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27 Aug 2020

Pharma glass specialist’s positive response to Covid-19 crisis

As a key supplier to the global pharmaceutical industry, SGD Pharma is well versed in the process of contingency planning. This experience has greatly assisted the specialist glass packaging manufacturer in implementing its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with melting at all five production sites continuing to run at full capacity throughout the crisis.

More than 100 years of experience has enabled the SGD Pharma group (formerly Saint-Gobain Desjonquères) to position itself as a European leader in the manufacture of primary pharmaceutical glass packaging. Over 3000 people are employed at five glassworks in France, Germany, China and India. In 2019, a turnover of €338 million was recorded by the group, which is represented by more than 90 specialist agents and representatives throughout the world.

SGD Pharma is widely respected for its expertise in moulded glass and is a leader in the production of glass packaging for infusions, as well as being a major player in orals and injectables. It is a direct supplier to seven of the world’s top ten pharmaceutical companies, developing a market leading position in Europe, the Middle East and India, as well as maintaining a strong presence in Asia and the Americas.

Every day, SGD Pharma manufactures more than eight million pharmaceutical vials and bottles that comply with international pharmacopeia. This includes moulded and tubular injectable bottles, infusions, such oral products as syrups, tablet bottles, antibiotics and aerosols, plus packaging for nasal medicines.

All five factories are ISO 15378-certified, comply with good manufacturing practices and are equipped with ISO 8 clean rooms. SGD Pharma is now the only manufacturer of medical glass vials and bottles with production sites in France, supplying more than 50% of local demand. In 2016, the Saint-Quentin-Lamotte glassworks was opened in Normandy. This advanced facility features two melting furnaces that are dedicated to parenteral (injectable) and nasal applications. The long-established Sucy-en-Brie site near Paris has operated since 1917 and houses two furnaces that specialise in oral and parenteral applications. Plastification and serigraphy workshops are also featured.

Crisis management

Since the Covid-19 coronavirus was first identified in China’s Hubei province at the end of 2019, its devastating impact has spread throughout the world, severely impacting the daily activities of individuals and businesses alike. One of the five international glassworks operated by SGD Pharma is located at Zhanjiang in Guangdong, the largest province in southern China. With government authorisation, this facility has operated throughout the crisis, as an essential producer of glass bottles for the pharmaceutical industry.

According to Christophe Nicoli, CEO (illustrated), some important lessons were learnt very quickly and applied immediately to other SGD Pharma operations in other parts of the world. “Crisis management and a general mobilisation of all our employees were implemented on 26 January by the management of our unit in China” he confirmed. “An absolute priority was placed on the protection of our employees and strict compliance with the regulations enacted by the government.”

Since the start of the crisis, for example, all employees have been issued with protective masks that are changed on a daily basis. To obtain these masks, the resources of all units of the SGD Pharma group have been used.

More than 200 audited actions are being implemented at the Zhanjiang factory every week and these efforts are paying off, with no cases of Covid-19 recorded to date among employees. Subsequently, the procedures put in place in China have also been implemented at other SGD Pharma units, including those in France, Germany and India. It has been necessary to stop a tubular workshop in India, where the government has restricted the normal headcount for all industries to 25% of the total, although this situation is constantly evolving.

Protective masks have now been found for all employees throughout the world, with the Chinese team alone sourcing and shipping upwards of 150,000 units to sister sites since mid-March.

Business continuity

Since the enforcement of strict quarantine measures throughout much of Europe, SGD Pharma’s operations in France and Germany have managed to achieve business continuity within its factories, sorting facilities and warehouses. Strict hygiene/health rules were quickly established to protect employees, with temperatures taken on-site, face masks issued and work reorganised to protect the personal space between individuals.

Regular interaction is maintained with local and national authorities to discuss the expectations of customers are met and to ensure the glassmaker’s continuity plans.

Increased internal and external communication is maintained with customers, suppliers, partners and shareholders, with continuity plans deployed for all commercial and industrial operations, including purchasing, supply chain and production.

During enforced lockdowns, administration and commercial personnel continue to work from home with the help of the group’s propriety software and with additional computer-based equipment provided as necessary.

Support is widely provided for local communities and health care professionals, including PPE equipment donations for hospital and local authority staff on the front line of the global fight against Covid-19. This has included a donation of over socks, gloves, gowns, caps and face masks by the Sucy-en-Brie team to the Grand Paris Sud Est Avenir area agents for Henri Mondor Hospital and Créteil Intercommunal Hospital.

Positive customer support

While SGD Pharma’s customers continue to serve the world’s health systems, the glassmaker is working alongside them to build and maintain secure inventories, to adapt production and deliveries, while speeding up processes wherever possible. “There is pressure to ensure business continuity in the production and delivery of bottles essential to their operations and in the fight against Covid-19” Christophe Nicoli confirms.

Primarily, SGD Pharma produces pharmaceutical bottles intended for community medicine and hospitals, the function of which is to contain the following molecules targeted by the HSCP safeguarding arrangements:

In the case of fever, the molecule used will be paracetamol, generally in dry oral form (tablets, capsules and packets) or syrup form (eg Dolipran 2.4% syrup and Efferalgan 3% syrup). SGD Pharma produces and delivers bottles that are essential to the manufacture of these syrups.
With a cough (generally a dry cough at the onset of infection, which may evolve into a wet cough), the molecules used are opiates based on codeine, codethyline, pholcodine, dextromethorphan, or noscapine and antihistamines (Oxomemazine, class: Phenothiazine) or syrups in liquid form, packaged in bottles ranging from 125ml to 250ml. SGD Pharma supplies bottles essential to the manufacture of these medications.

In situations where hospital intervention is necessary, the glassmaker is participating in the care effort by producing and delivering bottles intended for intravenous feeding (to restore the balance of extracellular fluid and electrolytes; compensate for fluid losses; prevent intra- and extracellular dehydration or to rehydrate) and to treat infections potentially caused by the patient's immune deficiency via antibiotic therapy. SGD Pharma produces and delivers bottles essential to the manufacture of these antibiotics.

Faced with an unprecedented set of challenges, glassmakers like SGD Pharma are continuing to provide a valuable service to customers throughout the world. The group’s robust business continuity plan delivers an essential service, thanks in no small part to the involvement, responsiveness and motivation of a dedicated workforce.

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