In early June, we reported on an impending shortage of glass vials ahead of ambitious estimated delivery timelines for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca spoke on a conference call last in early June saying frankly, "The challenge is not so much to make the vaccine itself, it’s to fill vials....There’s not enough vials in the world."
Paul Stoffels, the Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson and Johnson also added "Getting to five or 10 vaccines per vial is probably going to be essential to be able to cope with the volume....The capacity is not there to do it in the billions."
Today, materials science company SiO2 issued a press release announcing a $143 million agreement with the US Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
SiO2 is a privately owned company in Auburn, Alabama in the United States producing a superior glass-like material which "combines the benefits of both glass and plastic." The product is benchmarked to meet the needs of pharmaceutical and consumer health markets with a plastic core lined with a "microscopic, thin, undetectable to the naked eye, pure glass coating for biological drugs and vaccines." The makeup of SiO2's plastic-glass hybrid containers can withstand 1,500 pounds of force, are shatterproof, and assert cost savings in supply chain losses due to broken vials.
“The SiO2 vials solve significant challenges in the commercialization of vaccines and biological drugs, which presently cannot be solved by glass or plastic vials,” said Material Scientist Dr. Glenn Fredrickson. “Bringing this advanced coating to market will enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to safely and more rapidly deploy their critical products.”
Under the agreement, the partnership aims to "accelerate the production and scale-up of SiO2’s patented packaging platform for storing vaccines and therapeutics for use in the current pandemic, if needed, or future public health emergencies." The government hopes to reduce US dependence on supply chains abroad while responding quickly to increased demand.
“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 S. Langer, advisor to SiO2 and institute professor at MIT. “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.”
“The pandemic presents an enormous challenge for all people." said Bobby Abrams, Chief Executive Officer of SiO2, "We are extremely grateful for [Alabama US Senator Richard Shelby's] steadfast support and assistance, and we’re honored to collaborate with our government so a COVID-19 vaccine can be safely and quickly distributed. The State of Alabama and the City of Auburn for many years have been very supportive of SiO2 Materials Science during its research, development, commercialization, and now scale-up phases of the company.”
SiO2 expects to increase their existing production to 120 million vials annually, up to one billion vials by April 2021.