Custom Cell Culture Media | 5 Things to Consider When Customizing Cell Culture Media (and other Reagents) | Corning

Regardless of your lab's size or scale, there will come a time when you need a customized solution for your media, sera, or reagents. Off-the-shelf lab products are great for many production needs, but scientists often find themselves searching for tailor-made options when the standard catalog doesn't quite fit the project.

Scenarios where customized solutions offer the most benefit run the gamut across research areas, whether developing novel formulations for cell culture media, rinses, and cryopreservation solutions or fulfilling exact-volume packaging for fill tolerance control.

Given the flexibility of their applications, custom solutions can meet a range of research and production needs in areas like tissue processing and regenerative medicine, vaccine manufacturing, and downstream purification. But customization isn't only ideal for specialized disciplines. Increasingly, many labs are realizing the value that custom products can bring to day-to-day operations.

But there's a catch: With customization comes many considerations. Researchers who thoughtfully explore each one will be best equipped to reap the benefits of customization with minimal risk, cost, and resources.

Here's what you should consider as you contemplate your options for bespoke lab products.

1. Going in-house comes with costs and headaches.

You might have already toyed around with the idea of going the DIY route — particularly if you're a smaller, nimbler lab. But that option comes with its own hassles, says Andria Pate Collier, a senior product line manager of media at Corning Life Sciences.

"You don't see the cost structure of using your own folks to manufacture something, but that doesn't mean it doesn't cost you in the long run," Collier said. "Researchers may go in thinking that it's cheaper to manage it internally, but then suddenly it gets out of control when you're making different things from different areas within the labs."

In-house formulations may save money at the outset, but it leaves little leeway to consolidate the costs of raw materials as workflows get more specific and fragmented — and that's on top of having to ensure current good manufacturing practice compliance. As you become more reliant on patchwork processes, you might lose out on the purchasing power, regulatory know-how, and supply chain resilience that an outsourced outfit like Corning can offer.

2. Formulation isn't the only thing that can be customized.

Many researchers require a novel formulation of cell culture media or other solutions, but those aren't the only components that can be tailor-made. Even standard products can be customized by putting them in different packaging.

Buying supplies such as large batches of rinse water or custom-filled volumes of catalog media in made-to-order packaging can cut costs while reducing waste and the risk of measuring errors.

"Often, labs have very specific requirements around volumes," Collier said. "Maybe you need 1.1 liters of media and you want it really precise when it comes to that fill volume tolerance because you might be adding something else to that media before you use it. You'd want to be sure that, every time, you have exactly the volume you need. It's much easier to make that align with the workflow if every bottle is prefilled to a designated amount."

Additionally, some suppliers — including Corning — can produce and white-label custom media, an offering worth considering if you're looking to sell your formulations.

"Custom solutions shouldn't be limited to something you use internally," Collier said. "You could always explore a contract manufacturing relationship with your supplier, where you buy a customized product, have the supplier apply your label to the product, and then resell it."

3. You'll need a plan.

Depending on your need, a customized solution will require some amount of lead time — anywhere from a few weeks for small-scale products to many months for a full cGMP-ready run. Connect with your supplier well in advance to discuss your needs and timing expectations.

"With Corning, most small-size orders can be fulfilled within three to four weeks," said Amyntrah Maxwell, an assistant product line manager of custom media at Corning Life Sciences. "But when you move toward larger needs, you'll want to start the process about 12 weeks out."

Advanced or nuanced projects could have even longer lead times, Collier adds.

"Sometimes, customers might want to start working with us six or eight months out," she said. "Suppliers will typically have a lot of questions, and there's a great deal of interaction and regular meetings to make sure everything is right before submitting the final purchasing order."

4. Customization isn't just for big or well-funded labs.

Cost was once a barrier for customized solutions, but Maxwell says that notion is no longer true. With more pilot and small-batch options, modestly sized operations, such as academic labs and small biotech companies, can take advantage of made-to-order media.

"People are starting to realize it's an affordable option," Maxwell said. "You can find budget-conscious options for whatever batch size you need, regardless of whether you have plans to scale up. Now, you don't have to buy a thousand liters to test out a custom formula. You can buy them in 100, 20, or even 5 liters to start."

When comparing suppliers for small-scale batches, ask whether a supplier will provide free consultation services. Corning, for example, offers complimentary customization services to every customer.

5. Ensure that your supply chain can withstand disruptions.

As manufacturers shifted priorities to focus on customers developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, many supply chains struggled under the challenges of the pandemic. If you're considering a customized solution from a third-party provider, ask how they respond to market disruptions and how they'll keep your orders on track.

"We've seen a lot of customers come to us because some of their previous manufacturers no longer have the capacity to service their needs," Collier said, adding that Corning's supply chain was built with resilience in mind by diversifying its partner base and anticipating market shortages. "It has pushed a lot of the smaller customers out, as well as those who work in animal health."

Making Customization Work for You

Customization offers something for everyone — but you'll need to be diligent when designing yours so that you don't overlook key considerations that can cost you in the long run. Factor in these practices, and you'll be well on your way to sourcing the ready-made solution best for you.

Need help developing a customized solution? Contact Corning for a quote. We'd be glad to help your team manufacture the right product for your needs.