Biotechnology is a vast field dedicated to exploring the wide array of humans, animals, plants, and other organisms and the resulting industrial applications they inspire. Agricultural biotechnology, biofuels, environmental technology, and other applications make our jobs easier and lend themselves to the lifestyles we live today. Still, another field of biotechnology may be even more crucial to our survival.
Medical biotechnology—specifically biopharmaceuticals—has made it possible for us to fight diseases, live longer, improve our quality of life, and provide therapies to reduce the effects of diseases.
What Are Biopharmaceuticals?
Biopharmaceuticals differ from other medical drugs; they are developed by a method other than extraction from an outside source. Biopharmaceuticals consist of proteins, antibody proteins, sugars, and nucleic acids like DNA and RNA, as opposed to chemicals developed in a lab. Before development, researchers isolate these biological components from living organisms, including fungi, bacteria, animals, plants, even humans.
To isolate biological components that may have a therapeutic or preventive effect on a particular disease or disorder, researchers must undergo the process of drug discovery. First, they identify a target for a potential drug to work on—usually a receptor, enzyme, surface protein, or another metabolic factor. Then, biological components are isolated and tested to determine whether they interact appropriately with the drug target.
To achieve successful biopharmaceutical drug discovery, researchers must first find a plentiful supply of cells—and their respective proteins, DNA, and other components—to utilize in the study. Even more importantly, these cell samples must be identical to produce the same research conditions for each drug target or biopharmaceutical study. To do this, researchers employ the use of cell lines.
A cell line is a sample of animal cells taken from a primary cell culture—a culture of animal cells taken directly from experimental animal tissue. Instead of gathering primary cell cultures at the beginning of each drug discovery phase, researchers propagate the primary cell culture repeatedly, leading to many identical cells. Researchers use these cell lines for target identification, drug discovery, and the development and testing of biopharmaceuticals.
Cell Line Development and Biopharmaceuticals
Certain cell lines lend themselves to continuous propagation and cell line development to use as host cells for biopharmaceutical development. For proteins to have the desired effects on the target site, for example, they must be developed in an active form within a cell that has the proper components necessary to manufacture glycosomes. As bacterial cells lack this capability, researchers develop most recombinant proteins using mammal cell lines.
Although many mammalian cell lines have been developed specifically for biopharmaceutical production, a few select cell lines are used repeatedly for this purpose. One particular group of cell lines—that of Chinese hamster ovary (CHO)—is used in nearly 70% of all recombinant protein research. CHO is linked to the drug discovery and development of over half the biopharmaceuticals the FDA approved in the last 10 years. These cells can produce recombinant proteins that are extremely compatible with human cells and do not allow common human viruses like measles, HIV, and influenza to replicate.
Cell line development promises to play an essential role in antibody therapy research, protein-based biopharmaceuticals, and immunotherapy for cancer research. By decreasing the time-intensive labor involved in the lengthy drug discovery process, cell line development can help these discoveries occur sooner, potentially saving several lives in the process. Cell line development remains a crucial part of the biopharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.