Corning Valor® Glass Vials for Vaccines

How Corning’s Strategic Framework enabled a new paradigm in pharmaceutical vials

How Corning’s Strategic Framework enabled a new paradigm in pharmaceutical vials

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, discovering and distributing a vaccine remains a critical path toward global immunity and an end to the pandemic. To achieve this, the world will need billions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Corning, a leading provider of a glass vial that can help pharmaceutical companies deliver vaccines safely and efficiently, is ramping up production to fulfill enormous demand for the millions-of-vials commitment to the U.S. Government’s Operation Warp Speed.

These Valor® Glass vials aren’t just an iterative improvement on conventional vials. They are a new category of glass, solving a costly problem the pharmaceutical industry has endured for decades but never knew it could fix.

And it’s the latest example of Corning’s way of weaving together science, manufacturing development, and longstanding connections to various industries to produce world-changing new market categories over and over. In other words, it’s a manifestation of the company’s strategic framework, which encompasses three core technologies, four manufacturing platforms and five market-access platforms. The strategy’s purpose is to develop entirely new market categories, which can drive the company’s growth. The same basic strategic concept is why Corning has consistently developed world-changing products such as optical fiber, flat-panel TV glass and Corning® Gorilla® Glass, which covers millions of mobile consumer electronic devices.

The three core technologies are the focus of the work of Corning’s scientists. The company spends nearly $1 billion a year on research in glass science, ceramic science and optical physics. That work, and more than 160 years of experience, allows the company to have confidence that it is a world leader in knowledge about glass.

Similarly, investment in four manufacturing technology platforms – called vapor deposition, fusion, precision forming and extrusion – means Corning can know that if it develops an innovative new glass product, the company can make it at scale.

The work inside the labs and in manufacturing allows Corning to listen for glass-related problems and customer input, confident that the company can come up with and deliver a solution. The path to Valor Glass began just that way.

In 2011, Corning’s CEO, Wendell Weeks, was on the board of directors for a major pharmaceutical company. In conversations with executives, Weeks started hearing about frustrations with glass vials for vaccines. The vials were made of a kind of glass – borosilicate – that had been around for nearly a century. As Weeks learned, friction on the surface of the borosilicate vials could lead to jams on fast-moving vaccine assembly lines. The conventional vials could too easily crack or break or slough off tiny glass particles that could contaminate the liquid inside.

As Weeks dug deeper, he started to think this was a problem Corning could solve – and that solving it could create a multibillion-dollar opportunity, considering the value of vial sales combined with the value of prevented glass-quality issues. Corning enlisted Merck and Pfizer as a development partners, and the innovation journey began.

Back at Corning, Weeks assembled top scientists from across disciplines to work on the vial problem. The team experimented with more than 200 different glass compositions before landing on one that seemed to work: an aluminosilicate glass that, due to ion-exchange, is about 10 times stronger than conventional vials, with an external coating to reduce friction so the vials could slide past each with less chance of jamming together or breaking.

Even then, it was going to take years to break into a market where the competitive product held nearly all of the market share and where regulations are duly rigorous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would need to review and approve the use of Valor Glass vials with the drug products they will contain. And the pharmaceutical companies would take time to vet the new vials through robust quality systems. But the investment and patience would be worth it to potentially create a new multibillion-dollar-a-year growth engine for the company.

By mid-2020, several pharmaceutical companies were evaluating Valor Glass. Pfizer signed a long-term purchase agreement with Corning. Recognizing the potential for Valor Glass to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) granted Corning $204 million to ramp up manufacturing of Valor vials. Even as scientists seek to discover a vaccine for COVID-19, vial-filling and -finishing capacity is currently constrained. But Valor Glass vials may help. Use of Valor Glass vials in the vaccine-packaging process can help increase overall filling and finishing capacity.

When a product like Valor Glass succeeds, it drives Corning’s strategic cycle all over again. Profits from the business can fund more research into glass. The entry into a new industry, whether pharmaceuticals or smartphones or automobiles, gives the company market access so it can listen for new problems to solve. New research can help Corning find new glass-related challenges to solve…and on and on, helping Corning continue to create new market categories just as it has for more than 160 years.