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Standardization and validation of molecular size distribution test for human immunoglobulin products in Korea
Yakhak Hoeji 2021;65(1):23-30
Published online February 28, 2021
© 2021 The Pharmaceutical Society of Korea.

Chan Woong Choi*, Ka Young Kim*, Ho-Jin Song*, Kiwon Han*, Seungwan Jee**, and Jaeok Kim**,#

*Blood Products Division, National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety
**Biologics Division, National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety
Correspondence to: Jaeok Kim, Biologics Division, National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation, Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Cheongju, Korea
Tel: +82-43-719-3461, Fax: +82-43-719-3450
E-mail: kimjo70@korea.kr
Received December 1, 2020; Revised January 22, 2021; Accepted February 7, 2021.
Abstract
In this study, we aimed to harmonize and compare the molecular size distribution test in Korean Minimum Requirements for Biological Products (KMRBP) and the European Pharmacopeia (Ph. Eur.). Size-exclusion highperformance liquid chromatography methods in the KMRBP and Ph. Eur. were compared using a human immunoglobulin reference standard. The operating conditions were standardized and the method was validated. The validated and current KMRBP methods were used to analyze seven types of human immunoglobulin products approved in Korea. The coefficient of variation (CV) level was set to ≤1% for monomer/dimer and ≤10% for polymers/aggregates, indicating no difference between the results. The peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates showed no difference when different operating conditions, including the mobile phase, sample dilution buffer, and flow rate, were used to conduct the procedures listed in the KMRBP and Ph. Eur. However, the CV for polymers/aggregates was determined to be more than 10 % when columns of different sizes were used. In the validation studies, the CV for peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were determined to be ≤1 and ≤10%, respectively. The results indicated that both methods were suitable as per the specifications of the Ph. Eur. and KMRBP. Quality control of human immunoglobulin products is crucial to ensure their safety and efficacy. The present study provides a scientific basis for the new national lot release test of molecular size distribution for human immunoglobulin products adopted by the KMRBP.
Keywords : Korean minimum requirements for biological products, molecular size distribution, human immunoglobulin, plasma-derived product, validation, quality control
Introduction

Plasma-derived products are pharmaceuticals manufactured through a series of processes using human plasma as a starting material. Of these, the human immunoglobulin product has human immunoglobulin as an active ingredient obtained by the fractionation of human plasma.1) Human immunoglobulin products are essential medicines designated by the World Health Organization. They are among the most widely used therapeutics globally and are in high demand.2) In Korea, human immunoglobulin products are approved for the treatment of numerous diseases, such as hypogammaglobulinemia, agammaglobulinemia, viral diseases, and Guillain-Barré syndrome. According to the Korean Minimum Requirements for Biological Products (KMRBP), human immunoglobulin products are classified as biologics. The manufacturing consistency, quality, and safety of biologics, such as plasma-derived products and vaccines, is ensured via the national lot release implemented by the National Regulatory Agency (NRA).3) Molecular size distribution test of human immunoglobulin products in the national lot release is a safety test for the quantification of unwanted polymers/aggregates that may be present in the final product. In the NRAs of Korea, the European Union, Japan, and China, size-exclusion chromatography is used as a molecular size distribution test, based on the official compendium.4,5,6,7) The analytical procedures of molecular size distribution tests for human immunoglobulin products are similar in the KMRBP and European Pharmacopeia (Ph. Eur.); however, there are differences in some operating conditions, such as the mobile phase, sample dilution buffer, flow rate, and column size. In addition, the Ph. Eur. has specifications regarding the distribution of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates, whereas the KMRBP has only specifications about the distribution of polymers/aggregates.4,5) At present, standardization and international harmonization of specifications and analytical procedures are actively pursued for pharmaceuticals, especially biologics. The National Institute of Food and Drug Safety Evaluation (NIFDS) is an NRA in Korea responsible for the international harmonization of specifications, analytical procedures, and national lot release related to biologics. In addition, as the production and export of human immunoglobulin products manufactured in Korea have been increasing recently, it is necessary to improve the molecular size distribution test for human immunoglobulin products in Korea in terms of international harmonization of quality control.8) In this study, the molecular size distribution test method for human immunoglobulin products was standardized and validated, and the human immunoglobulin products distributed in Korea were assessed using both the validated and current KMRBP methods.

Methods

Reagents and columns

All chemicals used were of liquid-chromatography grade. Sodium phosphate dibasic (Na2HPO4), sodium phosphate monobasic dihydrate (NaH2PO4·2H2O), disodium hydrogen phosphate dihydrate (Na2HPO4·2H2O), sodium dihydrogen phosphate monohydrate (NaH2PO4·H2O), sodium chloride (NaCl), and sodium azide (NaN3) were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich (MO, USA). Solutions were prepared in high-purity triple distilled water. TSKgel G3000SW (7.5×600mm, 10 μm) and TSKgel G3000SWXL (7.8×300 mm, 5 μm) columns were purchased from TOSOH (Tokyo, Japan).

Reference standard and samples

Human immunoglobulin (molecular size) biological reference preparation (BRP) batch 2 was used as a reference standard for the standardization and validation of the method. Seven types of human immunoglobulin products approved and distributed in Korea were purchased, and the sample numbers for each type of product were allocated as follows: Sample 1 for human normal immunoglobulin in glycine; Sample 2 for human normal immunoglobulin in maltose; Sample 3 for human hepatitis B immunoglobulin for intravenous administration; Sample 4 for human normal immunoglobulin; Sample 5 for human tetanus immunoglobulin; Sample 6 for human hepatitis B immunoglobulin; and Sample 7 for human varicella immunoglobulin.

Molecular size distribution test

Size-exclusion high-performance liquid chromatography (SEHPLC) analysis was performed using a hydrophilic silica gel column connected to an Alliance e2695 HPLC system, 2998 Photodiode Array detector, and Empower 3 data management software (Waters, MA, USA). The operating conditions were different between the KMRBP and Ph. Eur., as shown in Table 1. Other conditions, including the room temperature for the column oven, 5oC for autosampler, 20 μL for injection volume, 60 min for run time, and 280 nm for UV wavelength, were identical. The mobile phase and sample dilution buffer were filtered before use through a 0.22-μm filter (Corning, NY, USA).

Different operating conditions between the KMRBP and Ph. Eur

Operating condition KMRBP Ph. Eur.
Mobile phase 1 L of distilled water in which 3.887 g of sodium phosphate dibasic, 1.968 g of sodium phosphate monobasic dihydrate, 11.688 g of sodium chloride, and 0.05 g of sodium azide are dissolved 1 L of distilled water in which 4.873 g of disodium hydrogen phosphate dihydrate, 1.741 g of sodium dihydrogen phosphate monohydrate, 11.688 g of sodium chloride, and 50 mg of sodium azide are dissolved
Sample dilution Samples are diluted with a mobile phase in the range of 4-12 g/L Samples are diluted with a 9 g/L of sodium chloride in the range of 4-12 g/L
Flow rate 0.6 mL/min 0.5 mL/min
Column size 7.5 x 600 mm hydrophilic silica gel column 7.5 x 600 or 7.8 x 300 mm hydrophilic silica gel column


Standardization of operating conditions

The effects of different operating conditions between KMRBP and Ph. Eur., including the mobile phase, sample dilution buffer, flow rate, and column size, on the results were investigated. For this purpose, human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP was analyzed with only one operating condition being different, based on the method used for KMRBP. In addition, Samples 4, 5, 6, and 7 were analyzed to compare the results of different column sizes. Taking these comparison results into consideration, we determined the operating conditions to be used, with an aim of improving the method.

Validation of the method

Specificity, injection repeatability, intermediate precision, robustness, and reproducibility were examined to validate the standardized method. Specificity was observed for the mobile phase and 9 g/L sodium chloride to determine whether other components were detected at the retention time of the human immunoglobulin component in the reference standard. Injection repeatability was measured using 10 repeated analyses of the reference standard. Intermediate precision was evaluated for multiple days, analysts, and instruments to identify differences in each characteristic. Robustness is a measure of the capability of the method to remain unaffected by small but deliberate variations in method parameters.9) The method was validated for robustness using columns with different batch numbers. Reproducibility was assessed for an interlaboratory study and should be considered in the case of standardization of a method for inclusion in an official compendium.9) In the present study, the reference standard was analyzed in four laboratories using the standardized method to assess the differences in the results of samples tested among laboratories.

Application of the validated method for analysis of human immunoglobulin products

The validated method was used to analyze seven types of human immunoglobulin products approved and distributed in Korea in terms of the levels of monomer, dimer, and polymers/aggregates in the final products. Human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP was used as a reference standard for the test. The results obtained by using the validated method were compared with those obtained using the current KMRBP method.

Statistical analysis

Data are representative of three injections, excluding the data for injection repeatability. The results were analyzed statistically and the mean, standard deviation (SD), and coefficient of variation (CV) were determined using Microsoft Excel 2016 (Microsoft, WA, USA). In the standardization of operating conditions and validation of the method, the acceptance level of CV was set as ≤1% for monomer/dimer and ≤10% for polymers/ aggregates.

Results

Standardization of operating conditions for molecular size distribution test

The SE-HPLC chromatogram of human immunoglobulin products shows a principal peak corresponding to the monomer and a peak corresponding to the dimer just to the left. Any peak with a retention time less than that of the dimer corresponds to polymers/aggregates (Fig. 1A). As shown in Table 2, a molecular size distribution test was conducted using different operating conditions stated in the KMRBP and Ph. Eur., including the mobile phase, sample dilution buffer, and flow rate. The CV values for the peak areas of the monomer/dimer and polymers/ aggregates were 0.01-0.06 and 3.57-9.32%, respectively. However, the peak areas of polymers/aggregates obtained using the 7.5× 600 mm column were higher than those obtained using the 7.8× 300 mm column, with a CV of 9.17-34.31% (Table 2). These results suggested that the column with dimensions of 7.5×600 mm was more sensitive in separating the polymers/aggregates than that having the dimensions of 7.8×300 mm. Based on these results, the following operating conditions were determined for the molecular size distribution test: mobile phase, 1 L of distilled water containing 4.873 g of disodium hydrogen phosphate dihydrate, 1.741 g of sodium dihydrogen phosphate monohydrate, 11.688 g of sodium chloride, and 50 mg of sodium azide; sample dilution buffer, 9 g/L of sodium chloride; flow rate, 0.5 mL/min; and column, 7.5×600 mm.

Comparison of the results according to the change of operating conditions

Operating condition Sample Method Peak area of monomer/dimer (%) Peak area of polymers/aggregates (%)

Mean SD CV Mean SD CV
Mobile phase Human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP Method 1 a 99.751 0.003 0.01 0.098 0.001 8.36
Method 2 b 99.733 0.001 0.113 0.005


Sample dilution buffer Method 1 99.761 0.062 0.06 0.104 0.001 3.57
Method 2 99.667 0.006 0.109 0.004


Flow rate Method 1 99.788 0.013 0.03 0.114 0.001 9.32
Method 2 99.833 0.010 0.097 0.005


Column size Method 1 99.814 0.006 0.05 0.085 0.003 34.31
Method 2 99.731 0.009 0.044 0.001

Sample 4 Method 1 95.565 0.063 0.53 4.315 0.153 11.56
Method 2 96.419 0.305 3.581 0.305

Sample 5 Method 1 98.930 0.015 0.27 1.070 0.015 31.93
Method 2 99.401 0.091 0.595 0.087

Sample 6 Method 1 96.763 0.043 0.45 3.224 0.043 15.25
Method 2 97.561 0.048 2.439 0.048

Sample 7 Method 1 95.704 0.005 0.39 4.271 0.002 9.17
Method 2 96.388 0.029 3.612 0.029

aMethod 1: Method applying operating condition according to the current KMRBP.

bMethod 2: Method applying operating condition described in the Ph. Eur.


Fig. 1. SE-HPLC chromatogram of (A) human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP, (B) mobile phase, and (C) 9 g/L sodium chloride.

Validation of the standardized molecular size distribution method

Specificity

The chromatogram of the mobile phase and sample dilution buffer showed no peak in the retention time corresponding to the monomer, dimer, and polymers/aggregates for human immunoglobulin (Fig. 1B and 1C). These results suggest that the method has an appropriate selectivity for the separation of human immunoglobulin molecules, without any interference from the mobile phase and sample dilution buffer.

Injection repeatability

Injection repeatability measured using multiple injections of a homogeneous sample indicates the performance of the HPLC instrument under the same chromatographic conditions and day tested.10) The peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/ aggregates were 99.699±0.012 and 0.102±0.010%, respectively (Table 3). The CV for the peak areas of the monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were 0.01 and 9.34%, respectively.

Validation results for injection repeatability, intermediate precision, robustness, and reproducibility

Validation parameter Peak area of monomer/dimer (%) Peak area of polymers/aggregates (%)

Mean SD CV Mean SD CV
Injection repeatability 99.699 0.012 0.01 0.102 0.010 9.34

Intermediate precision Day 1 99.793 0.006 0.01 0.106 0.006 4.28
Day 2 99.788 0.006 0.110 0.003
Day 3 99.788 0.002 0.112 0.005

Analyst 1 99.761 0.008 0.01 0.134 0.001 3.48
Analyst 2 99.755 0.002 0.143 0.000
Analyst 3 99.756 0.012 0.143 0.001

Instrument 1 99.788 0.002 0.00 0.112 0.005 2.87
Instrument 2 99.790 0.005 0.112 0.002

Robustness Column 1 99.798 0.002 0.00 0.100 0.002 3.41
Column 2 99.797 0.002 0.097 0.004

Reproducibility Laboratory 1 99.728 0.003 0.27 0.193 0.004 7.02
Laboratory 2 99.085 0.008 0.220 0.000
Laboratory 3 99.123 0.012 0.210 0.000
Laboratory 4 99.243 0.076 0.187 0.006


Intermediate precision

The precision of a method indicates the closeness of agreement between a series of measurements obtained from multiple sampling of the same homogeneous sample under the stated conditions.9) Intermediate precision data, including different days, analysts, and instruments, are shown in Table 3. The CV for the peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were 0.00-0.01 and 2.87-4.28%, respectively, indicating good intermediate precision within those characteristics.

Robustness

The standardized molecular size distribution method was further validated for robustness in terms of different column batch numbers (Table 3). The CV for the peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were 0.00 and 3.41 %, respectively, suggesting that the method was not robust to changes in the column batch number.

Reproducibility

Four laboratories, including a national control laboratory and domestic manufacturers of human immunoglobulin products, participated in this reproducibility study. These laboratories were referred to as their randomly allocated code number, namely Laboratories 1 to 4 (Table 3). Reproducibility was very satisfactory with CV for the peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates of 0.27 and 7.02%, respectively.

Comparison of molecular size distribution results between the validated and current KMRBP methods

The peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were 99.805-99.969 and 0.026-0.133%, respectively, in the products intended for intravenous administration (Table 4). The peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates were 95.200-98.714 and 1.286-4.800%, respectively, in the products for intramuscular administration. The results of both methods showed that the level of polymers/aggregates in the products for intramuscular administration was higher than those in the products for intravenous administration. The SD of the peak areas of polymers/aggregates between the two methods was 0.012-0.021 and 0.039-0.389%, respectively, for the products intended for intravenous and intramuscular administration.

Molecular size distribution of human immunoglobulin products obtained using two methods

Sample No. Administration route Method Peak area of monomer/dimer (%) Peak area of polymers/aggregates (%)

Mean SD Mean SD SD between methods
Sample 1 Intravenous administration Method 1 c 99.899 0.001 0.050 0.002 0.013
Method 2 d 99.911 0.036 0.026 0.000


Sample 2 Method 1 99.969 0.000 0.031 0.000 0.012
Method 2 99.969 0.001 0.041 0.017


Sample 3 Method 1 99.867 0.001 0.133 0.001 0.021
Method 2 99.805 0.001 0.093 0.001


Sample 4 Intramuscular administration Method 1 96.076 0.015 3.924 0.015 0.270
Method 2 95.564 0.084 4.412 0.058


Sample 5 Method 1 98.714 0.023 1.286 0.023 0.351
Method 2 98.074 0.038 1.926 0.038


Sample 6 Method 1 96.582 0.042 3.418 0.042 0.039
Method 2 96.721 0.150 3.366 0.001


Sample 7 Method 1 95.909 0.013 4.091 0.013 0.389
Method 2 95.200 0.040 4.800 0.040

cMethod 1: Method standardized and validated in the present study.

dMethod 2: Method according to the current KMRBP.


Discussion

Protein-based biopharmaceuticals are purified to obtain high purity during the manufacturing process, but monomeric proteins are aggregated and formed as polymers/aggregates especially during fermentation, refolding, purification, formulation, and storage.11) Aggregation of proteins refers to the process by which individual protein molecules are composed of two or more proteins that aggregate into a stable complex, where the individual proteins are monomers.12) Studies have shown that these polymers/ aggregates can increase the immune response to an active protein monomer, and the effect of the immune response on the active protein monomer can lower efficacy or even give rise to adverse reactions.13) It may also induce immediate-type hypersensitivity, such as anaphylaxis.14) In terms of immunogenicity, a key feature of protein aggregation is that it is not readily dissociated and maintains some of the folded secondary or tertiary structure due to aggregation. Because of this feature, protein aggregates tend to induce even higher immunogenicity compared to monomers, although monomers may exhibit some immunogenicity.12)

In particular, polymers/aggregates of human immunoglobulin products have the potential to cause adverse reactions, such as rashes, headaches, fever, vomiting, and tachycardia, by activating complements.15) However, it remains unclear whether all forms of protein aggregates exhibit immunogenicity and adverse reactions, and what additional factors are involved in the production of protein aggregates. For these reasons, NRAs worldwide have established and ascertained the levels of polymers/aggregates that can be present in human immunoglobulin products and have verified the level of polymers/aggregates present in the final product through national lot release test.

Various methods have been developed and used to evaluate the level of protein aggregation. Size-exclusion chromatography is the most widely used method for the separation and quantification of protein monomers, dimers, and polymers, and it separates biomolecules based on their hydrodynamic radius.16) The stationary phase of the column used for size-exclusion chromatography is composed of spherical porous particles with well-controlled, fine pore size. When an aqueous buffer solution passes through it, the biomolecules diffuse. In other words, size-exclusion chromatography can be used for separating biomolecules based on the physical size of the molecule rather than their chemical nature. In addition, size-exclusion chromatography has the advantage of a weak leaching condition that minimally affects the structural form and surrounding environment of a protein.17)

In this study, the operating conditions of the molecular size distribution test of KMRBP and Ph. Eur. were compared. Our results showed no difference in the results caused by changes in the mobile phase, sample dilution buffer, and flow rate. Therefore, it was reasonable to adopt the three operating conditions of Ph. Eur. in the KMRBP. Currently, only a 7.5×600 mm column is used for the molecular size distribution test for national lot release in Korea. Although previous studies have shown that molecular size distribution data obtained with columns of different sizes cannot be compared without further consideration, the NIFDS uses only one column size to ensure consistency in lot release test.18) In a comparison between two columns with dimensions of 7.5×600 and 7.8×300 mm, as proposed by the Ph. Eur., the peak area for polymers/aggregates obtained using the former was two times higher than that obtained using the latter. As human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP showed very low levels of polymers/aggregates, an additional study using four different types of products for intramuscular administration was conducted. The results showed that in all four samples, the peak areas of polymers/aggregates obtained using a 7.5×600 mm column were more than 1.2 times higher than those obtained using a 7.8×300 mm column. As polymers/aggregates play a critical role in the occurrence of adverse reactions, this finding also supports the conclusion that the use of a 7.5×600 mm column, in which the distribution of polymers/aggregates was measured the highest among the two columns, is preferable for national lot release.

Validation of the method is crucial to ensure that a selected method will yield reproducible and reliable results that are adequate for the intended use; thus, it is important to adequately define both the operating conditions and purpose.19) In this study, the method was validated for parameters including specificity, injection repeatability, intermediate precision, robustness, and reproducibility. In this method, only human immunoglobulin molecules were separated based on size, without any interference from the mobile phase or the sample dilution buffer. Injection repeatability, intermediate precision, robustness, and reproducibility studies revealed the CV for the peak areas of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates as 0.00-0.27 and 2.87-9.34%, respectively, for multiple injections, days, analysts, instruments, batch numbers of columns, and laboratories. The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & Healthcare has established the human immunoglobulin (molecular size) BRP, and it is required by the Ph. Eur. that the retention time for dimer peak with a relative to retention time for monomer peak should be determined to be approximately 0.85 for this reference standard.2,5,20) In the validation study, the retention time of the dimer peak relative to the retention time of the monomer peak was identified as 0.850-0.857.

The molecular size distribution test was conducted for human immunoglobulin products by using both the method validated in this study and the current KMRBP method. In Korea, seven types of human immunoglobulin products are approved for intravenous and intramuscular use. The results obtained using both methods showed that all products were suitable for the specifications of the Ph. Eur. and the current KMRBP (Fig. 2 and 3) (Supplementary Table 1). In addition, the SD of peak areas of polymers/aggregates between the two methods was 0.012-0.389 %, showing a narrow difference that did not affect results. In the chromatogram of the reference standard, the relative retention time of a peak corresponding to the dimer compared with a peak corresponding to the monomer was 0.835-0.854. In addition, for the monomer and dimer from all products, the retention time relative to the corresponding peak in the chromatogram obtained with the reference standard was 0.987-1.002, which satisfied the requirement of the Ph. Eur.5) Unfortunately, only one item for each type of human immunoglobulin product was analyzed in this study; therefore, additional analysis needs to be conducted for other products.

Fig. 2. The peak areas of monomer/dimer of human immunoglobulin products approved in Korea were higher than the lower limits according to the Ph. Eur.
Fig. 3. The peak areas of polymers/aggregates of human immunoglobulin products approved in Korea were lower than the upper limits according to the Ph. Eur. and KMRBP.
Conclusion

The results presented here showed that it is possible to adopt the operating conditions for molecular size distribution test set by the Ph. Eur. for the KMRBP. In addition, analysis results of distributed human immunoglobulin products using the improved method showed that it is possible to revise the current KMRBP specification to include the distribution of monomer/dimer and polymers/aggregates. The different methods submitted to NRAs for approval of biological products could result in variations in product quality control; therefore, international harmonization of analytical procedures is the way forward for in-process test and the lot release of many final products.21) In this regard, it is expected that the present study will improve the quality control capability of human immunoglobulin products in Korea by adopting the newly standardized and validated molecular size distribution method.

Acknowledgment

This work was supported by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) (grant number 19201MFDS261). The authors gratefully acknowledge the participants of the study, Dohyun Kim, Eunji Lee (Green Cross), Jinwoo Im, Subin Oh (SK Plasma), and Ju Hyeon Lim (KBIO Health) for participating in the multiinstitutional study.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have declared no conflict of interest.

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