Auburn’s SiO2 launches production of high-tech COVID-19 vaccine vials

Gov. Kay Ivey joined leaders of SiO2 Materials Science and other officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of a facility where the Auburn company has launched production of unique vials to be used in the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

The milestone celebrated at SiO2’s new production facility comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorization to a coronavirus vaccine created by Moderna.

SiO2’s patented vials will play an integral role in the storage and distribution of the Massachusetts biotech company’s next-generation vaccine, which has been shown to be highly effective against SARS-CoV-2 during clinical trials.

“This day marks an important moment for Alabama and for SiO2, whose high-tech vials will be used in the delivery of a vaccine that will help end the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ivey said.

“The technical accomplishments of SiO2 demonstrate to the world the kind of highly innovative and groundbreaking work that is being done in Alabama. We’re very grateful for this achievement and this company,” she said.

In development for more than 10 years, SiO2’s vial combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for storing biological drugs and vaccines. (SiO2)

Innovative platform

SiO2 launched a $163 million expansion project at its Auburn facility this summer to ramp up production of its proprietary vial system after securing a major contract to supply the federal government with vials to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort. The company had the full support of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.

Robert Abrams, founder and CEO of SiO2, said the company designed special machines, each 130 feet long and armed with sensitive cameras to detect defects or contaminants, to mass produce the vials. The facility will have 10 production lines, each capable of turning out 15 million vials and syringes per year.

“The container that this vaccine is in has to be so pure and perfect that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the vaccine,” Abrams said. “It’s a very complicated product. There is no one else in the world who could make it.

“This is just the beginning of a whole industry in Auburn, and the science developed there is protected by 300 worldwide patents and 6,000 patent claims.”

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said SiO2’s well-timed expansion project in Auburn means that the nation’s health authorities will have an ample supply of vials and syringes to immediately administer brand-new vaccines for COVID-19.

“SiO2’s innovative vials represent a key strategic advantage for federal agencies by enabling them to act rapidly to distribute a vaccine to counter the coronavirus,” Canfield said.

“SiO2’s work will save many lives and help get our country’s economy back on track.”

Auburn-based SiO2 developed a patented vial system that will be used by the federal government to store COVID-19 vaccines. (SiO2)

‘Incredible work’

In development for more than 10 years, SiO2’s vial platform combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for storing biological drugs and vaccines. The product, developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions, won’t break, shatter or crack.

Gov. Kay Ivey, center, joins officials for a ribbon cutting at the expanded SiO2 facility in Auburn. (contributed)

Dr. Robert S. Langer, David H. Koch Institute professor at MIT, said one of the most critical issues facing the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine effort has been to make sure that the vaccines are stored and shipped in vials that will not break or taint the medicines.

“This has necessitated the development of entirely new materials to create these vials — an effort that has been led by the terrific scientists at SiO2. I have been proud to have been an adviser to SiO2 since their inception and to see the incredible work they have done,” he said.

SiO2’s expansion project was supported by the Alabama Department of Commerce and the City of Auburn. The Retirement Systems of Alabama provided early financial support for the company.

Abrams said SiO2, which had around 200 employees before the expansion project, is now targeting a workforce of 500, many of them engineers from Auburn University and other state universities.

“We are proud to be the home of such an innovative company that is contributing to the fight against COVID-19,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said.

“On top of SiO2’s global impact, the company’s expansion has led to significant local investments, including the addition of hundreds of well-paying jobs to our community.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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