Friday, January 21, 2011

Remember....bacteriophage are viruses too

by Dr. Ray Nims

Are you using bacterial cells to produce a biologic? Do not make the mistake of thinking that your upstream process is safe from infection by adventitious viruses. True, you are not required to test for the usual viruses of concern using a lot release adventitious virus assay. But bacterial production systems are susceptible to introduction of viruses just as mammalian cell processes are. In this case, the viruses just happen to be referred to as bacteriophage. Other than this, the putative contaminants have the same nasty property exhibited by viruses that can contaminate mammalian cell processes, that is … their small size (24-200 nm) allows them to readily pass through the filters used to “sterilize” process solutions. So media, buffers, induction agents, vitamin mixes, trace metal mixes, etc. that are fed into the fermenter without proper treatment can introduce a bacteriophage. Especially worrisome in this regard are raw materials that are generated through bacterial fermentation (such as amino acids, antibiotics). A fermenter infected with a lytic phage exhibits a clear signal that the bacterial substrate is unhappy. The trick then is to discover where the phage originated and to mitigate the risk of experiencing it again.

How can you mitigate the risk of experiencing a bacteriophage infection? Many of the same strategies used to protect mammalian cell processes may be applicable to the bacterial fermentation world. Raw materials and/or process solutions may be subjected to gamma-irradiation, to ultraviolet light in the C range, to prolonged heating or to high temperature short time treatment, to viral filtration, etc. In addition, mitigation of risk of bacteriophage contamination may require filtration of incoming gasses using appropriate filters

A sampling of the data available on inactivation of bacteriophage by various methods is shown in the table below. The literature is extensive, and as with viral inactivation, the inactivation of phage by certain of the methods (e.g., UVC, gamma-irradiation) may be dependent both upon the matrix in which the phage is suspended as well as the physical properties of the phage (e.g., genome or particle size, strandness, etc.). For fairly dilute aqueous solutions, gamma-irradiation, UVC treatment, or parvovirus filtration should represent effective inactivation/removal methods. HTST at temperatures effective for parvoviruses (102°C, 10 seconds) should be effective for most bacteriophage, although this is an area that needs further exploration.

Mitigating the risk of experiencing a bacteriophage contamination of a bacterial fermentation process is possible if one remembers that bacteriophage are similar to mammalian viruses. Strategies that are effective for small-non-enveloped mammalian viruses (i.e., the worst case for mammalian viruses) should also be effective for most bacteriophage.

A possible exception to this is prophage. In analogy with the presence of endogenous retroviruses in certain mammalian cells (i.e., rodent, human, monkey), there is a possibility of encountering integrated bacteriophage (prophage) in certain bacterial cell lines. Like endogenous retroviruses, prophage may result in the production of infectious particles under certain conditions. This phenomenon deserves some discussion, but this will have to be deferred to a future blog.

References: Purtel et al., 2006; Ward, 1979; Sommer et al., 2001.