Stem Cells Live: All Roads Lead to Automation

Human_embryonic_stem_cells - Copy

Terumo BCT’s Dave Flaten opened proceedings at WSCRM today with a talk extolling the virtues of automated cell processing platforms. Terumo BCT have developed a number of automated platforms in order to streamline operations such as cell collections washing and concentration of cell populations and cell culture. 

Automation will drive COG downDave Flaten, Terumo BCT

Getting straight to the point, Dave Flaten revealed his take home message early on in this talk: automation will allow companies that manufacture cell-based products to reduce their cost of goods. Automation has the potential to impact a wide range of bioprocessing issues. A lot of discussion at WSCRM has focused on the labour intensive nature of current stem cell processes. The cost of labour is perhaps the most obvious area upon which automated equipment might impact – clearly automated processing ameliorates this issue. However, I was fortunate to speak to Bob Speziale of Invetech during a networking session and he shared his view that the impacts of process automation on operator costs are likely to be a drop in the water compared to cost savings that automatd platforms offer in other areas. Closed off processing environments provided by automation will drastically reduce facility costs as they are able to be housed in lower classification clean rooms than those required by open, manual unit operations – not to mention the reduction in the size of facilities automated platforms offer. Dave Flaten also illustrated, partially through work carried out by Dr Mark McCall or Loughborough University, how automation will also drive down ongoing validation and QC costs because of the improvements with respect to comparability and process variability provided by automated processing.

It is easy to get caught up in the cost of goods debate when discussing cost vs benefit analyses of automation. In the eyes of CMOs Pharmacell, the implementation of automation is primarily a question of product quality and safety. I asked PharmaCell’s production director, Arjan Roozen, if he thought there was a scale at which automation became beneficial, I intended it as an economic question, however I was given an interesting response: effectively, any scale is the right scale. The improvements in process containment, reproducibility, safety and quality should make automation a no brainer, regardless of its impact upon cost of goods. Happily enough, the evidence will surely compel the industry to believe that quality and cost benefits will come hand-in-hand with automated cell processing platforms.

Michael Jenkins for Total BioPharma at WSCRM Congress, London

Michael is an EngD research student at University College London. His work, in collaboration with Neusentis Ltd., investigates cost of goods modelling and economic optimisation of hiPSC bioprocesses.

Twitter: @MJ_Jenks