Even small-scale technological development projects can have a huge positive impact on protein production workflows. That’s the view of Dominic Esposito, PhD, director of the Protein Expression Laboratory at Frederick National Laboratory in the U.S.

Esposito, who runs a core protein production facility with 38 full-time employees, believes that giving staff time to work on process optimization and technology development can reap multiple benefits.

“In addition to being essential for people to come up with new ideas, it’s also a strong way to keep employees engaged because a lot of core protein production work can be mundane,” he explains.

Esposito’s lab generates proteins and protein complexes to support a wide variety of projects, including protein science operations and the National Cancer Institute RAS initiative, a drug discovery program to develop therapeutics targeting RAS-driven cancers. He believes 10–15% of staff time should be spent on technological development, and that his experience at the Frederick National Laboratory is transferable to protein production at large pharmaceutical companies, contract research organisations as well as small academic labs.

“Most of these experiences apply equally across the board,” he says. “We all have the same problems, but they scale with the amount of work and the number of people.”

Management support is essential

According to Esposito, researchers in other protein production facilities sometimes complain that management aren’t supportive of small-scale technological development because it takes time and metrics away from bulk protein production.

“Our group has been given a lot of room to do this because our management accepts it’s beneficial,” he explains.

Esposito recommends that staff with less supportive managers try to sneak in time to work on small projects, with the aim of showing that a few hours spent on technological development can have larger benefits.

“It can be a simple process optimization, such as screening different purification resins to discover one is better than the other,” he continues. “If you’re saving 10% in money or time, even tiny incremental improvements can be a big deal and used in other projects.”

To prove his point, he explains how the laboratory shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed employees time to read academic literature while working remotely.

“People weren’t distracted by colleagues and work and had time to think about where the field is going. From that, we got lots of good ideas going forwards,” he tells GEN.

Other core laboratories have also introduced shift working after COVID-19, which has improved productivity, notes Esposito.

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