Feds Inject $142 Million into Auburn Biotech to Speed Vaccine Delivery

Automated transfer station at SiO2 in Auburn

Two top federal biological research agencies today announced an agreement investing $142 million in an Auburn biotech to speed production of specially engineered vials for coronavirus vaccines.

The Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense, along with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, has tapped SiO2 to speed production of vials and syringes.

SiO2 is a private company that specializes in engineered materials used in the storage and delivery of advanced pharmaceuticals, including vaccines. The government is interested in the company’s patented materials coatings designed to provide thermal and chemical stability, a gas barrier and mechanical durability.

SiO2 says the government investment will allow it to add 200 workers to its current work force of 200 engineers, scientists and technicians, most of whom live in Lee County.

“We’re dramatically ramping up capacity to meet customer demands and to ensure that the surge seen due to the Covid-19 vaccine and therapeutic developments can be accommodated,” said SiO2’s Chief Business Officer Lawrence Ganti.

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“The nation can produce all the vaccines we want, but we must have appropriate containers to store them and deliver them to patients safely,” explained Dr. Robert S. Langer, institute professor at MIT and advisor to SiO2. “Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes. The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”

The company specializes in advanced materials that replace traditional glass vials and syringes. In late 2019 the company launched a blood collection tube it calls the Synergy Tube, its first genetic diagnostics product on the market.

“The SiO2 vials solve significant challenges in the commercialization of vaccines and biological drugs, which presently cannot be solved by glass or plastic vials,” said Glenn Fredrickson, a prominent material scientist who has worked with the company on its line of advanced vials.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is part of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense manages DoD investments in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense equipment.

Former Auburn mayor Bill Ham, now on the Board of Auburn University’s Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, noted the “the integral role Alabama’s prominent U.S. Senator Richard Shelby played in helping the company.”

“We are also very appreciative with the early investment in the project by the Retirement Systems of Alabama, who should benefit greatly with their investment,” said Ham.

SiO2’s funding application was facilitated by attorneys Palmer Hamilton and Robert Walthall, partners in the Jones Walker law firm.

SiO2 began its research and development work in Auburn in 2010. The firm’s headquarters, manufacturing and most of its employees work in Auburn. Some business functions are located in the Philadelphia area. The Retirement Systems of Alabama is an investor in the company.

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