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Research Impact

EngD students with bioreactor

Extraordinary advances in the life sciences have great potential to improve our quality of life through better medicines, improved sustainability and a cleaner environment. Biochemical, biological and bioprocess engineering provide the foundations for translating such exciting new discoveries into products and processes for improved health and wealth creation. 

UCL was the founding laboratory of the discipline of Biochemical Engineering and established the first UK department.

It is now the largest international research centre with over 75% of staff rated as "World Leading" or "Internationally Excellent" in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise.

The IDTC in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership provides a focus for cutting-edge, industry-collaborative research. Current doctoral programmes address fundamental bioprocess issues underpinning the UK bioprocess-using industries:

Industrial Biotechnology

This involves the synthesis of biorenewable chemicals and complex chiral pharmaceuticals via the integration of biocatalysis and chemistry with engineering to achieve greater selectivity and improved environmental sustainability.

Biopharmaceuticals

This involves the manufacture of biopharmaceutical human proteins, genes and vaccines addressing next generation therapies and important issues of global healthcare as part of the EPSRC Innovative Manufacturing Centre (IMRC) for Bioprocessing.

Regenerative Medicines

This involves interdisciplinary academic-industrial-clinical collaborations underpinning the bioprocessing of human cells and engineered tissues for therapy particularly in response to conditions associated with the ageing population in Western countries.

Research in each of the above areas is highly collaborative and includes major themes of micro biochemical engineering (including microfluidics and automation), biological engineering (including metabolic and protein engineering), fermentation and cell culture, downstream processing and formulation. Studies in each of these areas are underpinned by work on intelligent design of experiments and are integrated via whole bioprocess modelling and simulation.

Design and characterization of parallel miniature bioreactors for bioprocess optimization and scale

Graduate name

Dr Naveraj Gill

Graduated in

2008

Industrial Collaborator

Hazards Evaluation Laboratories (HEL)

Description of project and challenges

Dr Gill’s project was based on the design and characterisation of an automated miniature bioreactor system for microbial culture. Key research areas focused on engineering characterisation in terms of mixing and oxygen transfer and demonstration of reproducible and parallel high throughput fermentations. Rigorous scale-up studies were carried to establish a reliable and reproducible criterion for predictive scale translation from miniature bioreactor to conventional lab scale bioreactors.

Thanks to her industrial sponsorship, Naveraj was able to spend the first two years of her project based at HEL. She worked in a widely varying multidisciplinary team that was brought together in order to design a prototype system of the automated miniature bioreactor. Importantly, she was also exposed to the commercial aspects of her sponsor’s operations and was involved in live product demonstrations, as well as meeting prospective customers face-to-face and contributing to the compilation of vital reports that would ultimately assist HEL’s sales representatives in the UK.

For UCL, the major outputs of this programme were three publications in leading journals describing the engineering characterisations and scale-up. For the company, the EngD led to the successful commercialisation of the miniature bioreactor providing them with a new product and entry into a new market sector.

It also led on to a second collaborative UCL-HEL EngD programme to explore miniature bioreactor applications in mammalian cell culture.

Career since graduating

Dr Gill remained in the academic field as a postdoctoral researcher ay UCL. She first worked on a large Technology Strategy Board (TSB) grant in collaboration with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and Syntaxin. Her research has focused on the integration of microscale technology within automated robotic platforms for the rapid development of bioprocesses and design for manufacture of biotherapeutic fusion proteins.

More recently she has worked as part of the IMRC in Bioprocessing. The work has focused on the use of ultra scale-down microwell-based techniques for studying mammalian cell culture processes for the production of biopharmaceuticals with a view to scale-up to conventional and single-use bioreactor formats. This research has been largely concerned with the detailed engineering and physiological characterisation of cell culture processes at both the miniature scale and using single-use technologies.

This led to a position with GE Healthcare as a Single-Use Technologies Specialist.

Protein mass spectrometry for bioprocess development and monitoring

Student name

Dr Alex Berrill

Graduated in

December 2009

Industrial collaborator

Pfizer inc.

Dr. Berrill’s project sought to create and evaluate a method to determine the manufacturability of a protein candidate so that the  information gathered could be used to aid early process strategy decisions to target hard to remove protein impurities (nearest neighbours) and allow the re-evaluation of conventional process synthesis.

Challenges

  • Variation in starting material and in what form it is delivered.
  • Quantitation of the target protein and impurities.
  • Relating mass spectrometry information to chromatographic separations.

The study used surface enhanced laser desorption ionisation mass spectroscopy (SELDI-MS) as the analytical technique, for its rapid analysis and minimal sample requirement to measure product and contaminant adsorption properties. This technique gave consideration to the fact that at this point in early phase development, material and established analytical methods are limiting.

Career since graduating

After submission Alex began a post-doc between UCL and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The project investigated antibody stability at solid/liquid interfaces during their manufacture and delivery. This position involved frequent visits and communications between UCL and GSK’s fill finish site in Barnard Castle, Durham.

In October, 2010, he joined Pfizer as a Senior Scientist in their process purification development group at their site inSt Louis, USA.  His work involves understanding and improving the purification stages of various biotherapeutics during their route to commercialization.

Antibody Stability in Bioprocessing Focusing on Shear Effects at Solid-Liquid Interfaces

Student name

Jamie Biddlecombe

Graduated in

2008

Industrial collaborator

Medimmune Ltd

Jamie’s project focused on determining the means whereby small scale experiments can be used to optimise the way in which bioprocesses are run and the product is formulated to maintain the stability of biopharmaceutical proteins.  The challenge was to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms by which monoclonal antibodies, and other proteins, aggregate due to interfacial and high-shear effects under bioprocessing conditions.

Career since graduating

Dr. Biddlecombe joined MedImmune Ltd in 2008, working in the Formulation Sciences group developing liquid and freeze-dried formulations for biopharmaceutical products. Within the group he manages a small team responsible for lyophilisation, cleanroom and fill-finish technology. 

MedImmune is a biotechnology company, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland and wholly owned by AstraZeneca. MedImmune develops innovative, high-value biological products focused on infection, oncology, respiratory disease and inflammation, cardiovascular/gastrointestinal disease and neuroscience to enhance patient health.

Page last modified on 10 oct 13 15:54