The use of disposable components in downstream processing and final-fill operations is increasing as the technology for performing these steps in a single-use mode advances. This evolution has created significant demand for systems that support single-use purification, formulation, and filling operations.
Four factors are largely responsible for driving this increased demand. First, is the desire to realize increased processing efficiency through the elimination of preparative steps like CIP and SIP for product-contact equipment and parts. For example, presterilized, single-use tubing and bags can be used to replace stainless steel piping and tanks that have to be cleaned and steamed between uses.
Second, is the need to reduce validation efforts related to the product path, in particular the elimination of cleaning validation. Products that are hard to clean, or are highly potent or toxic, often require dedicated product-contact parts. This is because existing cleaning processes are inconsistent or simply do not work to remove certain products to safe levels.
Third is the imperative to contain toxic products. Disposable systems can be removed, bagged, and disposed of without breaking connections and exposing the product to the environment. Finally, there exists a desire to match existing single-use upstream processes, particularly for biopharmaceuticals.
In the past, filling-line equipment was commonly dedicated to a single product. This approach is no longer economically feasible. Most filling lines today support multiproduct operations, with the exception of the highest-volume drugs, which support nearly continuous filling operations.
Traditional multiproduct operations require validation of the level of product carryover after cleaning operations to ensure subsequent products are not contaminated. Certain product-contact parts are hard to clean to acceptable levels and are therefore dedicated to specific products.
An alternative to filling-equipment dedication is the use of single-use parts and assemblies. These systems can include components like bulk product bags, capsule filters, silicone tubing, and other plastic fittings and parts. Many of these parts can be purchased precleaned and presterilized as well as double or triple bagged for easy use within cleanrooms. Filling operations are critical enough to require that entire single-use systems be assembled and sterilized together rather than having to piece individual components together at the point of use.
Presterilized, single-use products have been around for awhile, with several off-the-shelf filling systems using peristaltic or gravimetric dosing. These existing systems are designed for low-speed, small-batch filling operations. Scale-up of these systems for high-speed filling creates technical obstacles that include a relatively slow dosing speed, lower filling accuracy and precision, and difficulty dosing products with variable temperature and viscosity characteristics.
Peristaltic dosing is ideally suited for disposables. Single-use peristaltic systems are typically composed of a product hold bag, supply tubing, and a filling needle, all of which are bagged together and sterilized using gamma irradiation. The assembly is removed from the bag and connected to the filling system, which can be as simple as a single peristaltic pump, immediately before use.
High-quality peristaltic pumps can precisely dose water-like solutions at slower speeds. Accuracy, however, is directly influenced by the tubing; accuracy drift is common as the tubing that is located in the pump head changes shape over time due to wear. Characterizing and compensating for this drift is mandatory. Peristaltic pumps also dose at slower speeds, which means that high-speed peristaltic systems require more pumpheads to dose at the same rate as the equivalent piston, time-pressure, or rolling-diaphragm systems.
Gravimetric dosing uses optical sensors to dose at a certain volume based on calculation of the interior volume of a given length of tubing or glass. The entire product path is supplied as a single-use, presterilized assembly. Accuracy and precision of the system with water-like solutions is comparable to other dosing systems, with speed and accuracy directly related to fluid temperature and viscosity. Dosing time is based on the speed at which a liquid will flow through the tubing based on gravity. Thicker solutions flow more slowly and are therefore dosed at a slower rate.
Relatively small temperature changes over the course of a filling event can affect product viscosity enough to have a significant effect on the volume filled. Like peristaltic systems, more pumpheads are required to dose at the same rate as the equivalent piston, time-pressure, or rolling-diaphragm systems.
Current single-use, presterilized dosing systems are based on the scale-up of technologies designed and used for small-scale filling operations. A better approach is to convert an existing high-speed dosing technology to single use. The three most common commercial systems are piston pumps, rolling-diaphragm pumps, and time-pressure dosing. All three of these systems would require significant technical improvements and modifications to be converted to disposable use.