Addressing the Challenges in Downstream Processing Today and Tomorrow - Newer classes of biotherapies will require innovations in processing technology. - BioPharm International


Addressing the Challenges in Downstream Processing Today and Tomorrow
Newer classes of biotherapies will require innovations in processing technology.

BioPharm International Supplements
Volume 24, Issue 4, pp. s8-s15


The FDA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) have indicated that the clinical testing requirements for a biosimilar drug can be reduced if it can be demonstrated that the biosimilar candidate does not meaningfully differ from the innovator drug (45, 46). Currently developed biosimilars, such as human growth hormone, insulin, and erythropoietin, are chemically far simpler than mAbs. It is unlikely that blood or plasma-derived products or complex vaccines will be acceptable as biosimilars in the US or Europe due to their complexity (47). However, eight categories of biosimilar molecules have been manufactured in India, including monoclonal antibodies and recombinant hepatitis B vaccine (48). The first monoclonal antibodies that will lose patent protection in Europe and the US were made using more stringent impurity level targets than exist now because the technology is more mature and the safety and efficacy is well established. For example, early mAbs had levels of high molecular weight species below 0.5% (49). It is possible that mAbs in the future will target levels below 5% (50).

A new purification challenge will be to produce antibodies with product quality attributes that match the innovator antibodies. This may be carried out with a host cell and/or purification process that differs from the innovators. A biosimilar antibody can have different levels of impurity or product variant species than the innovator, if it can be justified. The biosimilar manufacturer will determine the amount of clinical and characterization data that will be used to justify differences to the agencies. Therefore each biosimilar manufacturer must balance the development costs required to match innovator antibody characteristics against the costs of justifying differences. During development of biosimilar recombinant human growth hormone, higher levels of host cell proteins lead to increased levels of antibodies to both host cell proteins and growth hormone. This necessitated modifications to the purification process, which eventually allowed demonstration of comparability to the innovator and approval by the EMA (51). The success of a biosimilar development program will benefit from robust, selective, and efficient purification processes that require minimal development time and material.


The past decade has witnessed an increasing emphasis—by both industry and regulatory agencies—on implementing Quality by Design (QbD) principles. In 2008, the FDA's Office of Biotechnology Products invited companies to participate in a pilot program involving the submission of quality information for biotechnology products in an Expanded Change Protocol (52,53). The purpose of the pilot program is "to gain more information on and facilitate agency review of QbD, risk-based approaches for manufacturing biotechnology products". These approaches link "attributes and processes to product performance, safety and efficacy". The concept of a design space has been introduced, which is defined as the multidimensional combination and interaction of input variables and process parameters that have been shown to provide assurance of quality (54). The underlying principles of QbD and risk management are contained in ICH Q8 (R2), Q9, and Q10 (50, 54–56).

A comprehensive case study of the application of QbD principles to the development of a mAb product (A-mAb) has recently been published that describes extensive use of scale-down models to gain process and product knowledge (50). However, significant data from scale-down models could be used to define the design space. In addition, data from triplicate studies performed at pilot or commercial scale using center-point conditions could ensure that product quality and process performance were not impacted by the process change.

Significant questions and challenges remain in implementing QbD. While there is agreement on the value of process and product understanding, there is often debate within most biopharmaceutical companies on the extent of QbD investment and underlying cost implications. Several technical hurdles need to be overcome to define methodologies to describe a design space and control strategy. Quality systems need to be developed that will enable the movement within a design space. Furthermore, as different regulatory agencies embrace QbD along different timelines, how will that affect a global submission? Finally how will QbD apply to more challenging large molecules such as vaccines? People involved in process development will be involved in the effort required to resolve many of these questions.


Biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing have evolved significantly in the past 25 years. Clinical and commercial pipelines have evolved from replacement proteins and other therapeutic proteins/hormones to mAbs. Technological advances in bioprocessing have led to tremendous increases in product and cell mass that in turn have posed several challenges to downstream process development of mAbs. Novel approaches to downstream processing, such as development of highly efficient platforms, HTS tools, and reduction in the number of unit operations have helped to address these challenges. In the future, mAbs may represent a smaller percentage of the pipelines and the challenges to downstream processing will likely have a different focus. Most product portfolios will likely include other complex biomolecules, such as conjugated proteins and vaccines, a variety of biosimilar protein therapeutics, and novel scaffolds such as fusion proteins, nanobodies, etc. Future expression systems may include microbial, yeast, and others in addition to high cell density mammalian systems. The diversity of scaffolds and expression systems will pose unique challenges for downstream development. Novel tools, approaches and/or platforms may need to be applied to enable rapid development. Furthermore, there is a need to develop paradigms to apply QbD not only to mAbs but also to other large molecules.

BERNARD N. VIOLAND is a research fellow, GLEN R. BOLTON is senior principal scientist, RICHARD S. WRIGHT is senior principal scientist, SHUJUN SUN is senior principal scientist, KHURRAM M. SUNASARA is senior principal scientist, KATHLEEN WATSON is associate director, JONATHAN L. COFFMAN is associate research fellow, CHRISTOPHER GALLO is associate research fellow, and RANGA GODAVARTI* is senior director, all from Pfizer.

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