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McMaster researchers team up with Sartorius to advance biomanufacturing processes with next-generation technologies August 24, 2021

A four-year partnership between chemical engineering researchers at McMaster and Sartorius, a global leader in biomanufacturing, will improve manufacturing processes of antibody and virus-based treatments for diseases like COVID-19, cancers and genetic disorders.

Using a state-of-the-art multi-column chromatography system provided by Sartorius, the team will ‘perfect’ a process for the purification of therapeutic viruses that is more effective and cheaper than those currently available. This will pave the way for new and more affordable treatments to reach patients with a variety of needs. 

This work aims to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set out by the United Nations, designed to give our people and planet a better future. More effective bio-manufacturing can make advanced biotherapeutics cost-effective and available to more people globally. 

David Latulippeassociate professor of Chemical Engineering, and Prashant Mhaskar, professor of Chemical Engineering and Canada Research Chair in Nonlinear and Fault-Tolerant Control, are leading this project with Sartorius.  

What is chromatography? 

Chromatography is an essential purification technology in biomanufacturing.  

To produce biotherapeutics, scientists use a bioreactor with specialized cell lines and customized growth media. Next, the biotherapeutic must go through a series of purification steps, often with duplicate steps to satisfy the requirements of regulatory bodies.  

Chromatography is traditionally run in batches using large amounts of expensive separation media. As a result, chromatography costs are the major contributor to total manufacturing costs. 

Sartorius’ multi-column chromatography system uses parallel processing strategies to make the process more resource and cost-efficient. 

“Our ultimate goal is to perfect the downstream chromatography process by combining detailed experimental work with advanced process modelling concepts,” says Latulippe. “This way, we can control the outcome and fix the processes on site, as production is happening, so everything is always ‘on spec’.” 

Currently, monoclonal antibodies are the leading biotherapeutic being used to fight against COVID-19, which also happen to be one of the most expensive kind of therapeutics to produce. 

“This partnership with McMaster University will lead to impactful research that will make important treatments available at a greater scale. We see this as a way to expand our research development and bring SDG-aligned pharmaceuticals to Canadian and global markets,” says Brandon Corbett, a research scientist at Sartorius Corporate Research. 

Training the next generation 

As part of the partnership, Sartorius will provide student training opportunities at their research and development facilities in North America and Europe.   

Ian Gough, a graduate of McMaster’s Chemical and Bioengineering program, has already started working on this project.  Gough is a former member of the Summer Studentship Internship program from BioCanRx, a Networks of Centres of Excellence program. 

Claire Velikonja, a recent chemical engineering graduate from the University of Toronto, will join the team in September. 

Both Gough and Velikonja received a Canada Graduate Scholarship from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to provide additional support for their first year of graduate studies.  

Ian Gough with the BioSMB unit in JHE lab Ian Gough with the BioSMB unit in JHE lab 

In addition to the contributions from Sartorius, Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from the best academic institutions at home and around the world, will also help fund the project.  

“Mitacs is pleased to advance innovation by bridging academic talent to industry. As a business development representative for McMaster University, I am always happy to support cross-disciplinary projects that help drive technological advancement and contribute to the betterment of health outcomes,” says Ryan Caldwell, director of business development for the McMaster Industry Liaison Office (MILO) and Mitacs. 

“Teaming up with Sartorius is an exciting opportunity for McMaster Engineering. This research will push the envelope in leading advanced, cutting-edge research in bio-manufacturing,” says John Preston, associate dean, research, innovation and external relations in the Faculty of Engineering.  

“Establishing industry-friendly, collaborative environments is critical in solving real-world problems.”