September 24, 2014

How Quickly are Cell-based Products Really Developing? Thoughts from the IBC Cell Therapy Bioprocessing Conference

Last week was the 4th Annual IBC Cell Therapy Bioprocessing Conference.  IBC (home of the BioProcess International conference) was the first conference organizer to dedicate a focused meeting on Cell Therapy Manufacturing Technologies 4 years ago.  Since the first conference in 2011, the growth in the field, and the conference, has been amazing.  The attendance has grown from less than 90 in year 1 to over 200 this year.  The content has also evolved heavily over the last 4 years, demonstrating a high level of sophistication and maturity in a field that seems “early stage” to those looking in from the outside.  The talks this year increased in the amount and quality of data presented. Topics included the impact of automation on the simplification, streamlining, and cost reduction of autologous therapies, the use of Quality by Design (QbD) in bioreactor scale-up and analytical development, advances in tissue engineering and biofabrication techniques, and even 2 year data on marketed products.   Phil Vanek, the General Manager of GE Healthcare’s Cell Therapy business, summed it up during his talk where he stated that: GE is interested in 1) big problems, 2) compelling clinical data, and 3) opportunities for “industrialization”, and “Cell Therapy/Regenerative Medicine has all three”.

Various cell manufacturing and processing devices seen throughout the exhibits at IBC's
4th Annual Cell Therapy BioProcessing Conference - No BioPrinters (yet!)
There are many signs that the Cell Therapy field is moving much faster than the protein therapeutics field before it and demonstrating rapid progress.  What we have here is a traditional case of  “standing on the shoulders of giants”, which has been paraphrased on Wikipedia as "discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”.  

September 10, 2014

Scale-up Production of hMSCs: Highlights from the BioProcess Summit Cell Therapy BioProduction Sessions – Post 2 of 2

Fall is almost here, and that means it is Cell Therapy BioProcessing and Manufacturing conference season.  This year it started a few weeks earlier as conference organizer CHI put together a Cell Therapy BioProduction session as part of their Annual BioProcessing Summit in Boston from August 18-22.  In our last post (Scale-up Production – Post 1 of 2), I summarized some of the cool technologies that vendors had on display, as well as some of the poster highlights.  In this post, I want to highlight just a few talks that were focused on manufacturing, scale-up and Cost of Goods of allogeneic cell therapies.  There were several other great talks, but I just wanted to focus on these three due to topic and brevity.

Manufacturing, Cost of Goods, and Unprecedented Stem Cell Process Yields:
On the first day, we had a dynamic duo from Loughborough University give a pair of excellent talks.  Experienced Manufacturing Engineer David Williams gave a great talk on precision manufacturing of living products, highlighting the challenges of working with the inherent variability that comes with primary cell culture.  Dr Williams is the Director of the Center for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine that “works to equip the regenerative medicine industry with manufacturing tools, technologies and platforms by considering the ‘right therapy, right patient, right time’ supply chain from end to end.”  In his talk, he highlighted the need for solid quality characteristics so you know exactly what you are manufacturing – and can do it “again, and again, and again, and again….”.  He points out that, without knowing what characteristics are important for your product (the identity and functional potency of your cells), you: can’t manufacture to specification, can’t scale up, can’t implement new raw materials in your process, can’t transfer manufacturing to another facility, and can’t reduce COGS through process optimization.  Hearing David talk is always a reminder of how important the basics are.

September 5, 2014

Scale-up Production of hMSCs: Highlights from the BioProcess Summit Cell Therapy BioProduction Sessions – Post 1 of 2

Closed system 10 layer and media bags are 
now readilyavailable from several vendors.
Fall is almost here, and that means it is Cell Therapy BioProcessing and Manufacturing conference season.  This year, it started a few weeks earlier as conference organizer CHI put together a Cell Therapy BioProduction session as part of their Annual BioProcessing Summit in Boston from August 18-22.  It is always great to see new conferences including Cell Therapy content, as it shows the maturation of the field.  There is a now a “market” that the organizers believe is worth creating content for.

CHI was kind enough to invite RoosterBio to give the kick-off presentation, so I was able to get re-immersed on all that is new and improved in Cell Therapy Manufacturing Scale-up.  This blog post is meant to share a few of the interesting observations from the meeting and will focus on highlights from the vendor exhibits (i.e. product innovations) and the posters.  The next blog post will share some take-homes from the talks.  There were indeed some valuable and exciting new reports that I want to communicate. 

One key observation is that, while it is still my belief that most of the Allo-products are currently manufactured in 10-layer culture vessels (see above pic), most of the presentations focused on the next generation bioreactor-based processes.  There will continue to be a major shift over the next few years to more automated platforms such as these.

Products on Display for BioProduction of Therapeutic Cells

I always find it worth noting what products the vendors have on display, as they will be developing products based on requests from the market – so more new products displayed means "growing market", which turns into better tools available for everyone.  Interestingly, even at a general BioProcessing conference, there were several booths with Cell Therapy-focused products, and there were 3-5 posters (out of maybe 30) on the scale-up and processing of human MSCs (hMSCs). 

There were a few product innovations and focused product areas among the vendors that I want to highlight here (and we are not getting paid for this, I promise – no sponsorship at all).
Ready-to-Use Microcarriers from Pall

·         Pre-sterilized and ready-to-use microcarriers.  Both Pall/Solohill (see pic) and Corning now offer these products in bottles, but more importantly, in closed system bags ready to seed into a bioreactor system.  Microcarriers in the past had to be prepared and autoclaved by the end user, creating work and yet another set of variables to control when trying to implement this technology.  By providing pre-sterilized microcarriers that are QC’d for efficient cell attachment (I am assuming this QC step; I will try to confirm that), this takes one less process step out of the hands of the process development scientist and makes implementation that much simpler.  This is an important advancement in the field.

·         PBS Biotech reported hMSC densities (expanded in their bioreactors) consistently north of 1 million cells/mL, and up to 3 million cells/mL in a serum containing media.  These numbers are a good 10-fold greater than any number published or presented just 5 years ago, and the highest and most consistent I have seen presented to date.  It is unclear if the reason they achieved these targets was due to the microcarrier and media combination, their novel low shear bioreactor design, or just plain good bioprocess engineering - likely a combination of all three.  In any case, it is a significant achievement, and it demonstrates that it can be done.  Other vendors will now be trying to beat it, and cell therapy companies will be trying to implement it.

·         Vendors are beginning to focus, at least some, on the post-expansion/downstream processing (microcarrier removal, cell concentration) of the cells as well.  Millipore had a presentation and a poster that discussed microcarrier removal using single use filters and the concentration of hMSCs post-harvest using scalable tangential flow filtration (TFF) technology – both with good post-processing viability and recovery.  See poster summary below.  Downstream processing continues to be an under-appreciated aspect of the field and cannot be an afterthought to scale-up culture.  If you scale your expansion to several hundred liters before beginning to think about how you will process the massive cell volumes you have, it could set your program back over a year while these technologies are developed and integrated into the manufacturing process.  It is good to see these aspects of manufacturing get some focus here.

Poster Highlights: