RAFT X (Marco Island, FL; November 3-6, 2013) will be an opportunity to look back at 20 years of fermentation and bioprocess development, while looking forward to how our industry and research focus needs to change. More information on the meeting coming soon.
RAFT I was held in 1995, a decade after the first recombinant products from a nascent biotechnology industry entered the market. Large traditional pharmaceutical companies still had thriving natural products groups and were producing secondary metabolites in large bioreactors. Oil was again cheap after the oil embargo of the 70s and the idea of global warming had yet to take hold. The enthusiasm for ethanol and other renewable biochemical industries were still a future dream.
The 60s and 70s had seen an explosion in fermentation and biochemical engineering research and there were hopes that new reactor and process designs would revolutionise the way that we make biological products, leading to more economic production processes and allowing biotechnology products to compete with those produced through chemical or petrochemical routes.
Looking back from the vantage of 2013, not all of the promise of fermentation and chemical engineering has been realised. There has been an enormous growth in the biologics industry with the number of new biologically derived drugs exceeding new small molecule therapeutics. However, despite advances through improved cell culture and molecular biology techniques, the constraints of cGMP manufacture has reduced the uptake of technological breakthroughs. In industrial microbiology the ethanol industry has matured and green chemical manufacturing is growing, but this commodity sector is still not competing with the petrochemical industry on price. The fermentation processes and equipment used are not so different from those used 80 years ago.
The industry is now starting to see changes however. On the high value pharmaceutical end of the scale the advent of disposables in manufacturing is having a profound influence on reactor and process design. In industrial and biofuel production, the industry is moving away from lab and pilot production to commercial production.
It is as we move to production scale – the valley of death – where biotech companies continue to struggle. High profile companies have reported difficulties in scaling up their processes in the past year. How are fermentation, cell culture and biochemical engineering researchers going about resolving these issues? What new reactor designs are being developed? How can we develop processes that have increased productivity and yields that lead to reduced CAPEX and feedstock costs that drive process economics? How are upstream and downstream processes being combined to give higher quality products and greener use of resources? These are questions that we will be asking, and answering, at RAFT X.
The RAFT series has been a mainstay of the calendar for fermentation scientists for a generation. RAFT X will bring together academic, industrial and government researchers in a location conducive to lively discussion, debate and learning. We hope that the speakers and delegates will share their ideas, problems and challenges and come up with solutions that benefit the community as a whole. 2013 is a critical moment for the biotech industry and RAFT X will be a forum for those looking to make a difference. Join us in November and contribute to breaking the commercial barriers that have been slowing the uptake of the biotechnology and green chemical industries for decades.
[sws_divider_line] Written by E. Timothy Davies, PhD, Green Biologics Ltd. He is also member of the SIMB board of directors and chair of RAFT X.