Comprehensive glycan analysis of twelve recombinant human erythropoietin preparations from manufacturers in China and Japan

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Abstract

Recombinant, human, erythropoietin (rhEPO) is a glycoprotein hormone which is prescribed throughout the world to treat anaemia caused by chronic kidney disease or chemotherapy. rhEPO is at the forefront of the recent emergence of biosimilar medicines, with numerous products now available worldwide. Due to its complex glycosylation profile, which has a crucial influence upon biological activity, therapeutic rhEPO preparations must be closely monitored to ensure consistency, safety and efficacy. Here, we have compared twelve rhEPO preparations from eleven manufacturers in China and one in Japan, measuring in vivo biological activity and exploring its relationship with glycosylation through sialic acid content determination, isoform distribution via capillary electrophoresis (CE), O-glycan profiling, and N-glycan mapping using a novel anion-exchange/hydrophilic interaction chromatography-mass spectrometry (AEX/HILIC-MS) approach. We observed differences between glycosylation profiles, including the varying occurrence of sialic acid O-acetylation, extension of N-glycan antennae with N-acetyllactosamine units, and the distribution of sialic acids across multi-antennary structures. The presence of unusually high levels of suspected penta- and hexa-anionic N-glycans in several samples is consistent with elevated rhEPO isoform acidity, which is reflected by slightly elevated in vivo bioactivities. This aside, the observed differences in glycosylation profile do not appear to have a significant influence upon biological activity in mice. Nonetheless, with the continued emergence of biosimilars, the study highlights the importance of monitoring glycosylation profiles in biological medicines, in order to detect and account for divergence between products, as well as the presence of unusual or unexpected glycans.

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