Polymer-Shell Bonded Phase for Improving Online LC-MS Analysis of Intact Proteins, mAbs, and ADCs
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LC-MS of protein drugs requires new ideas in bonded phase design rather than adapting bonded phases from the realm of small-molecule drugs. The polymer-shell bonded phase is designed to interact with larger molecules and to shield proteins from the silica substrate. The particles consist of a core of solid silica and a shell of dense polymer brush. The polymer layer is thick enough to protect the protein from interactions with silanols to reduce peak tailing. The polymer contains multiple functional groups that introduce more selectivity. This design gives unprecedented LC resolution and MS sensitivity. Our group has developed polymer shell bonded phases for hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC-MS) of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), hydrophilic interaction liquid chromatography (HILIC-MS) of glycoproteins, and reversed-phase liquid chromatography (RPLC-MS) of monoclonal antibodies. Since HIC is not in-line compatible with MS due to the high salt levels, it is laborious to identify the constituents of HIC peaks. An MS-compatible alternative to HIC is reported here: native reversed phase liquid chromatography (nRPLC). This employs a mobile phase 50 mM ammonium acetate for high sensitivity in MS, and elution with a gradient of water/isopropanol. The nRPLC-MS data show that all ADC species, ranging from drug-to-antibody ratios of 1 to 8, remained intact and native on the column. As we adapt this concept to intact proteins, we find that lysozyme and α-chymotrypsinogen A are both eluted in their native conformations. We also use the polymer-shell concept to resolve IgG1 free thiol variants by RPLC-MS with 0.5% formic acid. Since there are always other variants besides the intended ones, the need for high MS sensitivity is desired to distinguish subtle mass change between disulfide bond and free thiols. Overall, MS sensitivity increases 10X relative while all of the thiol variants are well resolved by the polymethylmethacrylate bonded phase.