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"My goal is to put KTH on the map"

Veronique Chotteau
Veronique Chotteau. Photo: Jon Lindhe, KTH
Published Mar 19, 2024

Veronique Chotteau leads a multidisciplinary research group that is the only one of its kind in Sweden and one of the few in the world. After more than ten years in industry developing processes to produce biopharmaceuticals, she came to KTH in 2008. Since November, she has been a professor of mammalian cell-based bioprocess technology.

"It's fun for me personally, but also a sign that CBH thinks the subject area is necessary in both research and education," says Veronique Chotteau.

Biopharmaceuticals are substances derived from human and mammalian cells, i.e. cells from humans and other mammals. They include proteins such as enzymes and antibodies and substances such as viral vectors for gene therapy and cells used for cell therapy. The drugs treat cancer and autoimmune diseases, among others. New applications include antibodies against Alzheimer's disease.
"What we specialize in is developing processes to produce these biopharmaceuticals. We research new methods based on continuous processes, as well as on mathematical modeling and online implementation of sensors for process monitoring and control", says Veronique Chotteau.

Reducing costs and improving quality

Bioreactors traditionally used have volumes of up to 25 000 liters. This requires large facilities that must be built many years in advance, as it is not yet possible to know whether a drug will be approved for commercialization. In the last ten years, the trend has been to use a higher concentration of cells in smaller vessels. This intensification makes it possible to produce larger quantities of drugs in bioreactor vessels that are smaller in size.

"This leads to reduced costs, continuous processes that can also result in better quality products. When working on a smaller scale, it is also possible to use disposable equipment. This increases flexibility and reduces the risk of contamination, which is otherwise a major concern. "Interestingly, systems using stainless steel equipment require a lot of energy and clean water, so even if you use disposable plastic equipment, it is much more profitable from a sustainability point of view," says Veronique Chotteau.

Pharmaceutical authorities such as the US FDA and European EMA also see benefits, such as better drug quality. Small-scale equipment also makes it easier to multiply process production elsewhere in the world.

"One problem with our industry is that there are not many places to produce biopharmaceuticals, which requires equipment and expertise. When you have a production need that varies, it becomes difficult to meet. A production based on disposable and smaller equipment is easier to buy and use elsewhere in the world."

First to publish cell density in cultivation

According to Veronique Chotteau, she and her research team are leaders in academia in intensifying processes using high cell density.

"In 2010, we were the first to publish cell densities in culture that were significantly higher than previously achieved. Together with other factors, this has helped the industry to move towards more continuous processes," she says.

She is also director of AdBIOPRoO, a multidisciplinary competence center that together with other universities, research groups at KTH and industrial partners aims to find new methods for the production of biopharmaceuticals.

"There is a lot going on in the industry, but the industry also needs academics to push the boundaries to speed up development. There are problems with even being able to produce drugs, and that's where academics can come up with new solutions. My goal is to put KTH on the map when it comes to education and research in the development of biopharmaceuticals, including cell and gene therapy," says Veronique Chotteau.

Text: Sabina Fabrizi