Fraunhofer relies on Automation Technologies in Medical Research

Press release / August 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.

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.

Within the cell and gene therapeutics business field, Fraunhofer IZI, for example, focuses on the GMP production of ATMP and operates one of Europe’s biggest production facilities in this sector. For example, the institute is a central production and development facility for the Kymriah® CAR-T cell therapeutic medicinal product, which has been used to treat patients suffering from certain life-threatening types of leukaemia since August 2018. In addition, in cooperation with Fraunhofer IPA and Fraunhofer FEP, the institute has developed a pilot plant for the production of safer and more effective vaccines with the help of low-energy electron irradiation. This system is being transferred to series production together with an industrial partner at present.