The impact of PEGylation on biological therapies

BioDrugs. 2008;22(5):315-29. doi: 10.2165/00063030-200822050-00004.


The term PEGylation describes the modification of biological molecules by covalent conjugation with polyethylene glycol (PEG), a non-toxic, non-immunogenic polymer, and is used as a strategy to overcome disadvantages associated with some biopharmaceuticals. PEGylation changes the physical and chemical properties of the biomedical molecule, such as its conformation, electrostatic binding, and hydrophobicity, and results in an improvement in the pharmacokinetic behavior of the drug. In general, PEGylation improves drug solubility and decreases immunogenicity. PEGylation also increases drug stability and the retention time of the conjugates in blood, and reduces proteolysis and renal excretion, thereby allowing a reduced dosing frequency. In order to benefit from these favorable pharmacokinetic consequences, a variety of therapeutic proteins, peptides, and antibody fragments, as well as small molecule drugs, have been PEGylated. This paper reviews the chemical procedures and the conditions that have been used thus far to achieve PEGylation of biomedical molecules. It also discusses the importance of structure and size of PEGs, as well as the behavior of linear and branched PEGs. A number of properties of the PEG polymer--e.g. mass, number of linking chains, the molecular site of PEG attachment--have been shown to affect the biological activity and bioavailability of the PEGylated product. Releasable PEGs have been designed to slowly release the native protein from the conjugates into the blood, aiming at avoiding any loss of efficacy that may occur with stable covalent PEGylation. Since the first PEGylated drug was developed in the 1970s, PEGylation of therapeutic proteins has significantly improved the treatment of several chronic diseases, including hepatitis C, leukemia, severe combined immunodeficiency disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn disease. The most important PEGylated drugs, including pegademase bovine, pegaspargase, pegfilgrastim, interferons, pegvisomant, pegaptanib, certolizumab pegol, and some of the PEGylated products presently in an advanced stage of development, such as PEG-uricase and PEGylated hemoglobin, are reviewed. The adaptations and applications of PEGylation will undoubtedly prove useful for the treatment of many previously difficult-to-treat conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytokines / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Peptides / therapeutic use
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / therapeutic use
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Proteins / therapeutic use


  • Cytokines
  • Peptides
  • Proteins
  • Polyethylene Glycols