Cell line development, which refers to the culturing of cells for research or therapeutic applications, has been one of the most important drivers of medical advancement in the last century. CLD, as it’s often called, enables researchers to study and experiment on living cells in the lab without the need to use living organisms as test subjects. It also allows scientists working in drug development to use living cells as factories for producing helpful proteins and antibodies for vaccines and other medicines.
Tracing the history of this game-changing technique allows us to see how biotechnology advances exponentially over time, and how the current stage of the technology could lead to exciting new discoveries in the future.
The origins of cell line development began in earnest during the early 1900s, when primary cell culture took center stage with American biologist and anatomist Ross Granville Harrison’s success in culturing nerve cells from frogs via the hanging drop method. This technique involved suspending a small droplet of liquid containing the cells on the underside of a glass slide, thereby creating a miniaturized, controlled environment conducive for cell growth and observation.
The ability to culture cells ex vivo (outside the living organism) unfurled a vast canvas for experimentation, setting the stage for the emergence of immortal cell lines, tissue engineering, and a plethora of therapeutic interventions that have since become a bedrock of modern medicine.
The first widely used cell line, HeLa, was cultivated from the tumor cells of Henrietta Lacks in 1950. It’s been the subject of controversy over consent to use human cells, but the HeLa line has led to many scientific and medical breakthroughs in the subsequent years, including in areas such as cancer research, immunology, genome mapping, and the eradication of polio.
Through the course of the 20th century, CLD continued to see incremental advancements, gradually cementing its status within the burgeoning biopharmaceutical sector.
CDMOs and the Biopharmaceutical Revolution
With technological advancements in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a more robust field of biopharmaceutical research and development began to emerge. Developments such as the application of advanced data analytics, next-generation sequencing, automation, and high-throughput screening have made cell line development for therapeutic applications much more efficient and widespread.
Contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) have played a critical role in this boom in CLD for biologics. CDMOs partner with drug makers to connect the more research-based realm of drug discovery with the practical sphere of large-scale drug production. To do so, CDMOs predominantly employ Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell lines, which are easier to edit and can produce antibodies and proteins similar to those in humans at a high titer.
For example, Samsung Biologics, the world’s largest CDMO by capacity, recently developed a CHO-based cell line development platform it calls S-CHOice®. The company touts the platform’s potential to efficiently screen myriad cells with high-throughput technology, thereby escalating the odds of identifying high-yield, high-quality cell lines within a condensed time frame.
According to Samsung Biologics, the S-CHOice®cell line demonstrated enhanced cell viability, surpassing 90% on day 21 in a fed-batch study, and cut down the development timeline considerably from the industry average of four to five months. These accelerated development schedules could set a new industry standard for investigational new drug timelines.
The Future of Cell Line Development
Scientists and biotech industry experts are optimistic about the future of cell line development. Some project a double-digit compound annual growth rate in the next five years, with the market for CLD services projected to escalate to $1.7 billion by 2028. A wide variety of potential scientific and medical discoveries beckon.
Evolving cell line development technology could improve precision medicine, enabling tailored therapeutic strategies based on individual genetic and disease profiles. The goal of this personalized approach, which could be applied to individualized cancer treatment, is to optimize treatment efficacy while minimizing adverse effects.
Moreover, advancements in CLD are poised to dovetail with progress in gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR, potentially honing gene therapy strategies for a host of genetic disorders.
CLD technology could also play a pivotal role in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying poorly understood or rare diseases, thereby informing the development of novel diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions.
Finally, the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning with CLD could possibly accelerate the pace of discoveries and innovations in biomedicine. AI has the potential to automate and make more efficient tedious and time-intensive aspects of CLD, such as the identification and characterization of optimal growth conditions, genetic modifications, and the screening of potential therapeutic compounds. And the predictive analytics enabled by machine learning can help foresee potential challenges in CLD, such as undesirable mutations or suboptimal growth kinetics, allowing for proactive adjustments.
The field of cell line development is entering an exciting stage of advancement, and there’s good reason to be optimistic about its impact on the trajectory of scientific discovery and the quality and longevity of human life.