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Gareth Carpenter
25 Aug 2020

Pharmaceutical packagers scaling up to meet potential COVID-19 vaccine demand

Amid concerns that global immunization programs may suffer from a shortage of vials to hold doses of approved vaccines against COVID-19, pharmaceutical packagers are busy ensuring they have the required capacity to meet the huge demand.

As the world waits to see which anti-COVID 19 vaccines will be first to gain regulatory approval and come to market, pharmaceutical packagers are busy scaling up their vial manufacturing capacity to ensure the challenging demand situation will be met.

According to Italy’s Stevanato Group, worldwide demand will increase over the next two years by an estimated 1 billion to 2 billion of new glass vials that are able to contain multiple vaccine doses.

Some experts have questioned whether delivery of successful vaccines to the global population may be hampered by a potential shortage of vials needed to hold the vital shots.

In June, German pharma glass manufacturer SCHOTT announced that it had signed supply agreements for vials to package up to 2 billion vaccine doses with pharmaceutical companies including partners of ‘Operation Warp Speed,’ the US government initiative to serve local vaccine production needs.

The agreements came into effect in July with first vials already being delivered to companies in Asia, North America and Europe.

SCHOTT, the world’s largest supplier of borosilicate glass for medical bottles and syringes, said it has the infrastructure in place to expand vial production capacity at many of its sites, including the US and Germany, by another 1 billion vaccine doses and that it is currently in discussions with respective state officials over the best possible production location.

In India, SCHOTT’s 50-50 joint venture, SCHOTT KAISHA is supplying COVID-19 vaccine vials to Serum Institute of India and other companies developing vaccines.

The joint venture operates four Indian manufacturing facilities in Jambusar and Umarsadi in Gujarat, Daman, and Baddi in Himachal Pradesh. It also produces the pharmaceutical glass tubing for the packaging itself at its global sites including one in Jambusar in Gujarat.

“SCHOTT KAISHA has been known to scale up extremely fast in order to meet customer demands over the past decade, which is also evident from its two new facilities in Umarsadi and Baddi,” said Rishad Dadachanji, director at SCHOTT KAISHA, adding that due to its robust supply chain and support from SCHOTT’s global sites, the company is confident it can quickly expand its production capabilities in case of further demand.

Dadachanji added that another key advantage is that many pharma companies have been processing the company’s vials on their fill and finish lines for many years: “Hence, no time-consuming adaptations of fill and finish equipment will slow down vaccine distribution.”

SiO2 Materials Science is another packaging specialist which has signed a large supply agreement; in June it announced a USD 143 million deal with the US Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to accelerates production scale-up of its primary packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics.

The company said it has successfully scaled its hybrid vial manufacturing capacity ahead of schedule to 400 million doses and is on track to hit 1.2 billion capacity before the end of 2020.

SiO2’s patented materials science is a combination of a plastic container with a microscopic, thin, undetectable to the naked eye, pure glass coating for biological drugs and vaccines.

“The nation can produce all the vaccines we want, but we must have appropriate containers to store them and deliver them to patients safely,” said Dr. Robert Langer, institute professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and advisor to SiO2. “Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes. The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”

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