As an integral part of biomanufacturing, filtration tends to follow larger industry and processing technology trends.
These have been summarized by James Blackwell, Ph.D., president of the Windshire Group, in several presentations over the years: cost savings and reduced regulatory/validation burden, use of platform technologies, simplification of process development, risk reduction, and adoption of disposables whenever possible.
The market for bioprocess filtration products is driven by a mixture of “voice of the customer” and new technology, says David Beattie, Ph.D., senior director of R&D at EMD Millipore. “Market need and innovative technical solutions must come together or products cannot make an impact. A supplier’s job is to align those two factors.”
One customers-inspired need is expanding the scope of sterility assurance to address novel organisms, or by applying filtration at different steps within the process.
Dr. Beattie cites a recent example of bioreactor contamination by spirochetes, which due to their unique physical size and shape can penetrate standard 0.1- or 0.2-micron media filters. One highly visible spirochete contamination incident interrupted supply, which caused processors and suppliers to think hard about contamination from “unlikely” sources.
The result has been strong interest in examining (and in some cases re-examining) both process solutions (e.g., how to run sterile filtration more effectively) and new technologies. The latter involve designing filters that retain organisms that normally escape standard filtration—without losing the high-process throughput and efficiency that the current generation of filters provides. “This involves what we call ‘enhanced sterility,’” says Dr. Beattie, “and the justifications are business continuity and process consistency.”
At the same time stakeholders are renewing interest in “virus barriers” whose basis is removing viruses that may be part of the raw materials or the finished product of a cell culture medium. Note the distinction between this form of virus removal, and late-stage filtration undertaken mainly for patient safety.
“The question is, can we remove/inactivate viruses early in the process rather than later? That would help assure consistent, productive cell cultures, and reduce the likelihood of shortages due to contaminated facilities,” Dr. Beattie says.
Virus barrier technologies include physical steps such as ultraviolet UV or short-time high-temperature treatment (essentially pasteurization). Another approach, under increasing consideration, is upstream virus filtration. The challenge has been that filtration products designed for keeping media sterile will not remove viruses, and filters designed for removing viruses downstream are incapable of handling complex cell culture media.
“Many cell culture media components are not filterable given the volumes and processing times involved. This strategy demands a novel filtration design,” Dr. Beattie says. “EMD Millipore has been working internally with customers, and through academic consortia to enhance virus safety through both physical steps and filtration. The trick is to do this cost-effectively, allowing therapeutic protein pricing to remain intact. Adding a lot of up-front cost is not acceptable.”