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Drift, Evolution, and Divergence in Biologics and Biosimilars Manufacturing


Biological medicines (biologics) are produced in living cells and purified in complex, multi-step processes. Compared with chemically synthesized small-molecule drugs, biologics are more sensitive to changes in manufacturing conditions. Process and product consistency should be founded on rigorous design and control of manufacturing processes, but consistency is ultimately ensured through robust quality systems. Even a minor change in any component of a quality system could lead to product drift, evolution, and divergence, which may impact the quality, safety, efficacy, and/or interchangeability of biologics. Unintended or unexplained deviations in manufacturing processes can lead to excursions in product attributes (i.e., drift). Well-managed quality systems can help detect and mitigate drift. Occasionally, quality attributes could shift outside of established acceptable ranges as the result of a known manufacturing change (defined here as evolution). Such changes should be studied extensively for effects on product safety and efficacy. With the advent of biosimilars, similar biologics will be produced by multiple manufacturers with different quality systems. Different patterns of product drift and evolution could contribute, over time, to clinically meaningful differences among biologics, including among originator products across regions and among originator products and biosimilar products, a process defined here as divergence. Manufacturers and policymakers can minimize the potential impact of divergence by establishing robust pharmacovigilance systems; requiring distinguishable names for all biologics, including both originator products and biosimilars; adhering to high standards for designations of interchangeability; and ensuring that patient medical records accurately reflect the specific biologic dispensed, especially if the biologic could be sourced from multiple manufacturers.

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This study was funded by Amgen Inc. Kerri Hebard-Massey and Micah Robinson (Amgen Inc.) provided medical writing support. Sundar Ramanan and Gustavo Grampp are employees of and stockholders in Amgen Inc.

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Correspondence to Sundar Ramanan.

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Ramanan, S., Grampp, G. Drift, Evolution, and Divergence in Biologics and Biosimilars Manufacturing. BioDrugs 28, 363–372 (2014).

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  • Quality Attribute
  • Quality System
  • Reference Product
  • Darbepoetin Alfa
  • Originator Product