By Gail Dutton

The November 2023 State of Global Fermentation report specifies the costs associated with producing certain products at various scales and at particular titers, in addition to updating global and regional fermentation capacities. The study analyzes data from 246 facilities in 40 countries, across more than 100 products. It is based upon Synonym’s Capacitor database and Scaler economic analysis engine.

As Alex Jaffe, a Synonym product manager, tells GEN, “From our experience, the biopharma world doesn’t traditionally focus on cost of goods (CoGs) because they are relatively small compared to their sale prices. And, biopharma sales prices are high to cover all the R&D, regulatory, and other costs specifically related to biopharma production.” However, CoGs can provide valuable insights for fermentation companies seeking to expand their product lines.

Expertise in proteins, recombinant proteins, and enzymes is most in demand. Not surprisingly—at about $50 per kilogram—proteins have the highest CoGs. Unit costs for lipids and small molecules vary considerably, but average around $25 and $40 per kilogram, respectively.

Capacity vs. titer

Increasing production scale is an obvious way to lower unit costs, but it is not the most powerful factor. For example, doubling capacity decreases the CoGs 1.4-fold (less, if many small bioreactors are used).

Technology improvements, however, can have greater impacts and provide a competitive edge while helping to future-proof operations. Therefore, the Synonym report says, “Choose a good chassis that can drive high productivity, even if (it) complicates early lab- or pilot-level testing efforts.”

For example, increasing titer, at least during early scaleup, can dramatically lower unit costs. “A 2x increase in tier results in a 2x decrease in CoGs,” the report notes. After titer reaches 30 g/L, however, the CoGs per kilogram levels out. At that point, reducing fermentation time may be the best way to lower per unit costs.

For equipment and plant optimization, key performance indicators include improving downstream processing recovery, plant uptime, and the percentage of successful batches. Synonym recommends flexible, future-proof facility designs that are compatible with increasingly high-performing strains. This is critical to ensuring “that equipment investments today don’t become stranded assets tomorrow.”

Analyzing CoGs data, Jaffe says, “provides biopharma manufacturers an alternative perspective of the levers that matter most. As biopharma manufacturers consider expanding into non-pharma categories (such as materials or food), this is an important consideration given the differences in unit economics and production.”

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