What NMR can do in the biopharmaceutical industry
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy has a unique capability to probe the primary and higher order molecular structure and the structural dynamics of biomolecules at an atomic resolution, and this capability has been greatly fortified over the last five decades by an astonishing NMR instrumental and methodological development. Because of these factors, NMR has become a primary tool for the structure investigation of biomolecules, spawning a whole scientific subfield dedicated to the subject. This role of NMR is by now well established and broadly appreciated, especially in the context of academic research dealing with proteins that are purified and isotope-labeled in order to facilitate the necessary sophisticated multidimensional NMR measurements. However, the more recent industrial development, manufacturing, and quality control of biopharmaceuticals provide a different framework for NMR. For example, protein drug substances are not isotope-labeled and are present in a medium of excipients, which make structural NMR measurements much more difficult. On the other hand, biotechnology involves many other analytical requirements that can be efficiently addressed by NMR. In this respect the scope and limitations of NMR are less well understood. Having the non-expert reader in mind, herein we wish to highlight the ways in which modern NMR can effectively support biotechnological developments. Our focus will be on biosimilar proteins, pointing out certain cases where its use is probably essential. Based partly on literature data, and partly on our own hands-on experience, this paper is intended to be a guide for choosing the proper NMR approach for analytical questions concerning the structural comparability of therapeutic proteins, monitoring technology-related impurities, protein quantification, analysis of spent media, identification of extractable and leachable components, etc. Also, we focus on critical considerations, particularly those coming from drug authority guidelines, which limit the use of the well-established NMR tools in everyday practice.