The future of host cell protein (HCP) identification during process development and manufacturing linked to a risk-based management for their control

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2015 Sep;112(9):1727-37. doi: 10.1002/bit.25628. Epub 2015 Jul 14.


The use of biological systems to synthesize complex therapeutic products has been a remarkable success. However, during product development, great attention must be devoted to defining acceptable levels of impurities that derive from that biological system, heading this list are host cell proteins (HCPs). Recent advances in proteomic analytics have shown how diverse this class of impurities is; as such knowledge and capability grows inevitable questions have arisen about how thorough current approaches to measuring HCPs are. The fundamental issue is how to adequately measure (and in turn monitor and control) such a large number of protein species (potentially thousands of components) to ensure safe and efficacious products. A rather elegant solution is to use an immunoassay (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA]) based on polyclonal antibodies raised to the host cell (biological system) used to synthesize a particular therapeutic product. However, the measurement is entirely dependent on the antibody serum used, which dictates the sensitivity of the assay and the degree of coverage of the HCP spectrum. It provides one summed analog value for HCP amount; a positive if all HCP components can be considered equal, a negative in the more likely event one associates greater risk with certain components of the HCP proteome. In a thorough risk-based approach, one would wish to be able to account for this. These issues have led to the investigation of orthogonal analytical methods; most prominently mass spectrometry. These techniques can potentially both identify and quantify HCPs. The ability to measure and monitor thousands of proteins proportionally increases the amount of data acquired. Significant benefits exist if the information can be used to determine critical HCPs and thereby create an improved basis for risk management. We describe a nascent approach to risk assessment of HCPs based upon such data, drawing attention to timeliness in relation to biosimilar initiatives. The development of such an approach requires databases based on cumulative knowledge of multiple risk factors that would require national and international regulators, standards authorities (e.g., NIST and NIBSC), industry and academia to all be involved in shaping what is the best approach to the adoption of the latest bioanalytical technology to this area, which is vital to delivering safe efficacious biological medicines of all types.

Keywords: biopharmaceuticals; bioprocessing; host cell proteins; process-related impurities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies
  • Biotechnology / methods*
  • CHO Cells
  • Cricetinae
  • Cricetulus
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Proteins* / analysis
  • Proteins* / chemistry
  • Proteins* / classification
  • Recombinant Proteins / analysis
  • Recombinant Proteins / chemistry
  • Recombinant Proteins / isolation & purification*
  • Recombinant Proteins / standards*
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / methods*


  • Antibodies
  • Proteins
  • Recombinant Proteins