When monoclonal antibodies were first beginning to be commercialized, expression levels over 100 mg/L were considered outstanding, and cell culture was viewed as the bottleneck in manufacturing productivity. Antibody expression levels now commonly exceed 1 g/L and reports of 10 and 15 g/L have been recently announced. Downstream processing is now considered the bottleneck.
In one sense, the bottleneck is artificial. Cell culture production takes about two weeks (not counting preparation of seed stock) and purification takes about a week. In another sense, the bottleneck is real, and a genuine concern. Process time for the protein A capture step from 20,000 L of cell culture supernatant (CCS) commonly requires 72-96 hours. This represents multiple cycles. The long hold time for IgG produced in the early cycles increases the risk of degradation by proteolysis, deamidation, etc. It also increases the risk of contamination.
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