Merck & Co and others test vaccine delivery drone


Merck & Co is among the partners behind a consortium testing the potential to deliver temperature-controlled medicines and vaccines using a drone.

The consortium is led by the humanitarian aid organisation Direct Relief testing the viability of drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in the cold chain.

Other partners are Merck & Co (known as MSD outside the US and Canada), Softbox, AT&T, and Volans-i.

Conducted in the Bahamas, the consortium said the project could represent an important step forward in the supply chain for biopharmaceuticals requiring constant storage at cold temperatures to preserve their efficacy.

The test was conducted autonomously using technology allowing for precise temperature control of medicines and vaccines as low as -70 Celsius, required for storing and transporting some life-saving medicines and vaccines.

It used live, continuous temperature tracking throughout the flight duration using cloud-based, real-time data analysis and collection, designed to ensure safe and effective delivery.

The drone flew over open water between the islands of the Bahamas, beyond the operator’s line of sight.

Volans-i built and operated the all-electric drones, and Softbox developed the temperature-controlled payload box, connected by AT&T.

Merck & Co thought of the idea and provided supply chain expertise, and the collaborators will advance the pilot programme so the technology can be tested in Africa and Latin America.

Hannan Parvisian, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Volans-i, said: “Successfully demonstrating our ability to make temperature-controlled drone deliveries in various climate and terrain conditions across these pilots is a first step towards realising our vision for a world in which no one should be deprived of access to life-saving medical supplies and vaccination due to lack of infrastructure and responsiveness of the transportation ecosystem.”

Richard Wood, Director, Digital Connected Technologies at Softbox, said: “The data collected during the successful flights has shown everybody is involved in the power of IoT (Internet of Things) to provide full visibility of the cold chain, even in the most extreme environments while using innovative transportation modes.”