The steel case of a chemical reactor, selective focus. Abstract industrial background.

Afrin Zohura, USD Bioprocess Research Engineer, University College London (UCL)

How to develop new drugs, therapies and technologies in a timely manner is one of the most pressing concerns of our time. Recently, UK Business Secretary Greg Clark highlighted that with over 10 million people in Britain alive today expected to live to 100, it is more important than ever to develop treatments faster and better than has previously been possible. Moreover, with the UK Government now announcing the selection of medicines and devices for fast-track access to patients, it is vital that the bioprocessing industry is able to keep up with these increasing demands. 

One research team leading the field when it comes to helping biopharmaceuticals to accelerate bioprocess development is the Department of Biochemical Engineering at UCL, who announced in June the well-timed launch of a commercially available ultra scale-down (USD) shear device (kompAs ™ Ultra Scale-Down Innovation – Using small stuff to tackle big problems, 22 June). 

The USD approach pioneered by the Biochemical Engineering research team at UCL aims to reproduce full-scale manufacturing at a laboratory scale. The department is leading the development of proprietary USD devices and laboratory methodologies to address scaling bottlenecks seen in industry. These technologies have the potential to transform and accelerate bioprocess development, enabling biotech companies to achieve robust manufacturing design for the production of enzymes, biopharmaceuticals, cell and gene therapies, vaccines and other biochemicals as building blocks for food, energy, and other products. 

The kompAs™ device, recently licenced through Gowerlabs (a UCL spinout company), is able to mimic large-scale manufacture through the introduction of shear on a biological sample using just millilitres of material. In practical terms, using low volumes like this in the early-stage development phase could mean reduced overall costs of projects and an increased capacity for biotech companies to take on additional projects using multiple drug candidates. 

Simulating large-scale shear at the lab scale means that projects can be delivered through shortened development timelines, and a significant reduction in industrial Cost-of-Goods (COGs) at full-scale could mean that affordable, effective medicines can be made available to patients faster. 

Academics from the department, including Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker (Dean of Faculty), explains how USD applications can influence the way we deliver new and urgent medicines to patients: “The idea is to move companies forward with confidence to enable biopharmaceuticals to move to manufacturing at lower cost, and as a consequence to enable greater populations of patients to benefit.” 

Dr Andrea Rayat, the USD Tech Transfer Lead, highlights the future of USD technology applications in bioprocessing: “The demands for personalised medicines, for example, consequently demands targeted manufacturing, and this is an exciting area for next generation USD devices.”

The work carried out at UCL Biochemical Engineering may be a gateway into revolutionising the way early-stage bioprocessing development occurs as various studies have already been carried out which show the numerous uses and applications of the shear device. 

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