A Patriotic Endeavour
Montreal machine-builder doing its part in urgent global search for a breakthrough Coronavirus vaccine with custom-built automatic vial-filling equipment
With the world holding its collective breath for a timely arrival of a miracle vaccine to put an end to the deadly resilient and gruesome COVID-19 epidemic, global pharmaceutical companies are finding themselves shouldering enormous weight of expectations directed their way by the increasingly restless public and world leaders in all corners of the globe.
And while no one really expects for the magic cure to appear out of the blue overnight, there is no denying the desperate urgency underlying the pharma companies’ efforts to accelerate their search for an effective and safe solution.
Based in Quebec City, biopharmaceutical company Medicago is one of an estimated 120 companies worldwide actively involved in intense research and testing of potential vaccines that, unlike other ongoing vaccine development efforts of note, relies on pant-based technology and science to come up with a promising answer.
Last month, the company had in fact announced the beginning of human trials for its plant-based prospective coronavirus vaccine that demonstrated notable potential earlier this year when tested on mice.
In mid-May, Medicago announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate “has induced an antibody response in mice” in what might turn out to be a major breakthrough in the fight against the spread of the deadly pandemic.
Researchers at this biopharmaceutical company administered a first dose of this vaccine to mice in order to verify its safety and its ability to induce a good immune response.
They then took blood samples from the animals 10 days after having vaccinated them.
Analysis of these blood samples revealed that “the vaccine has boosted the production of a good level of antibodies,” according to Medicago’s senior director of scientific and medical affairs Nathalie Charland.
“Depending on the dose and formulation administered, the antibody level was 100 to 10,000 times higher than before vaccination,” Charland reveals.
“The positive data that has been collected to date, as well as that which will be collected following the booster dose, helped us to build a case to present to Health Canada, and the FDA in the U.S., in order to get permission to conduct clinical trials in humans,” Charland says.
While the company is naturally cautious about jumping to any conclusions about the prospective vaccine’s viability for human use, Medicago says its has the capacity to produce up to 100 million doses of the vaccine annually by the en of 2021 in the event its vaccine proves effective.
As Medicago’s executive vice-president of operations Michael Schunk states, “We are working hard to increase our capacity by an additional 20 million doses in Canada and 100 million doses in North Carolina by 2022, before the completion of our main facility in Quebec in 2023, which is expected to be capable of producing more than one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine annually.”
Producing such a vaccine in a factory environment naturally requires state-of-the-art equipment that will ensure the optimal safety of people receiving such a product—containing not even a single microgram of exogenous material—even at the testing level.
So when the time cam for Medicago to acquire a new filler for its vaccine vials, the evaluation criteria was exceptionally strict and the selection process was rigorous beyond compare.
“When we choose equipment, we make sure that it meets strict safety criteria so that we can be sure that each dose of vaccine we produce is completely harmless,” says Alexandre Tremblay, senior analyst for industrial processes at Medicago.
As Tremblay explains, Medicago wanted to obtain high-speed production equipment that makes it possible to safely package the vaccines it intends to make available to the public, with the most total assurance that the company has everything possible done to offer an immaculately safe product.
“When we started our selection process, we first listed our technical requirements,” Tremblay states.
“Among other things, we were looking for very flexible equipment which capable of producing to our satisfaction both small and large volumes of vaccines,” says Tremblay.
“With doses ranging in volume size from two milliliters up to 150-ml, we were looking for equipment adapted to today’s technological reality.
“We therefore compared both European and North American equipment, bearing in mind all these criteria of capacity, flexibility and technology, as well as cost, and, if possible, a local manufacturer.”
After a rigorous selection process, Medicago settled on the leading-edge pharmaceutical packaging equipment manufactured by the highly reputable Montreal-based packaging machinery manufacturer Capmatic Ltd.
Founded in Milan in 1964 by local Italian engineer Lavinio Bassani, Capmatic relocated to Montreal in 1979 after its founder fell in love with the city while introducing his company’s European technology to the North American market at a major industrial exhibition.
Announcing its arrival in sensational style —winning gold medals in the pharma, cosmetic and diagnostics categories—the family-owned business soon embarked on a path of robust manufacturing expansion on a truly global scale.
In addition to growing its new Montreal headquarters and central manufacturing facility, the company also expanded its manufacturing footprint over the years by opening up another manufacturing facility in California and adding a third production plant in Ireland.
Such robust growth steered Capmatic to becoming a formidable global powerhouse in the market for automated packaging systems for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, diagnostics, and food-and-beverage industries.
With the company’s equipment quickly gaining strong reputation for long-life durability, minimum machine manipulation and effortless product handling, Capmatic has virtually revolutionized the filling, capping and labelling industry with its vast range of proprietary custom-built machinery that has caught the eye of many of the world’s leading Big Pharma companies, including Medicago.
As Tremblay relates, Capmatic simply checked all the right boxes throughout Medicago’s exacting equipment supplier selection process.
“Ultimately, with Capmatic being a Montreal manufacturer of high-end equipment that was also well known to the pharmaceutical industry, it was awarded the contract,” says Tremblay.
Specifically, Medicago opted for a custom-built Capmatic Patriot FSA filler assembled at Capmatic’s facility in time for this summer’s testing trials.
“If the heart of the filler is the same as the standard products that Capmatic offers, then we know we can produce without ever compromising our quality,” Tremblay states.
“Of course, we have asked for a few modifications so that the machine meets all of our needs exactly.”
As Capmatic’s project coordinator Maria Di Fulvio recalls, “Medicago was looking for a flexible filler, made of 100-percent superior-grade stainless steel, capable of achieving a variety of filling volumes and capable of packaging various-sized vials.
“Being a well-established Quebec manufacturer, in business for 55 years, was surely a big asset for us as well,” Di Fulvio states.
“The fact that we often work with customers in the pharmaceutical sector was also decisive, as we truly understand the needs of this very demanding clientele,” she sates.
“We are used to receiving specific technical requests to build custom equipment, and as a result we are constantly updating our equipment, so that it exactly matches the specifications of our customers.”
As a major brand in Capmatic’s expansive product portfolio for several years, the highly versatile Patriot brand fillers have already been installed by numerous customers across a broad range of industries, according to Capmatic.
Featuring a compact linear platform with single indexing, recognized for the versatility of its operation, the Patriot is a complete multi-station monoblock machine that can be equipped with a wide range of filling, capping, sealing/crimping and labeling systems to provide a turnkey packaging solution that meets all the FDA requirements and follows all the cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices) guidelines.
Offering the choice of inline or rotary filling operation, depending on the user’s needs, the Patriot can fill up to 60 vials per minute, according to Capmatic.
At the heart of the machine, the Patriot’s patented STEELHEART filling station is designed to ensure zero risk of cross-contamination, enhanced with innovative diving nozzles for a fully optimized filling cycle.
Says Di Fulvio: “With Capmatic’s confidence, professionalism and sought-after experience, our record of delivering high-performance equipment adapted for our diverse clients’ tailored needs is flawless.
“We at Capmatic truly believe that the impossible is always possible when we put our hearts and minds to it.”