Establishing the scalable manufacture of primary human T-cells in an automated stirred-tank bioreactor

Elena Costariol, Marco Rotondi, Arman Amini, Christopher Hewitt, Alvin Nienow, Thomas R.J. Heathman, Martina Micheletti, Qasim Rafiq

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Advanced cell and gene therapies such as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapies (CAR-T), present a novel therapeutic modality for the treatment of acute and chronic conditions including acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, the development of such immunotherapies requires the manufacture of large numbers of T-cells, which remains a major translational and commercial bottleneck due to the manual, small-scale, and often static culturing systems used for their production. Such systems are used because there is an unsubstantiated concern that primary T-cells are shear sensitive, or prefer static conditions, and therefore do not grow as effectively in more scalable, agitated systems, such as stirred-tank bioreactors, as compared with T-flasks and culture bags. In this study, we demonstrate that not only T-cells can be cultivated in an automated stirred-tank bioreactor system (ambr® 250), but that their growth is consistently and significantly better than that in T-flask static culture, with equivalent cell quality. Moreover, we demonstrate that at progressively higher agitation rates over the range studied here, and thereby, higher specific power inputs (P/M W kg −1), the higher the final viable T-cell density; that is, a cell density of 4.65 ± 0.24 × 10 6 viable cells ml −1 obtained at the highest P/M of 74 × 10 −4 W kg −1 in comparison with 0.91 ± 0.07 × 10 6 viable cells ml −1 at the lowest P/M of 3.1 × 10 −4 W kg −1. We posit that this improvement is due to the inability at the lower agitation rates to effectively suspend the Dynabeads®, which are required to activate the T-cells; and that contact between them is improved at the higher agitation rates. Importantly, from the data obtained, there is no indication that T-cells prefer being grown under static conditions or are sensitive to fluid dynamic stresses within a stirred-tank bioreactor system at the agitation speeds investigated. Indeed, the opposite has proven to be the case, whereby, the cells grow better under higher agitation speeds while maintaining their quality. This study is the first demonstration of primary T-cell ex vivo manufacture activated by Dynabeads® in an automated stirred-tank bioreactor system such as the ambr® 250 and the findings have the potential to be applied to multiple other cell candidates for advanced therapy applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2488-2502
Number of pages15
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number10
Early online date11 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Costariol, E. , Rotondi, M. , Amini, A. , Hewitt, C. J., Nienow, A. W., Heathman, T. R., Micheletti, M. and Rafiq, Q. A. (2019), Establishing the scalable manufacture of primary human T‐cells in an automated stirred‐tank bioreactor. Biotechnol. Bioeng. Accepted Author Manuscript, which has been published in final form at  This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.


  • T-cell
  • bioprocessing
  • immunotherapy
  • manufacture
  • scale-up
  • stirred-tank bioreactor


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