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Cell Culture Technology: History

The Cell Culture Technology Group at the Faculty of Technology was founded by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Lehmann in 1988. Before moving to Bielefeld Prof. Lehmann was working at the German Research Centre for Biotechnology (GBF) in Braunschweig.

The Group was based on the idea to establish a research department combining cell biology and engineering thus focusing on the development and optimization of mammalian cell fermentation processes, especially emphasizing the technical aspects in this emerging research area.

A new 600 sqm Laboratory and 150 sqm pilot plant was built, which enabled Jürgen Lehmann and his team to work on cutting-edge basic research as well as on industrial projects.

From 1990 to 2005 in total 38 doctorates and more than 100 diploma theses were completed and a large number of third-party funded projects (EU, BMBF, DFG, etc.) were successfully finished. Exciting applied and basic-research results have been published in scientific journals or have been presented at high-ranking conferences.

In addition, two successful spin-off companies have been founded.

Innovatis (now a Roche company) has developed the first automated cell counting system based on the well-established Trypan Blue exclusion method for determining cell viability. Designed by Innovatis AG in 1995, the proven technology has become the "Industry Gold Standard" in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. 

BiBiTec is a GMP-certified CRO and CMO company and is specialized in the production of recombinant proteins and monoclonal antibodies for use in clinical trials up to phase III using mammalian cells. The activities comprise the areas development and optimization of production processes, protein analytics, formulation and quality assurance. BiBiTec developed the process for an EPO-Biosimilar that received European market authorization in 2007 and produced the material for phase III clinical trials.

In 1999 a study program in Molecular Biotechnology was established, first as a diploma course and since 2004 as a consecutive bachelor and master program. The focus of the students’ education combines elements of engineering with natural sciences and bioinformatics. Each year about 50 students start their bachelor and 30 students begin the master courses.

Prof. Thomas Noll was head of the work group Cell culture technology at the Research Center Jülich until 2005. After Prof. Lehmann’s retirement he started his professorship at Bielefeld University. Since then the research focus shifted slightly towards the combination of cell culture process development with functional genomics and analysis of posttranslational modifications of recombinant proteins aiming for a detailed understanding of the behavior of mammalian cells in bioreactors and for rational bioprocess development and cellular engineering.

In the last years another two successful companies, Xell and Biofidus, have been founded. Xell (est. 2009) is focusing on the development and production of chemically defined high-performance cell culture medium for different cell lines and applications. Xell also offers analytical services in the field of culture media, metabolites and bioprocesses. Biofidus (est. 2015) offers a wide spectrum of analytic services focusing on characterization and quality control of biopharmaceutical proteins as well as on the analytics of small molecules.

The working group Cell Culture Technology is an active member of the Bielefeld Center for Biotechnology (CeBiTec), where Thomas Noll served as the scientific director from 2010 to 2015.


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