Purification of plasmid DNA for use in human gene therapy

  • John M. Woodgate

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Two key issues defined the focus of this research in manufacturing plasmid DNA for use In human gene therapy. First, the processing of E.coli bacterial cells to effect the separation of therapeutic plasmid DNA from cellular debris and adventitious material. Second, the affinity purification of the plasmid DNA in a Simple one-stage process. The need arises when considering the concerns that have been recently voiced by the FDA concerning the scalability and reproducibility of the current manufacturing processes in meeting the quality criteria of purity, potency, efficacy, and safety for a recombinant drug substance for use in humans.
To develop a preliminary purification procedure, an EFD cross-flow micro-filtration module was assessed for its ability to effect the 20-fold concentration, 6-time diafiltration, and final clarification of the plasmid DNA from the subsequent cell lysate that is derived from a 1 liter E.coli bacterial cell culture. Historically, the employment of cross-flow filtration modules within procedures for harvesting cells from bacterial cultures have failed to reach the required standards dictated by existing continuous centrifuge technologies, frequently resulting in the rapid blinding of the membrane with bacterial cells that substantially reduces the permeate flux.
By challenging the EFD module, containing six helical wound tubular membranes promoting centrifugal instabilities known as Dean vortices, with distilled water between the Dean number's of 187Dn and 818Dn,and the transmembrane pressures (TMP) of 0 to 5 psi. The data demonstrated that the fluid dynamics significantly influenced the permeation rate, displaying a maximum at 227Dn (312 Imh) and minimum at 818Dn (130 Imh) for a transmembrane pressure of 1 psi. Numerical studies indicated that the initial increase and subsequent decrease resulted from a competition between the centrifugal and viscous forces that create the Dean vortices. At Dean numbers between 187Dn and 227Dn , the forces combine constructively to increase the apparent strength and influence of the Dean vortices. However, as the Dean number in increases above 227 On the centrifugal force dominates the viscous forces, compressing the Dean vortices into the membrane walls and reducing their influence on the radial transmembrane pressure i.e. the permeate flux reduced.
When investigating the action of the Dean vortices in controlling tile fouling rate of E.coli bacterial cells, it was demonstrated that the optimum cross-flow rate at which to effect the concentration of a bacterial cell culture was 579Dn and 3 psi TMP, processing in excess of 400 Imh for 20 minutes (i.e., concentrating a 1L culture to 50 ml in 10 minutes at an average of 450 Imh). The data demonstrated that there was a conflict between the Dean number at which the shear rate could control the cell fouling, and the Dean number at which tile optimum flux enhancement was found. Hence, the internal geometry of the EFD module was shown to sub-optimal for this application. At 579Dn and 3 psi TMP, the 6-fold diafiltration was shown to occupy 3.6 minutes of process time, processing at an average flux of 400 Imh. Again, at 579Dn and 3 psi TMP the clarification of the plasmid from tile resulting freeze-thaw cell lysate was achieved at 120 Iml1, passing 83% (2,5 mg) of the plasmid DNA (6,3 ng μ-1 10.8 mg of genomic DNA (∼23,00 Obp, 36 ng μ-1 ), and 7.2 mg of cellular proteins (5-100 kDa, 21.4 ngμ-1 ) into the post-EFD process stream. Hence the EFD module was shown to be effective, achieving the desired objectives in approximately 25 minutes.
On the basis of its ability to intercalate into low molecular weight dsDNA present in dilute cell lysates, and be electrophoresed through agarose, the fluorophore PicoGreen was selected for the development of a suitable dsDNA assay. It was assesseel for its accuracy, and reliability, In determining the concentration and identity of DNA present in samples that were eleclrophoresed through agarose gels. The signal emitted by intercalated PicoGreen was shown to be constant and linear, and that the mobility of the PicaGreen-DNA complex was not affected by the intercalation. Concerning the secondary purification procedure, various anion-exchange membranes were assessed for their ability to capture plasmid DNA from the post-EFD process stream. For a commercially available Sartorius Sartobind Q15 membrane, the reduction in the equilibriumbinding capacity for  ctDNA in buffer of increasing ionic demonstrated that DNA was being.adsorbed by electrostatic  interactions only. However, the problems associated with fluid distribution across the membrane demonstrated that the membrane housing was the predominant cause of the .erratic breakthrough curves. Consequently, this would need to be rectified before such a membrane could be integrated into the current system, or indeed be scaled beyond laboratory scale. However, when challenged with the process material, the data showed that considerable quantities of protein (1150 μg) were adsorbed preferentially to the plasmid DNA (44 μg). This was also shown for derived Pall Gelman UltraBind US450 membranes that had been functionalised by varying molecular weight poly-L~lysine and polyethyleneimine ligands. Hence the anion-exchange membranes were shown to be ineffective in capturing plasmid DNA from the process stream.
Finally, work was performed to integrate a sequence-specific DNA·binding protein into a single-stage DNA chromatography, isolating plasmid DNA from E.coli cells whilst minimising the contamination from genomic DNA and cellular protein. Preliminary work demonstrated that the fusion protein was capable of isolating pUC19 DNA into which the recognition sequence for the fusion-protein had been inserted (pTS DNA) when in the presence of the conditioned process material. Althougth the pTS recognition sequence differs from native pUC19 sequences by only 2 bp, the fusion protein was shown to act as a highly selective affinity ligand for pTS DNA alone. Subsequently, the scale of the process was scaled 25-fold and positioned directly following the EFD system.
In conclusion, the integration of the EFD micro-filtration system and zinc-finger affinity purification technique resulted in the capture of approximately 1 mg of plasmid DNA was purified from 1L of E.coli  culture in a simple two stage process, resulting in the complete removal of genomic DNA and 96.7% of cellular protein in less than 1 hour of process time.

Date of Award2001
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorNigel K.H. Slater (Supervisor)


  • Purification of plasmid DNA
  • human gene therapy

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