As we launch our 5L bioreactors, our co-founder and CEO Will Patrick reflects on why this is such a key milestone for Culture and our clients, and what this means for the future and vision of the company.
Mattie: How did you decide 5L reactors would be the next product on the roadmap?
Will: In 2020, we conducted a product survey with our clients who were using our 250mL reactors, and they told us that their biggest need was to generate material for product characterization, testing, and downstream process development. Having 5L reactors would allow them to generate a large enough batch of material, so we took the feedback and started working on it. Synthetic biology and pharmaceutical companies doing strain or cell line screening, media optimization, or process development at the 250mL scale inevitably need to generate product samples for testing in order to scale up, and 5L is the next step in that process. Some even expressed interest in using 5L reactors for process development, so there’s demand for multiple use cases.
Mattie: For companies that already have 5L tanks in-house, what is the benefit of using Culture for material generation?
Will: While many biotech companies - especially larger ones - may have bench-scale bioreactors in the 2-10L capacity range, they are typically stretched thin across a number of high-priority programs. Generating material internally takes away from capacity needed for the complicated work of process development, scale-up, and downstream processing. With Culture, our clients can quickly generate material without competing for limited internal resources and having to wait for capacity to open up.
Given that our bioreactor lab is cloud-connected, everything exists in one digital ecosystem, enabling our clients to access and compare data across scales and seamlessly transfer processes between 250mL and 5L - right from their own laptops.
Mattie: What would you say to companies considering using a legacy approach for material generation campaigns - either buying an off-the-shelf bioreactor system or using a contract manufacturing organization (CMO)?
Will: If you’re buying an off-the-shelf bioreactor system, you’re probably familiar with the long lead times for purchase and installation. Because we build our own hardware at Culture, we can build and deploy our reactors in 80% less time than off-the-shelf systems, which allows our customers to get started and ramp up quickly. Another finding from our product survey is that biotech companies find it difficult and time-consuming to identify and manage CMOs - the other legacy approach. That’s why we created a better option, one that’s much more customer-centric.
Mattie: From a technical perspective, are Culture’s 5L reactors any different from off-the-shelf 5L reactors?
Will: Culture’s 5L reactors are comparable to industry-leading bioreactors in terms of their performance and specifications. Our reactors do differ in a couple of ways, though. First, every reactor is fit for purpose, fully loaded with everything you would need. Unlike off-the-shelf systems, there’s no need to retrofit equipment. With scales and custom-built off-gas sensors on every reactor, our bioreactors ensure high-quality data, and our technology is constantly improving as we learn more. Second, building and running bioreactors is our specialty - it’s all we do. We focus on operational excellence, high success rates, and reproducibility.
Mattie: How does the 5L offering fit into our company’s long-term vision?
Will: Since the beginning, our mission has been to digitize biomanufacturing R&D. We want to make scaling bioprocesses as easy as it is to scale software. Offering 5L reactors is the logical next step toward making that a reality; now our customers can design and optimize a process with us at 250mL and scale up to larger reactors all under one roof, without ever leaving our cloud platform. It changes the customer journey, which traditionally has involved transferring processes between various sites, all with their own intricacies, that have limited automation or data tracking.
Mattie: Where are the 5L reactors located, and when are they available for customer use?
Will: They’re located in our South San Francisco lab, along with our 250mL platform. The first 5L reactors are fully operational, and one of our existing customers has already been using them for material generation.
Mattie: How are the 5L runs going so far?
Will: Well! One of our customers scaled up their process from our 250mL to our 5L reactors, and the bioreactor data shows that the system is scalable and reproducible (Figure 1). We’ll plan to share a full case study soon. I’m proud of our team for the fast progress on this launch - it only took 18 months from concept to launch because we have the ability to iterate quickly and control our own supply chain. I love that we’ve already had a client scale up within our cloud platform, and that they’re continuing to grow alongside us - it’s a testament to what the future of biomanufacturing can look like: a fully digital experience.