From Penzberg into the world

Stainless steel tank for cell culti­vation in the production of active agents

CHO Penzberg
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Formulations to battle cancer and blood disorders

Pharmaceutical production at Penzberg makes active agents for numerous key Roche medications. They are further processed into finished products at other Roche sites, including Mannheim and Kaiseraugst in Switzerland.

Targeted and effective

A good active agent precisely targets the molecule that plays a key role in disease development or progression. Being an antibody powerhouse, Penzberg specialises in the production of therapeutic antibodies that are critical to cutting-edge therapeutic approaches in the fight against cancer.

30 kilometres of stainless steel pipe and 8,500 valves...

...were installed in the new pharmaceuticals production facility at Penzberg. Now that it is finished and houses four gigantic stainless steel tanks, the facility has an additional fermentation capacity of 64,000 litres. This expansion on a total footprint of 9,450 square metres (comparable to almost one-and-a-half soccer fields) meant an investment of €330M by the Roche group in the site near Munich.

Of molecules large and small

At Penzberg, Roche mainly produces so-called large molecules, consisting of up to 20,000 atoms. For comparison: Chemically made active agents (small molecules), such as those to treat headaches, only contain between 20 and 100 atoms.   

Just like brewing beer

The biotech production of active agents happens in large stainless steel tanks holding up to 16,000 litres, so-called fermenters. They contain animal cells or microorganisms contributing the genetic information to the active agent to be produced. The cells are grown and cultivated inside the fermenters under precisely defined conditions. Subsequently, they produce large quantities of the desired active agent. When the production process is complete, the cells are separated using centrifuges. Next, the active agent is isolated from the other components of the cell cultures using various highly specialised purification procedures. This results in an ultrapure active agent.

Industrial-scale production

To produce therapeutic proteins on an industrial scale, the fermenters have to be extremely large. The new pharmaceuticals production facility at Penzberg alone, which began operation in December 2016, added four 16,000-litre fermenters to the capacity of the Roche site. This expansion became necessary because demand for Roche medications is on the rise worldwide.

The giants: therapeutic proteins

For complex diseases like cancer, the active agents used are often proteins such as specific antibodies. They are highly selective and can dock to a specific target molecule in the patient's body. Antibodies are large and have a complex structure. Therefore, they cannot be made by means of chemical synthesis. Instead, therapeutic proteins are made using animal cells or microorganisms as "protein factories".

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Fotograf: Philipp Wente