This BioPharma-Reporter.com timeline traces the hamster's journey from the deserts of China to the research labs of Harvard in the mid-50s and on to the manufacturing facilities of today's $125bn biomanufacturing industry.
Since they were first isolated in the late 1950s, Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells have become the expression system of choice for biomanufacturers with the firms behind top sellers like Rituxan, Humira and Enbrel all using them to manufacture their products.
But while scientists have improved CHO lines for biomanufacturing - increasing yields and improving selectability - the lack of a reference sequence for the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus) has meant such work relied on random mutagenesis rather than genetic engineering.
This has now changed according to the authors of the draft Chinese hamster genome published in Nature, who say the 2.4-Gbase, 24,044-gene sequence will aid bioprocessing systems analysis and in cell line engineering.
Author Prof Bernhard Palsson, of the University of California, San Diego, told BioPharma-Reporter.com that: "This sequence will be the reference sequence for all genome-scale analysis of CHO cell lines," adding that "the current paper also has sequences for 7 CHO cell lines of various origins."
This information – and indeed the availability of a reference comparator – is likely to be of considerable use to biomanufacturers according to Prof Palsson, particularly those striving to improve production yields.
"The biopharmaceutical industry is worth about $125bn per year in sales at high profit margins. The majority of therapeutic protein are made in CHO cells. The current paper, along with the 2011 publication of the CHO K1 sequence puts this industry firmly into the genome era
"The genome-scale era for CHO is likely to substantially improve CHO cell lines as production hosts and have a far reaching impact on this industry, just as whole genome sequences did for e. coli and yeast as production hosts."
BioPharma-Reporter.com would like to thank Prof. Wei-Shou Hu from the University of Minnesota who was kind enough to send a copy of his paper "Recombinant Protein Therapeutics from CHO Cells - 20 years and Counting."