Large volumes of antibodies for diagnostic, treatment, and research have traditionally been produced by only three methods: ascites (that is, in living animals), fermentation or stirred-tank reactors, and hollow-fiber bioreactors. Each has its own advantages.

The ascites method, while highly labor-intensive, is generally recommended for the relatively economical production of small volumes of antibodies -- typically milligrams or less. Stirred-tank reactors are widely used for larger commercial volumes (usually more than 5 kg/year), although purification and separation costs tend to be high. Designers of the relatively new hollow-fiber reactors claim to offer much higher protein densities, and therefore improved efficiency and economics. Many such systems, however, are still under development, and actual performance remains to be verified in commercial practice.

But producers of antibodies and other important proteins may one day be able to crank out their products from genetically engineered plants and animals as well -- at higher efficiency...

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