The glass used to make vials for vaccines and other medications is scarce, and with the looming need to store and distribute COVID-19 shots on a massive scale, Honeywell aims to step in with a well-known plastic alternative.
Honeywell makes everything from airplane engines to the N95 masks sought after to curb the spread of COVID-19—and Aclar thermoplastic film, used for decades in drug packaging. Now, Honeywell has repurposed that tech in a new line of bottles and vials for oral liquid drugs, animal health injectables and—potentially—vaccines.
Honeywell had expected to launch Aclar Edge in June, but as the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans, the company caught wind of the need for vials to store potentially lifesaving coronavirus vaccines. Experts have warned for several months the U.S. supply chain may not be equipped to handle a nationwide inoculation drive, due in large part to a shortage of the glass needed to make traditional vaccine packaging.
So, Honeywell pivoted to create smaller, 10-milliliter-and-under Aclar Edge bottles to store those shots, in addition to the usual sizes. The lightweight, breakage-immune bottles are stackable and weigh less than glass, making it possible to ship and store large amounts of product for less cost, Kori Anderson, general manager at Honeywell Healthcare packaging, said in an interview. Plus, Aclar Edge is resilient enough for cryogenic storage, Anderson said.
The company has yet to forge any deals with vaccine makers, Anderson said. But she added that in the meantime, "using Aclar Edge in any application could free up extra glass vials for potential COVID-19 vaccines."
Designed with Honeywell's extrusion blow-molding technology, Aclar Edge was first intended as a safer packaging solution for pediatric and animal health drugs, Anderson said. The product's moisture barrier is on par with glass, and its oxygen barrier is strong, Anderson said, but less prone to breaking.
The use of plastic eliminates the risk of glass particles leaching into medications—the cause of many drug recalls—and the Aclar film itself has a low extractable profile and strong chemical resistance, according to Anderson. Honeywell thinks that safety profile could make Aclar Edge a packaging mainstay for orally-delivered pediatric medicines, where drug contamination poses an even greater health risk.
Despite the delay to launch, the company kicked off a marketing campaign in June to spread the word about its glass alternative. A full commercial rollout is planned for the fourth quarter of the year, Anderson said, with several companies already signed on to make the Aclar Edge switch.
Other companies are ramping up in anticipation of a glass vial shortage. For instance, SiO2 Materials Science plans to shell out $163 million, with the help of some funding from BARDA, to expand an Alabama packaging plant. The scale-up will boost production capacity for vials and syringes to house COVID-19 vaccines and treatments while allowing the company to continue supplying its current pharma customers.
And in June, around the time SiO2 won its government deal, BARDA awarded $204 million to upstate New York materials manufacturer Corning to scale up production of its glass vials to bottle and store COVID-19 vaccines.