Non-destructive vacuum decay method for pre-filled syringe closure integrity testing

In reaction to the limitations of the traditional sterility test methods, in 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the guidance “Container and Closure System Integrity Testing in Lieu of Sterility Testing as a Component of the Stability Protocol for Sterile Products” encouraging sterile drug manufacturers to use properly validated physical methods, apart from conventional microbial challenge testing, to confirm container closure integrity as part of the stability protocol. The case study presented in this article investigated the capability of four container closure integrity testing methods to detect simulated defects of different sizes and types on glass syringes, prefilled both with drug product intended for parenteral administration and sterile water. The drug product was a flu vaccine (Agrippal, Novartis Vaccines, Siena, Italy). Vacuum decay, pharmacopoeial dye ingress test, Novartis specific dye ingress test, and high-voltage leak detection were, in succession, the methods involved in the comparative studies. The case study execution was preceded by the preparation of two independent sets of reference prefilled syringes, classified, respectively, as examples of conforming to closure integrity requirements (negative controls) and as defective (positive controls). Positive controls were, in turn, split in six groups, three of with holes laser-drilled through the prefilled syringe glass barrel, while the other three with capillary tubes embedded in the prefilled syringe plunger. These reference populations were then investigated by means of validated equipment used for container closure integrity testing of prefilled syringe commercial production; data were collected and analyzed to determine the detection rate and the percentage of false results. Results showed that the vacuum decay method had the highest performance in terms of detection sensitivity and also ensured the best reliability and repeatability of measurements. An innovative technical solution, preventing possible prefilled syringe plunger movement during container closure integrity testing execution, is presented as well.

Lay abstract: The growing need to meet sterile drug products’ regulatory, quality, and safety expectations has progressively driven new developments and improvements both in container closure integrity testing methods and in the respective equipment, over the last years. Indeed, container closure integrity testing establishes the container closure system capability to provide required protection to the drug product and to demonstrate maintenance of product sterility over its shelf life. This article describes the development of four container closure integrity testing approaches for the evaluation of glass prefilled syringe closure integrity, including two destructive (pharmacopoeial and Novartis specific dye ingress test) and two non-destructive (vacuum decay and high-voltage leak detection) methods. The important finding from the validation of comparative studies was that the vacuum decay method resulted in the most effective, reliable and repeatable detection of defective samples, whether the defect was exposed to sterile water, to drug product, or to air. Complete sets of known defects were created for this purpose (5 μm, 10 μm, 20 μm certified leakages by laser drilled holes and capillary tubes). All investigations and studies were conducted at Bonfiglioli Engineering S.r.l. (Vigarano Pieve, Ferrara, Italy) and at Novartis Vaccines (Sovicille, Siena, Italy).

Keywords: ASTM F2338; CCI; Defect; Dye ingress; High-voltage leak detection; Integrity; Leak detection; Leak test; Leakage; Non-destructive; Package integrity; Plunger movement; Prefilled syringes; Sterility; Stopper movement; Vacuum decay.


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