Untouched by human hands: Better, safer biotech production
By Morten Andersen
Continuous automatic sampling during production aims to keep Danish biotechnology at the forefront. The equipment, and the company behind it, are the result of fruitful collaboration between businesses and universities.
Biotech companies can now take samples from their production as often as they wish, untouched by human hands.
This is all thanks to new equipment developed by start-up company Biomatics Technology. Both the company and product were nurtured in the Biopro network, which involves a number of Danish biotech companies and DTU and the University of Copenhagen.
“Normally, a company like ours starts with an idea for a product and then tries to convince customers. In this case, we first listened to what the large Danish companies in this sector particularly felt was lacking, and then started developing it,” says Christian Lysholm, CEO and founder of Biomatics Technology.
“Through the Biopro network, we have had the opportunity to get into the inner sanctum of these companies. It is a great advantage that our product has been tested on real production data and not just simulations.”
Faulty samples can be expensive
In recent years, many food and pharmaceutical companies have begun to switch from batch production to continuous production. The idea is to save time and resources, as the equipment no longer stands idle between batches. Companies also avoid the extensive procedures required to ensure that each batch is as good as the previous one. However, continuous production necessitates being able to monitor production continually.
“Mistakes are unavoidable when you have to take thousands of samples manually. There is therefore a great need for automated aseptic sampling,” explains Christian Lysholm.
Unlike its human counterparts, the equipment does not require extra payment at night or on public holidays. The company can take as many samples as it wants, and at set time intervals. This makes it easier to document that production is meeting the quality requirements set by the authorities and certification bodies.
Analysis modules can be added
The company’s new Biomatics Sampling System was most recently tested in a pilot system at Chr. Hansen A/S in Hørsholm.
Biomatics Technology has chosen to divide the equipment into modules. Module 1 takes the samples, while module 2 is a cooling system where the samples are placed in sample carousels. Each sample is labelled with a bar code that ensures traceability, and the system logs the exact time of sampling, temperatures, etc. The company is initially marketing these two modules together. Later on, they intend to add more modules.
“We want to add modules which analyse the samples using near-infrared light (NIR, ed.) or other methods. The types of add-on analyses desired will no doubt vary from company to company. They will give companies access to regular information about core parameters in production. This will open up new opportunities for optimizing processes along the way,” says Christian Lysholm.
Medicine, food, biofuels
It is interesting for the company that the high quality requirements that naturally apply to the production of medications are spreading to other industries.
“We were recently in contact with a foreign food industry company which told us that it takes approx. 12,000 samples annually from its production, at one factory alone. Everything is done manually today,” says Christian Lysholm.
“Another application could be the production of second-generation biofuels, where fermentation and other biological processes are also employed, as it is good to monitor these closely.”
Biomatics Technology’s sampling equipment is modular, so customers will be able to purchase multiple analyses for the same samples. Photo: Biomatics Technology
Collaboration creates growth
“A number of Danish biotech companies are world leaders in their fields. But to date there has been a lack of second-tier smaller companies to support them. It is therefore a key part of the philosophy behind the Biopro network that the collaboration should lead to new, small companies, that can help ensure that the large Danish companies continue to be world leaders in the future,” says Professor Krist Gernaey, DTU Chemical Engineering, who coordinates DTU’s participation in the network.
”As researchers, it is very satisfying that the activities take place in close collaboration with companies. We find that the results we achieve are put into practice immediately.”
The Biopro partnership comprises Chr. Hansen, CP Kelco, Ørsted (formerly Dong Energy), Novo Nordisk, Novozymes, and Capnova, as well as DTU and the University of Copenhagen. Innovation Fund Denmark has given the Biopro network financial support of EUR 5.4 million over four years. The partners have contributed the rest of the EUR 17 million budget themselves.
The network was formed in 2015
“Back then, people were not talking quite as much about ‘Industry 4.0’ as today, but the digitization of production has always been a key part of the Biopro network, so the timing has been really good,” says Krist Gernaey.
The eight start-ups in addition to Biomatics Technology, are FreeSense, AnalyticTrust, FRS Systems, Data intelligence, BioScavenge, ParticleTech, GermControl, and BioVisio. Together they currently employ 40 staff.
source: Technical University of Denmark