Close up of a blue vertical DNA chain against dark blue background. Concept of science. 3d rendering. Mock up

By Frances Griss

One of the most exciting and rapidly growing fields of bioscience is the development of new cell lines with specific and controllable characteristics, either for research or industrial scale production.

Companies all over the world are vying to be the fastest, most accurate and most efficient producers of specific cultures tailored to individual clients.

Hundreds of individual lines of cells have been perpetuated for research over the past decades and some current lines can trace their origins back to the 1950s.

These cell lines originate in humans, many in various cancerous growths, animals, fish, plants and fungi. Such samples can be used to test the effects of potential treatments without using animals for experimentation.

It is the ability of a cell line to replicate itself reliably and without introducing new material which means that results are reliable and comparable.

In this regard, experts say that it is important to maintain vigilance and authenticate a culture before work on it begins because samples can become contaminated over time, creating problems for all laboratories working on that culture.

Public Health England recently publicised results showing that a sample of glioblastoma U-87MG, a cell line isolated almost 50 years ago, was not genetically identical to the original tumour. They urged researchers to verify their samples and make the results widely available to other laboratories using the same cell line if differences were found.

There is a growing and competitive industry which produces genetically engineered cell lines which express a specific antibody or protein, which can then be produced in comparatively large quantities.

Some companies say that their process can increase bench top quantities of a culture to 1000l in less than a fortnight, yielding about 4g/l of product. Companies state that yields of up to 10g/l are possible in some circumstances.

Commercial laboratories offering this service suggest it is possible to create a cell line to specific requirements in as little as one month and promote their services saying it allows research teams to concentrate their abilities on the task in hand without  forcing them to branch out into other areas of bioscience and develop their own cell lines.

A competitive business

A recent Global Market Insight reported that cell line development was worth $2.81 billion globally in the previous year but predicted an almost three-fold increase in the size of the market by 2023 to $7.45 billion.

The increase will be driven by demand for new drugs, biosimilars and vaccines with some companies stepping up their capacity to manufacture.

French company  LFB Biomanufacturing, for example, announced that it was going to triple production capacity at its Ales bioproduction facility, specialising in cell-based manufacture of recombinant proteins and monoclonal antibodies.

According to Global Market Insight, growth in the market will not only be in centres offering cell line development but in the service companies producing equipment from large scale production plants down to bench top equipment and cell growth media.

For example, Swiss company Selexis,  a specialist in mammalian cell line generation, recently announced an agreement to expand a relationship which had been growing since 2011 and work strategically with Xencor, a biopharmaceutical company specialising in the production of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, asthma, allergic diseases and cancer.

Other strategic partnerships are for a specific purpose such as the recent agreement between Cobra Biologics and Alligator bioscience. Cobra was asked to develop a second cell line specifically for the production of a drug candidate ADC-1015, a bispecific immune activator developed to induce immune activation.

One of the most commonly used parental cell lines was isolated as far back as the 1950s from Chinese hamster ovaries (CHO) and there is much competition in the sector to provide the fastest and most efficient development process and scaling of culture production.

Lonza, based in Germany and Switzerland, recently announced a new range of media with improved cell growth. The new PowerCHO Advance™ Media line offers easy filterability, improved cell-growth promotion and allows for easy scalability, so users do not need to change to a new medium as they progress from research projects through to large-scale production.