Auburn Biotech to Be Hub for U.S. Covid Vaccine Delivery

Patented vaccine vials at SiO2 in Auburn

A biotech in Auburn is positioned to be the primary supplier of vials for coronavirus vaccines for whatever U.S. companies are chosen to roll out the national immunization campaign.

SiO2 has received $143 million in funding by two top federal agencies managing the vaccine program, for an expansion to produce enough vaccine vials to deliver 1 billion doses.

When the U.S. vaccine program gets under way, a key link in the supply chain will be the safe delivery system, and the hub for that system will be the SiO2’s research, delivery and production center in Auburn.

The facility will be tripled in capacity by the $143 million investment, which comes from the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The JPEO-CBRND is the Department of Defense’s top biological defense agency. BARDA is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services in charge of managing the nation’s coronavirus response.

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SiO2 is the developer of patented, advanced materials for containing vaccines and other volatile pharmaceuticals requiring special handling.

“When it’s the government buying, they are arguable more stringent, and they took a lot of time checking the product and the technology,” Lawrence Ganti, chief business officer at SiO2, told Business Alabama. “The Department of Defense went through the product with a lot of scientists, a very exhaustive and extensive process. They thought the technology was amazing.”

Ganti says the government’s $143 million “reflects the government’s needs for the initial runs” of Covid vaccine. The investment is calculated to pay for the production of enough vials for the delivery of 1 billion doses, he says.

There are seven to eight companies working on coronavirus vaccines, with maybe two to three that will end up with viable products.

The reason the government is going to one source for the vials is that they are unique, based on a SiO2-owned patent for a drug container that solves safety and durability problems other products do not.

“No one else has been able do it, and if try to copy it, they can’t. It’s patented, a very specific technology,” says Ganti.

Traditional glass vaccine vials are fragile, and plastic can break down and contaminate a vaccine. The SiO2 product wraps plastic around glass in a carefully engineered technology that protects drugs with thermal and chemical stability, a gas barrier and mechanical durability. It accommodates drugs with varying pH factors and  holds up to temperatures ranging from minus 40 to minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The technology, says Ganti, is “homegrown in Alabama. Over the last 10 years we’ve been inventing and developing the technology with the support of Auburn University, MIT, the University of California and Harvard. They have helped us by giving us the collaboration of some of their top scientists.”

SiO2 has already been shipping its vials to vaccine companies in the testing phase of their development, in lots of 50,000 to 100,000, says Ganti.

The Retirement Systems of Alabama was an early investor in SiO2. SiO2 officials gave thanks to Sen. Richard Shelby for helping with the grant. SiO2’s funding application was facilitated by attorneys Palmer Hamilton and Robert Walthall, partners in the Jones Walker law firm.

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