Container Innovation's Prairie Home

Catalent’s Woodstock, Illinois, facility has been pioneering blow-fill-seal aseptic packaging for decades

By Steven Kuehn, Editor in Chief

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PlantTourNestled out on the prairie about 60 miles northwest of Chicago is Catalent’s Woodstock, Illinois, home for Blow/Fill/Seal packaging innovation. Regardless of its sylvan setting, Catalent’s been pioneering efficient, sterile aseptic blow-fill-seal methodologies and sustaining its development for more than 25 years and is gearing up for continued success with its global customers from this central-U.S. location.

The Woodstock facility has a long history serving the pharmaceutical industry. The original company was founded in 1968 as Automatic Liquid Packaging (ALP) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. By 1980 ALP headed west to Woodstock, building a new facility to house four BFS lines — intended primarily to demonstrate the efficacy of BFS technology to customers. This eventually created demand for contract manufacturing services, which the company pursued with vigor. The facility’s first production runs started in 1982 with approximately 60 employees working three shifts, five days a week to meet the demand. Fast forward to 1999; Cardinal Health purchases the business, and in 2007 Cardinal Health PTS becomes Catalent Pharma Solutions.

As of 2014, Catalent offers extensive aseptic, glass-free BFS filling-solution capabilities and capacity with experience providing development through commercial scale manufacturing support covering single and multi-dose solutions across complex emulsions and suspensions. “For more than 30 years here on site,” says David Bricker, Catalent’s site general manager, “We’ve specialized in the ‘hard to do’ complex molecules — we can do both, but it’s really the complex molecules we do well.” Bricker explains Catalent has a strong representation in the ophthalmic, respiratory, topical and biotech market spaces.

A main focus for Catalent is in the formulation and development areas. “It’s not just the straightforward solutions, but really we are able to simplify the complex molecules and produce them with the same operational excellence as the simple solutions,” says Natasha Hults, director of R&D. “For example, we’ve been successfully producing a biologic in BFS for over 20 years, so we have a long, proven history of how to handle a wide range of molecules, including complex and large molecule products.”

Since its inception, the company’s owners have continuously invested in the facility and the BFS technology it encompasses. Currently the plant, at some 500,000 sq. ft., encompasses a total of 38 BFS lines. Since 2011, Catalent has invested a significant amount of capital and plans to further expand and improve operations over the next three years. These investments are paying off — especially in the area of quality. Through the guidance and institutionalization of Catalent’s Quality Management System, organization and continuous attention to operational excellence, the site’s regulatory profile has steadily improved, and in 2013 the company experienced zero FDA 483 observations. Bricker agrees that as Catalent’s organizational methods and processes were institutionalized the plant’s quality performance has improved markedly.

It’s obvious wherever you observe Catalent and its production assets, whether it’s the biotechnologies and biopharmaceuticals, solid dose development or cutting-edge aseptic filling, operational excellence is a priority. For the Woodstock facility, its excellence culture is being manifested in the first phase of its planned multi-million-dollar investment. “There are some things we need to do from an infrastructure standpoint,” explains Bricker, “to provide continuous improvement and continue to meet the current and future cGMP standards.” Characterizing the first phase as a “nice project,” Bricker’s description is apt because very targeted dollars are supporting some well-defined, high-value operational improvements. Bricker describes it as a “refresh” with Catalent better aligning the facility to “take advantage, and leverage the BFS technology for [the] injectable marketplace.”

The site has a classic feel, after all, its administrative, corporate front and original manufacturing and logistic spaces were built in 1980. But in this case “classic” is relative, more like a vintage car. With 30 years of BFS experience within the context of a nearly continuous history of expansion and infrastructure improvement, Catalent knows a thing or two about leveraging BFS technology within the ecology of its operational footprint. But that doesn’t mean opportunities for improvement have all been exploited. Upcoming capital spending is intended, says Bricker, to provide additional administrative and operational control that will support the facility’s ability to support BFS process flexibility and market expansion. “When you look at the BFS technology from a parenteral manufacturing standpoint, as well as what has been taking place quality-wise on the traditional glass vial side,” notes Catalent’s commercial operations director Eric Feltes, “the automatic, aseptic filling technology of BFS addresses many of those root causes of challenges in the parenterals market.” Looking at it from a technology standpoint, says Feltes, BFS really has true advantages, especially in other market spaces, outside of ophthalmic and respiratory. So looking at those advances, particularly in the U.S. parenteral space, we see as a growth opportunity for the technology as well as for us as an organization.”

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