Accelerating the development time of recombinant mammalian cell lines producing high titers of protein therapeutics

The forthcoming arrival on the market of numerous protein therapeutics that require high clinical doses will foster the need for high-producing mammalian cell lines. Furthermore, pressures to reduce the development time for new therapeutics has meant more emphasis on efforts to accelerate the process that yields such cell lines. The objective of this thesis work was to develop methods to decrease the time needed to generate stable and high producing mammalian cell lines. This could be achieved by overcoming some of the major limitations that hamper the process of cell lines development. The host systems chosen for this study were Chinese hamster ovary (CHO DG44) and baby hamster kidney (BHK-21). The recombinant proteins used as reporters were the green fluorescent protein (GFP) and a human anti-Rhesus D IgG. One limitation hampering the development of cell lines producing high recombinant protein titers is the extensive variability of transgene expression within a transfected population as a result of the gene delivery process. This decreases the reproducibility of the generation of high producing cell lines. A direct comparison of two gene chemical delivery methods, polyethylenimine (PEI)- and calcium phosphate (CaPO4)-mediated transfection, with a mechanical method (microinjection) provided some insights into ways to overcome this limitation. Indeed, a correlation was observed between the amount of plasmid DNA delivered into cells and the specific productivity of the recovered recombinant cell lines. Hence, by increasing the amount of DNA delivered per cell, IgG-producing clones with specific productivities up to 22 pg/cell/day were recovered with a high efficiency. A second limitation is the time needed to assure the stability and clonality of cell lines by current analytical methods. This was overcome by using GFP as a reporter for the level of production of a co-expressed therapeutic protein. The co-transfection of plasmids individually carrying the GFP and IgG heavy (Hc)- and light chain (Lc) genes, resulted in integration of all three plasmids at the same site in the cell's genome. As a consequence, the stability of GFP expression correlated with that of IgG expression. This proved to be advantageous finding and eliminating unstable cell lines early in the process of selection. As a consequence, it was possible to derive in serum-free medium clones with a specific productivity almost 6 times higher than that of clones derived from transfection performed with the IgG Hc and Lc vectors only. A third limitation to the rapid recovery of stable cell lines is the time devoted to the cultivation of transfected cells in selective medium, normally one month. Here, the time of selection was shortened to one week by increasing the stringency of the selective pressure. The results from studies of plasmid integration kinetics by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) showed that the increased stringency of selection decreased the time needed to enrich a transfected population with recombinant cells. Furthermore, stable clones were shown to be present in this population after one week of selection and could be uncovered by identifying patterns of GFP expression predictive of production stability. By limiting the screening to clones exhibiting these stable patterns of GFP expression, the number of clones needed in order to isolate stable cell lines producing high IgG titers could be dramatically reduced. In conclusion, these results combined together provided a new procedure to isolate within a week of the start of selection, stable and high-producing clones. 30-40% of the clones isolated using this procedure were stable for at least three months and their average specific productivity was 29 pg/cell/day.


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