1,300 litres at once: Penzberg is home to one of Europe's largest freeze-drying facilities.
Penzberg, leader in proteins
Roche Penzberg is renowned for its expertise in protein production. In addition to fermentation and purification, the site also handles the preservation of the sensitive molecules.
Operations Penzberg has a total of 17 freeze-drying facilities with capacities between 5 and 1300 litres. The newest one was added in 2014. It is housed by the DOC2 complex and used for the preservation of antibodies and albumin.
This freeze-drying facility for the preservation of antibodies and albumin in Penzberg has a capacity of 1,300 litres. The two proteins are used for the immunodiagnostic Elecsys production. The facility is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
Albumin is a globular protein that is critical to our survival. Albumin binds water, thereby helping control the fluid balance in the blood vessels. Its other function is to transport water-insoluble substances. In diagnostic testing, albumin serves as a stabilizer for the "active components" involved in the detection reaction so that the reaction can happen undisturbed. It can intercept interfering substances in a patient sample.
Serving the immune system
The body produces antibodies in reaction to certain foreign substances (antigens). The two interact like a lock (antigen) and key (antibody). The antibody binds the antigen, thereby triggering an immune response. It's the body's mechanism for fighting intruders.
In biochemical terms...
...antibodies are proteins. They are macromolecules, i.e. molecules with 1000+ basic building blocks (atoms). For comparison, a water molecule consists of three atoms, oxygen of a mere two.
The use of antibodies in medicine
In the area of medicine, the unique properties of antibodies make them agents of choice for targeting certain diseases like cancer or autoimmune diseases. They can help find certain molecular target structures for drugs in the patient.
The same mode of action is leveraged in the area of diagnostics where antibodies are used to detect infections, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune diseases, but also pregnancy, for vaccination status control, etc.
Extra care required
To enable long-term storage, diagnostic tests/reagents must be carefully preserved. That's because proteins are complex molecules and therefore extremely sensitive! Freeze-drying (also called lyophilisation) is the most efficient method for drying and extending the shelf life of proteins. The process preserves the desired chemical and medical properties.
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Fotographer: Philipp Wente