This interview is part of our spotlight on automation. Visit the spotlight now to learn more about the latest developments and possible future evolution of automation in regenerative medicine.
Please introduce yourself and your role at Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS)?
I am Associate Director at SNBTS, and I head the Tissues, Cells and Advanced Therapeutics directorate.
What does the SNBTS do?
SNBTS is the specialist provider of safe high-quality blood, tissues and cells products and services in Scotland. We are part of NHS National Services Scotland and have been involved in cellular therapies for more than 20 years.
What challenges does the SNBTS face in terms of delivering cell therapy and regenerative medicine products to patients in the UK?
We face similar challenges to many other manufacturers of these products – there is an increased demand for products, coupled to long development and translation times for increasingly complex products.
The SNBTS opened new facilities at the Jack Copland Centre in 2017. What have these new facilities allowed you to do?
Our new facilities are state of the art and are comprised of a variety of grades of clean rooms, isolators, and grade D open space for closed system processing. This gives us great flexibility and the space to manufacture in larger volumes once a process has been fully closed.
How has usage of the SNBTS manufacturing facilities evolved since they were set up?
We have steadily moved from largely open cellular processing to aiming to achieve functional closure wherever possible. We also have developed a large pool of dedicated staff for manufacturing and QC, which makes our use of the facilities as efficient as possible.
What role does automation play in your cell therapy and regenerative medicine workflows?
Cell processors do now play a major role in most of our processes. This is particularly in cell separation, and medium exchange and formulation, for example with the CliniMACS Prodigy (Miltenyi Biotec GmbH, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany) and Lovo (Fresenius Kabi, Bad Homburg, Germany) respectively.
What have been the challenges in integrating automation into your workflows and vice versa?
There are financial challenges in adoption of automation – both in equipment purchase and in consumable sets. Good practice also dictates that equipment should be bought in pairs. Thus, automation must provide a measurable benefit in terms of standardization and efficiency to offset the cost. We also find the same as many others – achieving functional closure while joining up different manufacturing equipment to speak to each other is problematic.
What role do you think automation will play in the future?
A degree of decision-making artificial intelligence, for instance in growing small cultures of cells which need daily feeding and regular passaging, would make a huge difference in reducing staff time in clean rooms. Ultimately, automation should take over many of the manual processes in the clean room today, and deal with questions of scale, and on-line quality control.