While the invention of borosilicate glass by Otto Schott opened the doors for numerous new technology applications, polymers are seen as modern game-changers for specific solutions. Particularly the pharmaceutical packaging and diagnostics markets have found ways to incorporate the material and build on its advantages.
Thanks to its characteristics, including its glass-like transparency and its flexibility in design, high-quality polymer and precisely Cyclic Olefin Copolymer (COC) has won itself an increasing share in the market of pre-filled pharmaceutical containers. “We have been producing polymer syringes for over 20 years to meet the industry’s need for both glass and polymer pharma packaging,” notes Mario Haas, Head of the Polymer Solutions division at SCHOTT’s Pharmaceutical Systems Business Unit. “Pharma companies can therefore find the right container for various patient, drug and device requirements without being limited by choice of material.”
As an attractive alternative for pharmaceutical packaging, polymer must meet the highest quality standards. Manufactured in a fully automated production process, polymer containers do not feature any tungsten or adhesives to protect the drug from possible interactions.
Pre-fillable polymer packaging is used in a variety of therapeutic areas within the clinical setting. The material’s high break-resistance and design flexibility, among others, makes it suitable for administering drugs in hospital surroundings, such as in emergency situations or administering pain medication, anesthetics or cardiovascular medications. Designed as an optimal fit with pump systems and connectors, polymer syringes can also be used in infusion therapy. “Our polymer pre-filled syringes have actually helped to bring blockbuster drugs to market,” Haas proudly adds. Even in the field of compounding, a trend toward using a high-quality polymer packaging solution can be observed.
Yet the use of polymer also extends into other application fields including the cosmetic area, where particularly highly viscous drugs such as hyaluronic acid come into play. Here, an optimized injection force and robust syringe system ensure a safe and comfortable process for the patient. Moreover, its compatibility with numerous devices and wearables plays an important role in the trend of moving the administration of medications, e.g. biologic drugs, from a clinical to a home care setting.
Hybrid on the horizon
Similarly to the pharma industry, the use of glass significantly predates that of polymer in the diagnostics industry. Yet polymers including COC and other cyclic olefins now play a significant role in the diagnostics industry due to their excellent microfeature replication, biocompatibility, low fluorescence, and high-temperature resistance.
SCHOTT’s recent acquisition of MINIFAB complements its existing portfolio of glass substrates used for research, diagnostics and many other life science applications. The Australian company specializes in the development and contract manufacturing of microfluidics-based diagnostic and life science products based on polymers. “By acquiring MINIFAB, we have expanded our internationally renowned glass development and technology expertise to include a comprehensive polymer technology and application engineering suite to enhance our portfolio in the diagnostics market,” emphasizes Dr. Heinz Kaiser, the member of the SCHOTT Board of Management responsible for the diagnostics business.
Polymer materials are quite compelling as they come at a relatively low cost and can be manufactured using faster and more conventional methods like injection molding and lamination. Yet new applications start to challenge the inherent properties and require the industry to consider various material combinations. “This opens the door for hybrid solutions,” explains Greg Wolters, Head of the Diagnostics group at SCHOTT. “By integrating glass components into a polymer device, a balance can be achieved between cost and performance and we see some interesting options there.”
Therefore, it’s not neccessarily a discussion on which material is the better choice, but rather which requirements it needs to fulfil and whether glass or polymer or a combination of both offer a suitable solution for customers.