Surfactant Impact on Interfacial Protein Aggregation and Utilization of Surface Tension to Predict Surfactant Requirements for Biological Formulations

Mol Pharm. 2021 Jan 4;18(1):148-157. doi: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.0c00743. Epub 2020 Nov 30.


Biological drug products are formulated with excipients to maintain stability over the shelf life of the product. Surfactants are added to the drug product to stabilize air-water interfaces known to induce protein aggregation. Early formulation development is focused on maintaining protein conformation and colloidal stability over the course of the drug product shelf life but rarely considers stability through dose preparation and administration. Specifically, intravenous (IV) bag preparation exposes the therapeutic protein to a different solution environment concurrently diluting the stabilizing excipients that had been added to the drug product formulation. Mixing in IV bags can generate dynamic changes in the air-water interfacial area known to cause protein aggregation if not sufficiently protected. Therefore, understanding the surfactant requirements for drug product end-to-end stability in early formulation development provides critical information for a right-first-time approach to drug product formulation and robust clinical preparation. The goal of these studies was to understand if interfacial properties of proteins could predict surfactant formulation requirements for end-to-end stability. Specifically, the interfacial properties of five proteins were measured in 0.9% saline and 5% dextrose. Furthermore, shaking studies were conducted to identify the minimum surfactant concentration required to prevent subvisible and visible particle formulation in each diluent. The impact of surfactant type and concentration on particle generation and size was explored. A mathematical model was generated to predict the minimum surfactant concentration required to prevent interface-driven aggregation in each diluent based on the change in surface pressure upon exposure of the protein to the interface. The model was tested under typical IV-preparation conditions with experimental output closely matching the model prediction. By employing this model and better understanding the role of surfactants in interfacial stability, drug product development can generate robust end-to-end large molecule formulations across shelf life, dose preparation, and administration.

Keywords: antibody; polysorbate; subvisible aggregation; surface tension; surfactant.

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption / drug effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / chemistry
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical / methods
  • Drug Stability
  • Excipients / chemistry
  • Polysorbates / chemistry
  • Protein Aggregates / drug effects*
  • Protein Conformation / drug effects
  • Surface Tension / drug effects*
  • Surface-Active Agents / chemistry*
  • Water / chemistry


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Excipients
  • Polysorbates
  • Protein Aggregates
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Water