The Road for Z-SC1’s ULT Freezers in the U.S. Begins in Baltimore

Baltimore is the starting point for the national delivery of ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers that can handle the extreme-cold storage requirements for two mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.

Montreal-based Z-SC1 Biomedical Corp, the maker of multiple ULT freezers, selected Baltimore for the site of its warehouse, which serves as the main lynchpin for the company’s nationwide distribution plans. The freezers, which are built at an overseas manufacturing site, are sent to the Port of Baltimore on a cargo ship. From there, the freezers are taken to the warehouse where they are tested to ensure there was no damage and that the devices are working properly while in transit. Once tested, the freezers are packaged, loaded onto a truck operated by logistics company MoveIt, and sent directly to the customer.

Z-SC1 Chief Executive Officer Jean Fallacara said Baltimore was selected as the main warehouse and distribution site for Z-SC1 because of the efficiency of the port. While the New York Port is much closer to the company’s corporate offices in Montreal, Fallacara said freight can sit for a considerable amount of time before it is allowed to enter the country. And with a need so high for ULT freezers to accommodate mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, the nation and the world cannot afford to wait too long, Fallacara said.

“Everyone is demanding to get a freezer as fast as possible,” Fallacara said.

ULT freezers developed by Z-SC1 are capable of rapidly cooling to temperatures colder than the North Pole in a matter of hours. The ULT freezers are more than capable of lowering temperatures to the desired -94 Fahrenheit required for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Most ULT freezers require about four hours to reach that frigid temperature, but Fallacara said his company’s freezers can drop to -86 Celsius (-122 Fahrenheit) in two hours. Z-SC1 markets ULT freezers, which are sized to store 19 cubic feet and 36 cubic feet, have significant capacity to hold thousands of vials of the anti-COVID-19 vaccines, or whatever else may need to be stored at such low temperatures.

When COVID-19 first hit, and headway was being made on the mRNA vaccines, Fallacara said Z-SC1 anticipated a need for increased demand and ramped up production in the spring of 2020. And that anticipation is paying off.

“We have seen a huge uptick in demand. Some weeks we can sell 300 freezers and that normally that takes months,” Fallacara said. He noted that as of now, Z-SC1 can meet the demand for about 3,000 ULT freezers. 

“This is the first time that my order list for January is bigger than the last two years combined.”

Lee Jay Lowenstein, President of Baltimore’s Stellar Scientific, touted the efficacy and efficiency of the Z-SC1 ULT freezers. Lowenstein said Stellar Scientific, one of the fastest-growing lab supply companies in the United States, has been approached by multiple cold storage companies who hope to tap into their market reach. But, Lowenstein said for his money, Z-SC1’s freezers are hands down the best in the business.

“When it comes to cold storage, there’s only one choice,” Lowenstein said. He noted that Z-SC1’s products are well-constructed and deliver as promised.

With the demand for ULT freezers at an all-time high now because of the mRNA vaccines, Fallacara predicted the rise of stories of malfunctioning freezer units, which potentially could jeopardize some of the unused vaccines that are currently in short supply. Fallacara said he has one goal with his ULT freezers and that is to work consistently in order to protect the items within. He said no customer has yet to lose a sample because of a malfunctioning freezer made by his company.

“For God’s sake, keep that sample safe,” Fallacara said. “That’s the core principle of our mission.”

Not only did Lowenstein praise the quality of the Z-SC1 ULT freezers, he also applauded Fallacara’s passion for his work.

“Whatever he produces it will be built on the passion of making life easier for scientists,” Lowenstein said of Fallacara.

Demand may soon outpace the availability of the product, though. Fallacara said the overall ULT freezer market in the U.S. is expected to triple in the next three years. He noted that most freezers used in North America are made overseas and there is a good chance of a logjam due to potential disruptions due to fallout from the ongoing pandemic and other commercial concerns.

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Alex Keown is a freelance journalist who writes about a variety of subjects including the pharma, biotech, and life science industries. Prior to freelancing, Alex has served as a staff writer and editor for several publications.