BioWorld International Correspondent

MUNICH, Germany - Biotechnology manufacturing and processing faces pressure from all sides to improve its techniques and deliver products that are more complex than ever before with greater reliability and, ideally, lower prices.

More than 300 representatives of the production segment of the industry met in Munich as part of the 5th European Biotechnology Symposium this week, and improving processes emerged as a theme in almost every presentation.

"Faster and higher productivity are the current pressure points," said Anthony Lucas, CEO of Biovectra dcl, a biochemical manufacturer based in Prince Edward Island, Canada, in the opening presentation of a session on technical innovation. The manufacturers' customers are presenting more complicated tasks and expecting them to be completed with greater precision in less time.

One avenue for improvement, according to Mike Hoare of University College of London (UCL), is to evaluate manufacturing processes earlier in the development timeline. Citing failure rates of biotech companies of approximately 70 percent, he said, "Many companies fail because of technical issues," such as problems scaling up their production.

Challenges in the production process were as difficult, and as important to a company's survival, as the scientific, managerial and financial issues that are more widely recognized as hurdles in the development of a biotech firm. "Companies need to be building their commercial and manufacturing viability simultaneously," Hoare said.

A research project at UCL was under way to evaluate ways of improving companies' approaches to manufacturing. "Can improved process design help more firms survive?" he asked. The project is still in early stages, but Hoare thinks that companies that are conscious of manufacturing questions during the drug discovery and development stages may improve both their time to market and their profitability.

Fred Mann, a group product manager with Millipore Corp., a bioscience company based in Bedford, Mass., presented similar views. In particular, he said that optimizing processes for different criteria can bring dramatic changes. For example, designing a manufacturing process around removing a certain amount of a particular contaminant, rather than around total throughput, can reveal overcapacity of several orders of magnitude. Mann added that greater gains can be made by optimizing complete processes rather than each unit within a process.

The symposium's processes appeared optimized. In spite of a difficult overall market, attendance of approximately 300 was more than the 4th Symposium, which was held in Amsterdam in 2000. Harried Matysko, senior vice president of BioConferences International, said that a clear purpose for the conference made the difference.

She also praised the cooperation with Bavarian state government, which has actively promoted biotechnology as a key segment of the economy. "The people at the Ministry for Economic Affairs, Transport and Technology really wanted this conference," Matysko said. "They went the extra mile and made the very best facilities available."