Outsourcing Nontraditional Protein Expression Systems

Growth is seen in outsourcing of insect- and plant-cell-based bioproduction expression systems.
Mar 02, 2013


Eric Langer
The biopharmaceutical industry continues to increase outsourcing less common, more complex processes as companies seek strategic advantage by leveraging external resources. Until recently, outsourcing has focused primarily on traditional expression systems (mammalian and microbial) versus less common systems (e.g., yeast, plant cell, and insect cell) more likely to be retained in-house.

This year, there are signs that outsourcing of plant- and insect-cell culture-based processes are beginning to expand. Preliminary data from BioPlan Associates' 10th Annual Report and Survey of Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers indicate that only 50% of plant-cell users are performing this operation fully in-house, with the other half outsourcing some elements of bioprocessing to some degree. The data represent a shift from prior years, when up to 90% of the industry kept their processes fully in-house.

The BioPlan data for insect-cell systems shows a similar trend. In past years, between 65% and 100% of respondents did all their insect-based production in-house, but BioPlan's preliminary data from 2013 show a reduction to 60% of respondents doing all insect-cell-based production in house; this is the lowest point in more than six years. For plant-cell and insect-cell systems, the smaller number of facilities using these systems and the fact that the data still being preliminary make it too soon to declare a definitive shift, but it is interesting to see that the trends projected by some industry analysts are reflected in the preliminary findings. Meanwhile, the proportion of respondents outsourcing traditional expression systems remains relatively steady as follows (2013 results are preliminary data):

  • Mammalian cell-culture systems: In 2013, 50% of respondents (47% in 2012 and 45% in 2011) indicated that they outsourced no production while 31.6% (47% in 2012, 44.6% in 2011, 30.3% in 2010, and 29% in 2009) outsourced up to half of production.
  • Microbial fermentation: In 2013, 45% (50% in 2012 and 43.8% in 2011) of respondent outsourced no production. Thirty-five percent (44.% in 2012 and 41.6% in 2011) outsourced up to half of production, and 20% outsourced more than half.
  • Yeast systems: In 2013, 66.7% of respondents (62.5% in 2012, and 59.1% in 2011) outsourced no production; in 2013, 22.2% of respondents (31.3% in 2012, 27.2% in 2011, 32.1% in 2010, and 14% in 2009) outsourced up to half of production.
  • Plant-cell systems: 50% outsourced no production in 2013 (89% in 2012, 58% in 2011, and 75% in 2010).
  • Insect-cell systems: 60% outsourced no production in 2013 (83% in 2012, 65% in 2011, 100% in 2010, and 82% in 2009).