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Feb 15, 2010 (Vol. 30, No. 4)

Trends in Monoclonal Antibody Production

With Capacity Issues Resolved, Firms Direct Attention to Quality, Timelines, and Cost

  • Click Image To Enlarge +
    Biogen Idec is participating in a quality by design pilot program with the FDA to develop a framework for applying that approach to biologics. (Mallinphoto.com)

    In the decade since severe capacity constraints limited monoclonal antibody (mAb) production, the industry has adjusted, so that today, overcapacity is the issue, along with developing techniques to ensure product quality, reduce development timelines, and decrease costs. Many of these issues will be explored next month at IBC’s conference on “Antibody Development and Production.”

    The FDA is also championing a quality by design (QbD) approach to drug production—even for biologics. Biogen Idec and a few other companies are participating in a QbD pilot program with the FDA to develop a framework for applying that approach to biologics, according to Vince Narbut, director of quality technical systems at Biogen Idec.

    The QbD approach strives to establish a more thorough knowledge of the linkage between process parameters and the desired quality attributes of the product being produced. “Through a combination of quality risk management and more comprehensive scientific studies, it is possible to achieve greater process control and product quality/consistency,” Narbut explains.

    “By filing this information with the FDA it should, in concept, be possible to realize increased manufacturing flexibility, manifested by the ability to make process changes within the design space without additional regulatory approvals.” In contrast, the traditional approach requires a less developed understanding of the processes, but also provides less space for design modifications.

    The trade-off, however, is that QbD  requires more studies focused on quality attributes like structure activity relationship and preclinical studies, formal risk assessments of each attribute, as well as more comprehensive evaluations of process parameters, raw materials, and their effect on the process/product. “This approach takes significantly longer when first starting, but once optimized, should take about the same time as the traditional development approach,” Narbut explains.

    Biogen Idec has used this product-development process for about two years. “It is implemented for one product developed in-house and is being incorporated into subsequent late-stage development processes. Our experience in the FDA pilot program will be used to determine if we will pursue QbD regulatory filings in the future.” Based on some initial FDA feedback, it is clear that significantly more process design detail and documentation will be required than is normally provided.

    For companies considering adopting QbD for mAbs or other biologicals, Narbut advises them to start small. “Don’t plan a comprehensive QbD product-development effort without the internal resources and time to accommodate it.” As yet, “there are no detailed guidance documents and not much precedent. It may become more systematic if it catches on.”

  • ADC Technology

    Click Image To Enlarge +
    Seattle Genetics reports that its antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology empowers monoclonal antibodies by attaching them to cell-killing payloads.

    In the meantime, researchers are developing other approaches to improve mAb production. For example, Seattle Genetics has developed antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) technology that is highly stable and straightforward to manufacture.

    Nathan Ihle, Ph.D., senior director of process chemistry, says that the approach uses standard methods to produce the antibody and well-established small molecule production methods to produce the synthetic drug and linker. “Our ADC technology is composed of a potent drug and a unique linker unit that is readily attached to an antibody,” and that linkage is what sets this ADC apart from others.

    Seattle Genetics uses an enzyme cleavable linker that is reportedly stable in circulation several times longer than other linkers that have been used to attach drugs to antibodies. “Our linker is stable for seven to ten days,” Dr. Ihle adds, allowing the drug to be delivered to the targeted tumor cells.

    In contrast, the hydrazone linker used by Wyeth, now part of Pfizer, in the commercial ADC product Mylotarg® and by Seattle Genetics’ first-generation ADC program, is stable for about two days, decoupling in the bloodstream to cause systemic toxicity.

    “Our goal was to decrease the size of the tumor while having minimal impact on normal tissues. The key to doing that was to develop a stable linker,” Dr. Ihle notes.

    Since developing this ADC technology, Seattle Genetics and its partners have applied it successfully to more than 200 antibodies. This technology has been licensed to several companies, most recently to GlaxoSmithKline and Astellas Pharma.

    “We have developed a robust and reproducible system for producing ADCs using natural cysteines as the site of attachment. Additionally, our drug-linker system is synthetic and readily manufactured in large quantities. Our conjugation technology takes advantage of natural components of the antibody and so ensures a site-specific point of attachment.”

    The company’s lead ADC is brentuximab vedotin (SGN-35), an investigational therapy to combat CD30+ lymphoma, which is in a Phase II trial. “Our goal is to report data from the pivotal trial in the second half of 2010 and submit to the FDA for approval in the first half of 2011,” Dr. Ihle says. Brentuximab vedotin recently was licensed by Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company for commercialization outside the U.S. and Canada.


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