Indian glass vials producers said they are gearing up to meet any potential demand arising from pharmaceutical companies to fill their COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.
Health experts globally are concerned whether there would enough glass-vials available, to pack billion of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
A vial is small glass bottle which is used for storing liquid medicines like vaccines and other drugs.
"We are geared up and are investing proactively. We have requested all our customers to give us a forecast to enable us to make sure that we have sufficient stock of the glass and vial conversion capacities," Rishad Dadachanji, Director of SCHOTT KAISHA, told Moneycontrol.
SCHOTT KAISHA is the 50:50 joint venture between SCHOTT, the German specialty glass maker and Indian firm KAISHA Manufacturers, that converts tubular glass into vials, ampoules and syringes, with a total capacity of 3 billion units.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Dadachanji said SCHOTT KAISHA is already working with Serum Institute of India to supply tubular glass vials and aluminum seals for the Oxford vaccine.
Serum entered into a licensing deal earlier this month with British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca to provide 1 billion doses of the vaccine to low- and middle-income countries, with the goal of 400 million produced by year's end. Serum has already plans to supply 2-3 million oxford vaccine from July onwards, which will largely go for clinical trials.
Demand vs Supply
Dadachanji sais it is still early days to anticipate the exact demand.
"It all depends on the success of vaccine candidates of respective vaccine companies, and their manufacturing capabilities," said Dadachanji.
But the demand is expected to spike as companies race to develop COVID-19 vaccine. For instance India would alone need to 1.3 billion doses, for a single dose. If booster dose is needed it would require double that capacity. People have to be vaccinated quickly to build herd immunity to arrest the infection spread. There are many LMICs that rely on India for their vaccines, futher increasing the demand for vials.
It isn't Oxford vaccine alone, Serum has entered collaborations with US and European biotech to make COVID-19 vaccines. There are other companies in India that include Bharat Biotech, Panacea Biotec, Zydus Cadila, Biological E, Indian Immunologicals, Sanofi, have plans to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
For instance Panacea Biotec said the aim is to manufacture over 500 million doses of COVID-19 candidate vaccine, with over 40 million doses expected to be available for delivery early next year.
SCHOTT, one of the world's largest producer of borosilicate glass used for making tubular vials and ampoules, estimates at least one billion units will be required for an initial global vaccination campaign, equaling roughly 2 percent of the current annual demand for borosilicate glass containers for injectable drugs. Along with SCHOTT, US-based Corning and Japan's Nipro Corporation dominate the global production of tubular glass.
"Yet, further vials will probably be required for COVID-19 treatments, as well as other unrelated therapies that have been postponed because of the crisis," the company said in an email statement.
Apart from JV, SCHOTT is independently investing in India. The company is increasing its manufacturing of borosilicate glass tubing by 40,000 tons providing enough raw material to produce an extra 6.8 billion standard vials, a major part of that capacity comes from its India plants.
SCHOTT said the short-term demand for pharmaceutical packaging can be met if industry focuses on ramp-up and prioritization.
Molded vials no shortage
Even among glass vials there are two types - tubular vials and molded vials. The molded vials are obtained by pouring molten glass into molds. On the other hand, tubular vials are obtained by using glass tube by hot edges. The vials manufactured by SCHOTT-KAISHA are tubular vials.
Piramal Glass, one of the world's largest producers molded glass vials said it has enough capacities.
"There could be some shortage for tubular vials globally, but when it comes to molded glass there is sufficient capacity. There is a possibility to increase production, we can double our capacity at short notice," said Vijay Shah, Vice-Chairman, Piramal Glass.
Shah says molded vials are affordable than tubular vial and can be made for different dosages.
Piramal said it has received enquiries from 3-4 companies, including Zydus Cadila, Bharat Biotech and Sanofi.
Tubular vials are now more widely been used over molded vials for their aesthetics, consistency of dimmensions and ease of quality inspections given the transparency of the glass material.Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here