The National Research Council of Canada (NRC) today formally recognized the scientific impact of the HEK 293 cell line, originally created by Dr. Frank Graham nearly 50 years ago, and its importance in the production of biologic molecules, including current COVID-19 vaccine product candidates.
In the Netherlands in the 1970s, Dr. Graham developed the HEK 293 cell line, which is now widely used for academic research and in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries around the world.
Dr. Graham worked in the lab of Dutch scientist Dr. Alex van der Eb, where he developed a new method called calcium phosphate transfection for introducing DNA into eukaryotic cells. Using this technique, he was able to generate the cell line called HEK 293, which contains and expresses the human Adenovirus 5 (Ad5) transforming genes.
On his return to Canada, Dr. Graham continued to characterize the HEK 293 cell line and, in collaboration with his students and colleagues at McMaster University, he used it in the development of numerous Ad5-based viral vectors for gene transfer and potential recombinant viral vaccines. Both HEK 293 cells and reagents for construction of Ad vectors were widely distributed by Dr. Graham to the scientific community for studies on gene therapy and vaccine development.
The HEK 293 cell line has since undergone significant modifications in laboratories across the globe. For example, the NRC has developed a proprietary version of the HEK 293 cell line, referred to as HEK293-SF-3F6, which has known and specific properties that make it a very strong starting point for the subsequent development of vaccines and therapeutics for human health. It is used for the production of a variety of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.