How data and AI are changing bioprocessing – and why it’s needed
After numerous insightful talks and engaging conversations with industry leaders at this year’s BioProcess International, the key theme was clear: data, data and more data.
Data has always been important, but now it is being collected to model current processes, understand how they work, and improve them. This is a trend that is only likely to accelerate in the future as AI becomes part of everyday life – both in and outside of work
Using data-based modeling to optimize well-established industrial processes
There are many traditional processes that are used in the manufacture of antibodies, mRNA vaccines and cellular therapies. Companies are now collecting extensive data from these processes and using modeling to create their ‘digital twin’.
The processes modeled range from relatively simple tasks such as optimization of freezing/thawing product intermediates, freeze-drying and automated buffer preparation, to more complex procedures such as bioreactor scale-up. Although these used to be manual ‘craft’ processes run by a combination of experience and pre-existing data, there is now a trend for them to be tested and optimized using in silico methods.
Using modeling to improve purification methods
Bioprocessing is used to create many therapeutic products, from molecules such as protein, DNA and RNA to much larger entities such as viruses and eukaryotic cells. Their production has many different steps that often require extensive purification before the next step can proceed. Common purification methods include clarification, chromatography, ultrafiltration/diafiltration and sterile filtration.
These methods were typically used in an empirical way based on experience with similar products. Now however, use of modeling has led to a much more detailed understanding of how these separation/purification methods work. It allows the prediction of when column/membrane capacity is reached, and when “breakthrough” of contaminants is likely to occur. It has also led to the development of alternatives to standard resin-based column chromatography such as the incorporation of new reactive chemical groups on membrane filters that can then act like traditional resin-based columns.
Benefits of Process Analytical Technology (PAT)
PAT refers to on-line/at-line measurement of critical product quality and performance attributes so that real-time direct data collection can be used to control and optimize manufacturing processes.
PAT is being augmented by a much wider range of analytical techniques than before and now includes many different types of spectroscopy including variable path length, Fourier-transform infrared, Raman and Dynamic Light Scattering, as well as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. The use of PAT for direct data collection that links to immediate process control is only likely to accelerate.
Inexorable rise of disposable closed cell processing systems
In addition to the data theme, it was clear to see that the number of automated closed cell handling and processing systems – from cell selection to expansion and harvesting – is rapidly increasing. Companies aim to offer end-to-end solutions to traditionally manual processes, either by offering modular components or a single complete system.
The options for choosing automated disposable bioreactors/cell expansion systems are also increasing, with many players recently entering the market. It is clear why this option is advantageous; traditional stainless-steel bioreactors are complex, expensive, and laborious to clean and maintain.
Just how large these systems can grow is shown by ThermoFisher’s 5000L disposable Dynadrive bioreactor, which is offered as a fast-to-install option compared to stainless-steel alternatives. However, the environmental impact of the disposable route is a long-term concern and is expected to be a point of contentious discussion over the coming years.
Bioprocessing technology is developing (but not fast enough for demand)
The technological developments described above are certainly needed as advances in eukaryotic culturing methods are allowing higher and higher cell densities to be realized, which makes purification more challenging. Furthermore, the pipeline for products that use these technologies is growing at a dizzying rate with over 1,500 cell and gene therapy and 700 mRNA trials listed on the US Clinical Trials site. New higher throughput processing techniques will need to be developed to accommodate this demand.
The industry clearly recognizes this and companies were very open in sharing their results at BioProcess International – both good and bad! They are also keen to work with the process equipment manufacturers to optimize performance. Overall, improvements have been made, but there is a long way to go.
Performance can be improved by a virtuous circle of data generation, data modeling and innovative design and engineering – something we at CDP are already doing to help our clients succeed.
If you would like to see how innovative engineering and automation could help increase bioprocessing throughput, please get in touch.
Head of Biology