Fraunhofer relies on Automation Technologies in Medical Research

Press Release / September 25, 2020

As a pioneer in applied research, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft brings together the expertise of 23 separate Fraunhofer facilities to develop new development and production technologies for innovative cell and gene therapeutics, as well as vaccines, in the “Production for Intelligent Medicine” innovation cluster. As a first step of the project, a concept for a modular pilot plant for the automatic production of these therapeutics is to be developed combining both Industry 4.0 and Health 4.0.

Schleuse und Roboterarm in einer automatisierten Anlage
© Fraunhofer IPT
Production of stem cells at the Fraunhofer IPT using automated processes.

Personalised healthcare with advanced therapy medicinal products, so-called ATMP, forms a milestone in the treatment of complex illnesses, such as cancer. So far, these ATMP are largely produced manually, which is both time-consuming and expensive and, moreover, production is only possible for a limited number of patients. At the current time, this severely limits the availability of innovative therapeutic agents for patients who urgently need them.

In parallel with this, the most recent case of the COVID19 pandemic has shown the tremendous challenges which arise in the context of the development and subsequent production of specific vaccines to respond to novel health risks.

This is where the Fraunhofer “Production for Intelligent Medicine” innovation cluster comes in – bringing together the biological and medical know-how of the institutes in the production of cell and gene therapeutics as well as of vaccines using expertise in automation technologies and the autonomous control of industrial processes.

Under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institutes for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI, Experimental Software Engineering IESE, Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME as well as Industrial Engineering IAO, the scientists are aiming to transfer automation technologies to medical research and applications in the production sector. In its first stage, the project aims to develop innovative concepts for the digital, AI-supported, robot-assisted and automatic production of pharmaceuticals as well as cell and gene therapeutics and vaccines.

Increasingly, tailor-made therapeutic strategies are raising hope for improved treatment success, e.g. in oncology. In consequence, this Fraunhofer innovation project pursues the aim of dramatically increasing the availability and quality of state-of-the-art personalised cancer and immuno-therapies as well as of vaccines. Moreover, automation technologies can also help in drastically reducing costs of production and, ultimately, significantly alleviate the burden on our healthcare systems.

The Fraunhofer IPT's business unit Life Sciences Engineering and the research group Automation in the Life Sciences focuses mainly on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and deals with the automated production of stem cells for the treatment of diseases such as arthritis and various types of cancer. In the EU project "AutoCRAT", the institute has developed an automated production platform for stem cells together with partners from industry. The project builds on the success of the EU project "AUTOSTEM", in which the feasibility of a fully automated bioreactor-based production of stem cells was demonstrated for the first time. The process is fully automated and does not require manual human intervention. This ensures consistent quality and largely eliminates human error.

Partners

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA
  • Fraunhofer Institute Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine ITEM
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Branch Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses IZI-BB
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Microengineering and Microsystems IMM
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC
  • Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology and Cell Technology EMB
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine MEVIS
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT