GSK opens Australia pilot plant to test blow-fill-seal technology on vaccines

Vaccines are tricky products, hard to keep safe and sterile when shipped and stored under tough conditions. GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has now opened a pilot plant in Australia to see if its blow-fill-seal technology can do a better job with them.

The U.K. drugmaker has opened the AU$8 million ($5.7 million) facility at its site in Boronia outside of Melbourne, The Australian reports. GSK got $1 million in support from the government in Australia for the project, which hopes it will lead to expansion there. The company's hopes that using the technology might even reduce vaccination costs in developing countries.

The challenge was how to use BFS technology that requires heating plastic to 160 degrees Celsius for vaccines which must be kept below 30 degrees Celsius, the Sydney Morning Herald explains. The plant's techical folks worked out that confidential process in collaboration with Melbourne's Monash University and GSK's vaccine experts in Belgium.

"It was a problem about how do we use blow-fill-seal technology and not kill the vaccine," Philip Leslie, GSK's technical lead at the site told the Herald. "At that's when we worked with Monash University to understand how to do that."

Last year, the U.K. drugmaker announced it was investing about $31 million ($22.3 million) in next-generation technology for the plant and would be installing "cutting-edge manufacturing technology" specifically developed for aseptic packing of sterile pharmaceutical liquids. It said it would use the technology to manufacture respiratory drug Ventolin to meet growing demand from emerging markets, particularly China, Turkey and Brazil.

In an emailed statement Thursday, a GSK spokesperson said, "This project is different from the one announced last year for Ventolin. In terms of next steps, this is still in the pilot stage. If discovery is successful, it could put a temperature-sensitive product into a BFS vial which would open up many new opportunities."

- read the Australian story
- more from the Sydney Morning Herald