures




The University of Bath 

The University of Bath has a reputation as one of the UK’s leading universities in high-impact research. It is also known for its excellence in education, student experiences and graduate prospects.

We are called ‘University of the Year’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023, and ranked among the world’s top 10% of universities, placing 148th in the QS World University Rankings 2024. We are ranked 5th in the UK in the Complete University Guide 2024, 6th in the Guardian University Guide 2024 and 8th in the The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Bath is rated in the world’s top 10 universities for sport in the QS World University Ranking by Subject 2023. We produce some of the world’s most job-ready graduates and were named University of the Year for Graduate Jobs by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024, as well as ranking as one of the world’s top 90 universities for employer reputation according to the QS World University Rankings 2024.

Bath research is helping to improve the world. Across the University’s three Faculties and School of Management, our research is making an impact in society, leading to low-carbon living, positive digital futures, and improved health and wellbeing.



EnsiliTech, a Bristol-based start-up, was spun out of the University of Bath in 2022. In January 2023, EnsiliTech had finalised a first, oversubscribed, pre-seed investment round of £1.2M. This consisted primarily of a grant from Innovate UK and private investments from Science Angels Syndicate (SAS), Fink Family Office (FFO), QantX (QantX) and angels. 


About Afrigen

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based biotechnology company, is strategically directed by Avacare Healthcare Group and South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). It was founded by Infectious Disorders Research Institute (IDRI), and Industrial Development Corporation in Seattle in 2014. Afrigen’s business strategy focuses on product development, bulk adjuvant production, and supply and distributorship of key biologicals in order to meet unmet healthcare needs. Afrigen established the first adjuvant technology and production centre on the African continent through international partnerships.



A spin-off from the University of Texas Medical Branch and the Galveston National Laboratory in Galveston, Texas. EmerVax, founded in 2021 is developing vaccines for emerging viral infections that could cause epidemics and pandemics like COVID-19.



A UK-based company with a team consisting of 30 highly qualified and experienced employees has extensive experience supporting projects that range from pre-clinical to clinical development and pharmaceutical licensing for the EU and US. They also have expertise in medical technology research, healthcare management and other related activities.


About the UK Vaccine Network

The Department for Health and Social Care, or DHSC, is the UK Government department responsible for helping people live healthier and more independent lives for longer. This investment is part the UK Vaccine Network. UKVN was created to provide funding for the development of promising vaccinations and vaccine technologies to help combat infectious diseases with epidemic potential in low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries. UKVN, as an investment by UK Aid, means that all funded projects must be primarily and directly benefitting people in low and middle income countries (LMICs).



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