A Comparison Between Emerging and Current Biophysical Methods for the Assessment of Higher-Order Structure of Biopharmaceuticals

J Pharm Sci. 2020 Jan;109(1):247-253. doi: 10.1016/j.xphs.2019.10.026. Epub 2019 Oct 25.


The higher-order structure (HOS) of protein therapeutics is a critical quality attribute directly related to their function. Traditionally, the HOS of protein therapeutics has been characterized by methods with low to medium structural resolution such as Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR), circular dichroism (CD), and intrinsic fluorescence spectroscopy, and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). Recently, high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods have emerged as powerful tools for HOS characterization. NMR is a multi-attribute method with unique capabilities to provide information about all the structural levels of proteins in solution. We have in this study compared 1 D 1H Profile NMR with the established biophysical methods for HOS assessments using a set of blended samples of the monoclonal antibodies belonging to the subclasses IgG1 and IgG2. The study shows that Profile NMR can distinguish between most sample combinations (93%), DSC can differentiate 61% of the sample combinations, and near-ultraviolet CD spectroscopy can differentiate 52% of the sample combinations, whereas no significant distinction could be made between any samples using FTIR or intrinsic fluorescence. Our data therefore show that NMR has superior ability to address differences in HOS, a feature that could be directly applicable in comparability and similarity assessments.

Keywords: biopharmaceutical characterization; biophysical methods; biosimilarity; comparability; higher-order structure; monoclonal antibody; protein structure; secondary structure; tertiary structure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / chemistry*
  • Biopharmaceutics / instrumentation
  • Biopharmaceutics / methods*
  • Biophysics / instrumentation
  • Biophysics / methods*
  • Circular Dichroism / methods
  • Immunoglobulin G / chemistry*
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Biomolecular / methods*
  • Protein Stability
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared / methods


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Immunoglobulin G