Diatec Monoclonals has received funding for a research project together with 3 other partners, including SINTEF Manufacturing, with the aim of automating biological production and documentation of such. The project has a total budget of 15 million NOK and is supported by the BIA-program at the Norwegian Research Council. BIA funds industry-oriented research and is a broad-based program supporting high-quality R&D projects with good business and socio-economic potential. The project will be running until the end of 2022.
We aim to use robots for antibody production,
to improve working conditions, avoid contamination, and ensure the highest
possible quality of each batch.
Antibodies are large molecules that cells
of our immune system produce naturally. In the healthcare industry, antibodies
are used in R&D, for pharmaceuticals and/ or in vaccines.
Industrial scale production of antibodies in
labs still take place inside cells, and it is important to make sure the cells
are thriving. The cells grow in flasks called bioreactors; in order to thrive,
they need nutrients (called medium), correct temperature, and right amounts of
O2 and CO2. The cells have to be fed and “changed” regularly. “Changed” means
that the nutritious medium will accumulate waste from the cells, and need to be
replaced. A flask looks like a rectangular drinking bottle, and is divided into
two chambers; one where antibodies are collected and can be harvested; the
other where waste media is collected, and subsequently emptied and replaced. Thriving
cells means more antibodies produced.
Using live cells to make antibodies for
drugs is called biopharma production. This is a very complex production method,
and very demanding on the operators who perform the work. To decrease the load
on our operators, we want software and robots to take over parts of the process,
such as feed and change, harvesting antibodies, and parts of the huge amount of
measurements and logging that is required by authorities when working with
diagnostics or pharmaceuticals. Antibody production takes place in clean rooms,
where the hygiene requirements are extremely strict. Our biggest source of
contamination are actually the people working in the rooms.
In a scenario where there is an urgent need
for large amounts of antibodies, i.e. an emergency needs for vaccines or
pharmaceuticals, the robots can work 24/7 to ensure the urgent need is met,
without creating extreme working conditions for our employees.