The Impact of Cell Culture Medium on Cell Line and Process Development Timelines and Strategies

Animal-component free (ACF) medium sped up cell-line development by eliminating the adaptation period from serum-containing medium used in early development to ACF medium used for high-titer production.


Cell culture medium plays a significant role in determining the cell density, viability, and productivity of a robust manufacturing process. Current regulatory requirements prefer bioprocesses that do not use any animal-derived components throughout cell line and cell culture development. However, using media containing serum for early stages of cell line development is still a common practice for deriving stable production cell lines for manufacturing. The ideal medium should be able to support all activities in the cell line and process development stages for maintaining consistent cell populations and product quality. Here, we describe such performance by an in-house-developed, universal animal component free (ACF) medium that can support transfection, amplification, subcloning, banking, and production of the different Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines generally used for recombinant protein production. By using this ACF medium, designated as MTCM, there was an overall reduction in cell line development time for two distinct expression systems by eliminating the adaptation period between serum-containing medium to ACF medium. Furthermore, by using the same basal medium throughout cell line and process development, transitional changes in growth characteristics, productivity, and heterogeneity in the cell populations were simultaneously kept to a minimum. Finally, a robust and high yielding upstream production platform technology for human monoclonal antibodies (HuMAbs) was developed by using MTCM both as basal and feed media in fed batch cultures. This accelerated CHO cell culture optimization that led to 6 g/L HuMAb production and facilitated an efficient process integration of upstream and downstream.

Tim Diehl
Productivity enhancement by CHO cell culture to several grams/L has been revolutionizing the biomanufacture of recombinant therapeutic antibodies.1 The development of antibodies and their derivatives with close to 200 clinical trials largely depends on the knowledge gathered about CHO expression systems, which has enabled the biotech industry to accelerate the development of its pipeline candidates. It is also forecasted that CHO production systems will play a crucial role in future biomanufacturing processes because of their capability to produce high expression titers,1–3 in some cases equivalent to those of transgenic animals (approximately 10 g/L), along with desirable post-translational modifications.

The development of cell culture medium has been one of the major efforts contributing to the significant improvements in product titer in the past by supporting high cell densities and extending culture longevity in fed-batch mode. Often, production medium for high titer processes is different from that used during the earlier stages of cell line development, including transfection and subcloning, where single-cell derived colonies need to grow. Medium with serum is often used at these early cell line development stages for both adherent as well as suspension cell cultures. These recombinant cell lines are then slowly adapted to ACF media or chemically defined (CD) media during the later stages of development, for inoculum expansion and recombinant protein production. These transitional phases can take a considerable amount of time for cell lines to adapt to such medium shifts and for process development scientists to select stable, high producers from a diversified population. Here, we describe upstream process development using a proprietary medium throughout the cell line and process development phases.

Materials and Methods

Transfection and Cell Line Development

Transfections of different CHO host cell lines were carried out using a single expression plasmid containing the heavy and light chain genes of a human antibody. A BioRad Gene pulser was used to electroporate the DNA into either a dhfr-deficient (dhfr–, Expression System I) or dhfr-containing (dhfr +, Expression System II) CHO cell line. Transfected cells were plated in 96-well plates and antibody levels in media with selection pressure were measured using a human IgG kappa/gamma sandwich ELISA. The highest producing cell lines were expanded and single-cell cloned by limiting dilution.

Subcloning and Cell Bank Preparation

An aliquot of actively growing cells was diluted in complete growth media to yield 0.25, 0.5, or 1.0 cell/well, and 10–20 x 96-well flat-bottom tissue culture plates were plated. Distinct clones that were confirmed to have originated from single cell/well were evaluated to identify the highest IgG expressing clones. A clone possessing the highest productivity was expanded to prepare a research cell bank. Master cell banks and manufacturer's working cell banks were further established from research cell banks.

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