The pharmaceutical company worker stood at the top of a stairwell, holding a tiny glass vial in their hand. They held the vial out, peering at the ground three storeys below and dropped the vial. On purpose. “It bounced incredibly,” says Rob Schaut, scientific director of Corning Pharmaceutical Technologies.
Corning is the maker of Gorilla Glass, a specially strengthened glass used to make super tough smartphone screens. But the company has a long history and, among other things, also invented early versions of the optical fibre cable used for internet communications.
It is one of just a handful of firms that makes glass vials for the pharmaceutical industry, where containers for drugs or vaccines must meet extremely high safety standards, including being shatterproof and resistant to extraordinary temperatures.
Other companies in the industry include Germany’s Schott, founded by Friedrich Otto Schott, who invented borosilicate glass in 1897. This toughened material is still used for pharmaceutical containers today and Schott says that three-quarters of the world’s Covid-19 vaccine projects use its products.
But Corning has captured the industry’s attention lately with the strength of its Valor glass product, which was introduced in 2017.
“It’s basically the Gorilla Glass for pharmaceuticals,” says Steven Fox, an analyst at equity research firm Fox Advisors.