Pfizer automating transcription for future mRNA development

End-to-end fully automated in vitro transcription (IVT) reactions can increase process throughput in the development of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and therapeutics, says Pfizer.

Among the discussions centering on bioprocess automation at the BPI West Conference in San Diego, California this week was Pfizer’s reflection on its latest research into a fully automated and streamlined IVT reaction.

IVT is used to transcribe genetic information from DNA to RNA, and the generated mRNA transcript is used to produce proteins in cells.

Image: DepositPhotos/MattLphotography

Karena Smith, senior associate scientist at Pfizer, told delegates this a very complicated process “that allows template-directed synthesis of mRNA molecule.” Therefore, developing a method to understand how each component affects the process is “incredibly valuable.”

Over the last year or so, Smith and her team identified IVT reactions as a “key part of the process for automation” with the main goals to increase reaction throughput, run more complicated reactions, and increase experiment robustness.

By using the Tecan Fluent Automation Workstation platform, a high-performance liquid handler for automation, Pfizer increased the reaction throughput eightfold whilst achieving a tenfold decrease in reaction scale. Furthermore, Smith said the automated process saw less than a10% difference in final concentration samples and no differences in mRNA attributes when compared to a manual process. She added that while manual checks will always be a reality at some point during the development of biotherapeutics, reducing these by tenfold was a huge success and a step in the right direction.

While this is exciting news for Pfizer, Karena said it is “a point of contention in terms of moving towards being fully automated” as this would not be the chosen method to use across all process.  For instance, she explained how downstream processes still require the generation of increased materials where this method wouldn’t be viable.

She ended by telling delegates Pfizer has developed a spin-off team to further develop assays capable of automation, “which is a really exciting prospect”.