Australia's Monash University has joined forces with Switzerland-based Tecan, a provider of automation and detection systems for industries including biopharma, and together they will create one of the largest, most sophisticated monoclonal antibody production systems in the world, which is to be fitted at the university's Clayton campus. With the monoclonal antibody market booming - worldwide revenues from this class of drug exceeded $20bn (€14.7bn) in 2006 - there is a massive shortfall in availability of the biologic agents, which are used in vaccines and to treat diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. There are currently more than 15 monoclonal antibodies that have received regulatory approval, while more than 150 products are in various stages of clinical development, and forecasts estimate the market to exceed $30bn by 2010 as advances in biopharmaceuticals drive the industry forward. Monash University Monash Antibody Technologies Facility (MATF) director Alan Sawyer said in a statement the development would help meet demand. "Probably the main bottleneck in biomedical sciences right now is a lack of affinity reagents like antibodies. We wanted to remove that bottleneck and open up new ways for investigators and pharmaceutical companies to think about doing science. This is a colossal step towards accomplishing that." The new system at MATF, one of the only high throughput production facilities in the world offering custom-made, high-affinity monoclonal antibodies, will increase production capacity from about 500 panels of novel antibodies a year to potentially 5,000. "Successful research relies on scientists having enough monoclonal antibodies to be able to test their theories and this facility will increase production of this valuable resource, ten-fold," Sawyer said. It would be based around multiple, integrated liquid handling workstations and will fully automate all the stages of the production process. Monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) got their name because they are produced from a single type of immune cell. The antibodies bind to a specific known target and so can be used as a research tool to detect and purify that substance, for example in target validation. They can also be used clinically to deliver drugs to specific disease-related targets such as cancer tumour cells. MAbs are produced by inducing an immune response in animal cells, typically from a mouse. First-generation MAbs were limited by side effects and a tendency to lose efficacy over time. Since then, there has been a progressive effort by scientists to make the antibodies more human culminating in the generation of genetically engineered mice that produce fully-human antibodies. Initial installation, which will be first built at Tecan's headquarters in Mannedorf, Switzerland, will begin at the end of 2007 and be finalised in March 2008. The new system, partly funded by the Victorian Government and Monash University, National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Australian Stem Cell Centre, is the first major step towards an extensive development programme planned for 2008 and will strengthen the university's profile as a centre of excellence in the international medical research community. Tecan and Monash University were unavailable to comment at time of publishing.
Australia is soon to boast the largest monoclonal antibody production facility in the Southern Hemisphere, which will go some way in alleviating the increasing demand for the biologic agents.