Monoclonal antibody (mAb)-based therapeutics are the dominant class of molecule in the biopharmaceutical market today. Year-on-year the number of approved mAb-based therapeutics continues to grow and 2017 is set to be a record year with eight approvals already granted.
It is well documented that mAbs are composed of a large number of variants which are an inherent property of this class of therapeutic products. Variants can arise through post-translational modifications (PTMs) during manufacture and through physical or chemical modifications as a result of the purification, formulation and storage processes. Many of these variant forms have been determined to have an effect on drug safety or efficacy and are termed critical quality attributes (CQAs). The CQAs are monitored throughout development, manufacture and lot release. While each mAb therapeutic is clearly unique in its targeting and activity, the physicochemical properties of mAbs can often be described within relatively narrow ranges.
With a keen emphasis on Quality by Design (QbD), and driven by a focus on patient safety, the regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EMA impose tight rules and regulations around the understanding and monitoring of mAb CQAs. A key aspect of biopharmaceutical QbD, which is yet to be truly leveraged, is the use of so-called “platform” strategies for CQA determination. This article will explore the importance of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) in mAb CQA determination and monitoring, the benefits of implementing well-developed platform mAb HPLC methods and their potential scope and application.
HPLC FOR CQA DETERMINATION
The International Conference on Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) define a CQA as “a physical, chemical, biological or microbiological property or characteristic that should be within an appropriate limit, range or distribution to ensure the desired product quality”.
To satisfy the need to monitor CQAs and to fully characterize biotherapeutic molecules, there are a number of analytical approaches currently utilized (Figure 1).
HPLC methods represent the most convenient and efficient approach to characterizing many of the key CQAs and are routinely used for charge variant, peptide mapping and aggregate analyses, to name but a few. Today drug manufacturers are challenged with the time it takes to develop and optimize the necessary CQA methods for individual mAbs, or variants of a mAb, for characterization and confident routine (process analytical technologies/lot release) monitoring. Exploiting the similar physicochemical properties of all current therapeutic mAbs, and building platform methods around relevant standards, whereby the hardware, consumables/reagents, software and the underlying methods are all standardized, will provide drug manufacturers with numerous benefits:
- shorter time to market (faster development)
- higher cost predictability for each new biologic entity (NBE)
- the ability to standardize operations and staff training
- reduced disruption to current operations
- less wastes
- the flexibility to set up and test complete analytics platforms before they are commercially deployed or outsourced
Aligned with the FDA’s push for QbD, HPLC and mass spectrometry, instrument vendors are now working with industry partners to develop platform methods for major CQA workflows.
MAKING CHARGE VARIANT ANALYSES BASIC
Charge variant analysis (CVA) with a salt gradient elution, although widely used, was never regarded as a platform method that could be used with any mAb product. The different isoelectric points for the proteins required careful and lengthy method optimization for each mAb. Introduction of pH gradient elutions for CVA has changed this perception and permits a single method to be used as a global starting method for any mAb product. A pH gradient can be set up such that it covers a pH range wherein, at some point, any target mAb and its associated charged variants will reach their isoelectric points, become uncharged and so elute from the column. The technique is essentially one of isoelectric focusing and is also a powerful variant concentration technique. Further optimization for individual mAbs can easily be performed from an initial scouting gradient. These characteristics have firmly placed CVA into the list of routine methods with potential platform applicability. This has recently progressed further with the availability of commercially available buffer cocktails, which offer exceptional linear control over a pH gradient.
Peptide mapping is a workflow used for all protein therapeutics which can measure several CQAs necessary for complete characterization. The analysis can be implemented in a HPLC - ultraviolet (UV)-only method once the peaks have been identified by mass spectrometry, which is the preferred route in quality control laboratories.
Transferring a high resolution LC-MS peptide mapping method to the QC or production environment does not come without its challenges. The protein digestion itself is a key sample preparation step that can be the source of many variations. Digestion protocols contain many individual steps, and several of the reagents have to be made up fresh each day. This gives multiple sources for potential error and makes the procedure time consuming with the requirement of a highly trained technician. Recent advances involving magnetic bead-based automation and heat-stable immobilized enzymes are beginning to address some of these challenges. Heat can be used to denature the target protein, and the heat stable protease allows digestion to occur under denaturing conditions. This brings the steps involved in a digestion down to a simple dilution of the target protein into a vial containing the immobilized protease, heat to denature and digest. Modern ultra-HPLC (UHPLC) systems and columns for peptide mapping are increasingly robust and reliable, further increasing the reliability and ease of use. Modern UHPLC systems are capable of the retention time (RT) precision that is essential for correct identification of the peptides released from the target protein (Figure 2).