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Business

Corning invests in glass innovation

Company to spend $4 billion on new material for pharmaceutical vials

by Michael McCoy
July 27, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 31

Credit: Corning
Pharmaceutical vials made with Corning’s Valor glass.

Corning plans to spend $4 billion to build facilities in the U.S. that manufacture a novel aluminosilicate glass for the packaging of injectable drugs.

President Donald J. Trump announced the investment at a White House event promoting his initiative to increase manufacturing employment in the U.S. Also present were Corning CEO Wendell P. Weeks and the CEOs of the drug companies Merck & Co. and Pfizer.

Corning said it will make an initial investment of $500 million to expand existing glass facilities in New York and New Jersey and build a new plant in the southeastern U.S. One thousand jobs will be created in the initial phase, the firm said, and 4,000 jobs by the time the investment program is done.

Corning plans to work with the pharmaceutical packaging firms Gerresheimer and Stevanato to bring the new glass to the drug market.

Such firms typically form containers out of borosilicate glass, which contains at least 5% boron oxide to help resist temperature change and corrosion.

However, Robert Schaut, a glass scientist at Corning, explains that boron volatilizes when the glass is heated and molded into vials, leading to heterogeneity and microscopic surface delamination. In the new glass, called Valor, Corning replaced the boron with aluminum, reducing volatility and eliminating delamination, the firm says.

A second Corning innovation was the use of ion exchange to replace some of the sodium ions in the glass with larger potassium ions, creating a compressive stress layer that increases glass strength. The ion-exchange process is an optimized version of the one Corning uses to create its durable Gorilla glass for smartphone screens, Schaut says.

At a demonstration at the White House event, Trump used a device to apply a more-than-450-kg load to a Valor vial without breaking it. Conventional vials, in contrast, break under about 20 kg of load.

In a third innovation, Corning added a low-coefficient-of-friction surface to minimize vial-against-vial rubbing on filling lines. Generation of glass particles, which can contaminate drugs, is reduced by up to 96%, the company says.

Merck says it plans to convert several injectable products to Valor, pending regulatory approvals. Pfizer says it is working with Corning to assess Valor at several of its manufacturing sites.

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