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Hyphenation of strong cation exchange chromatography to native mass spectrometry for high throughput online characterization of charge heterogeneity of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies

May 5, 2020

Characterization of charge heterogeneity in monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) is needed during developability assessment and downstream development of drug candidates. Charge heterogeneity can come from post-translational modifications like deamidation, isomerization, and sialylation. Elucidation of charge variants with mass spectrometry (MS) has historically been challenging. Due to the nonvolatility and high ionic strength of conventional buffer systems, labor-intensive offline fractionation followed by MS analysis is routinely used. Here, we describe an alternative strategy that directly couples strong cation exchange (SCX) chromatography to high-resolution Orbitrap MS for online native MS analysis (SCX-MS). A combined pH and salt gradient was used for universal separation of mAbs from a wide range of pI values (6.38 ~ 9.2), including infliximab (Remicade®, chimeric IgG1/kappa), NISTmab (humanized IgG1/kappa) and trastuzumab (Herceptin®, humanized IgG1/kappa), without tailoring of chromatographic profiles. Liquid chromatography and MS parameters were optimized to achieve high-quality spectra and enhanced detection of low abundant species under high flow rate conditions. Genedata Expressionist, a vendor agnostic software, was used for data processing. This integrated strategy allows unbiased characterization of numerous charge variant species and low molecular weight fragments (<0.05%) without post-column flow splitting. The application was further expanded with middle-up approaches for subdomain analysis, which demonstrated the versatility of the strategy for analysis of various construct types. With our analysis of mAbs during developability assessment and forced degradation studies, which aimed at assessing potential critical quality attributes in antibody drug molecules, we provide, for the first time, direct visualization of molecular alterations of mAbs at intact level. Furthermore, strong correlation was observed between this novel MS approach and analysis by capillary isoelectric focusing.