Automation Set to Boost Global Monoclonal Antibody Production

20 Nov 2007
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Abcam plc. (Cambridge, UK) and Beckman Coulter, Inc. have announced a major bioscience collaboration – to create one of the world’s most sophisticated, automated systems for the production of monoclonal antibodies for use in research.

Abcam, an e-commerce company that markets antibodies from an on-line catalogue, is developing a new, multi-million pound laboratory complex in Cambridge to provide high throughput monoclonal antibody generation, purification and characterisation. This expansion will allow the company to scale up significantly its in-house antibody production, transforming it into a world-leading producer of high-quality monoclonal antibodies that will complement its existing product offering.

The key to the expansion is the ability to automate many aspects of hybridoma generation – at the same time as ensuring total quality control and reproducibility of the processes involved. To help make this possible, Abcam has partnered with laboratory automation experts, Beckman Coulter. The collaboration sees the company installing four Biomek automated work stations customised for specific applications, controlled by Advanced SAMI® Workstation EX Software.

The company’s software integrates all devices and liquid handlers and interleaves actions and plates to achieve maximum throughput. All workstations are networked by a new Process Management Software and the new Data Acquisition and Repository tool. This allows the flow of data from application to application, managing complex procedures within and across Biomek automated workstations.

Monoclonal antibodies are created using hybridoma technology, first described by Georges Köhler and César Milstein in 1975. While it is already technically possible to produce large numbers of different monoclonal antibody producing cell lines, traditional methods are labour and consumable intensive and time-consuming. Abcam can claim to be the world’s leading on-line producer and distributor of research-grade antibodies to the scientific community, in both academia and industry. Its on-line catalogue already offers more than 35,000 high-quality products from a variety of sources.

As Jim Warwick, Abcam’s managing director, explained: “We have always produced a number of our own polyclonal antibodies. The extension to making our own monoclonal antibody producing cell lines will enable us to expand greatly our production whilst maintaining the high quality of our products.
“Demand continues to grow for monoclonal antibodies in research applications, but there are still a limited number of well-characterised antibodies that are available in the post-genomic era where proteomics is now driving research forwards. In addition, the possibility for future diagnostic applications is very exciting.

“Abcam is passionate about supplying the highest-quality antibodies in the world. Being able to scale and automate many of the stages of the production process makes this a logical step for us. It will put us at the forefront of our industry – giving access to the best of the world’s antibodies from our trusted suppliers, and the highest quality in-house antibodies from this new facility.”

Both Biomek FXP and NXP technologies are at the heart of the Biomek Assay Workstation processing system. Its core features include the timed delivery of multiple reagents (capture and detection of antibodies and cells), scheduled incubation of plates (room temperature or elevated temperatures are available on-board), scheduled wash steps (96- or 384-well plate washers are available on-board), and detection of reaction endpoints (fluorescence, absorbance, fluorescence polarisation, time-resolved fluorescence, and luminescence are available on-board). This makes it suitable not only for cell culture applications but also ELISAs, cell-based assays and other processes containing time-critical incubations.

While these individual features are important, what singles out the Biomek system is the way it schedules and automates the entire process. Starting with the initial fusion process, it will replace the time-intensive manual task of performing fusions in series, with the ability to run higher numbers of fusions and in parallel. After colony picking, Beckman Coulter’s automated stations will also perform expansion of the newly isolated hybridomas, production of monoclonal antibodies for downstream purification and antibody characterisation, and the freeze down of small banks of cells for future use.
Dr Arno Schönberger, Marketing Director, Life Science, for Beckman Coulter Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “This is very much a long-term collaboration with Abcam, enabling us to address their requirements at key stages of expansion. We are particularly well placed to do this because of the flexible technology underpinning the Biomek workstation processing system.

“Monoclonal antibodies are playing an increasingly important role in biomedical research, in the diagnosis of disease and the treatment of both infectious diseases and cancer. However, up to now, the breadth of antibody specificities available has been held back by the expensive and time-consuming traditional methods of tissue culture. Automation opens up the possibilities by transforming hybridoma generation – providing a faster and highly consistent process. Beckman Coulter has a long association with scientific endeavour and entrepreneurial skills, thanks to the work of its founder Dr Arnold Beckman and other company scientists and inventors.”

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