Bioprocessors might make biopharmaceuticals more efficiently by adding another cell line to the process. As Seetharaman Vaidyanathan, senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Sheffield in the U.K., and his colleagues wrote: “The application of microbial co-cultures is now recognized in the fields of biotechnology, ecology, and medicine.”

In an interview with GEN, Vaidyanathan says that one of the biggest benefits of using co-culturing in bioprocessing a biopharmaceutical is that it adds “an additional layer of control to influence productivities.”

By tuning a partner organism, a bioprocessor gains another tool for controlling the culture conditions. For example, the partner organism could control the pH or remove toxins or unwanted metabolites. Vaidyanathan adds that co-culturing is “a means to produce multiple products or components that can be reassembled or modified ex vivo.” In addition, co-culturing could support some of the key goals of bioprocessing 4.0, such as using process analytical technology (PAT). As Vaidyanathan says, “Biosensors or analytics incorporated in co-cultures would enhance the capabilities of PAT platforms.”

Need to overcome critical challenges

Reaching those goals, however, depends on overcoming some crucial challenges. The first that Vaidyanathan mentions is “establishing stable co-cultures with sustainably desired characteristics.” A bioprocessor must also avoid side effects, which could create a less stable product. Even the overall management of bioprocessing must be adjusted, which Vaidyanathan describes as “implementing a protocol that requires overriding conventional industrial practice of monocultures.”

For now, Vaidyanathan explains that “many of the developments are taking place in microbial co-cultures, but there is not much reason to see why they cannot be developed in other hosts where relevant.” Moving co-culturing into commercial bioprocessing, Vaidyanathan says, still requires “research to generate specific evidence for the strategy to yield necessary dividends compared to the status quo.” Overall, putting co-cultures in commercial bioprocessing is a big step. As Vaidyanathan says, it requires a “paradigm shift in mindset from conventional practices.”