Adverse immunostimulation caused by impurities: the dark side of biopharmaceuticals.

Reijers JAA, Malone KE, Bajramovic JJ, Verbeek R, Burggraaf J, Moerland M

Drug safety is an important issue, especially in the experimental phases of development. Adverse immunostimulation (AI) is sometimes encountered following treatment with biopharmaceuticals, which can be life-threatening if it results in a severe systemic inflammatory reaction. Biopharmaceuticals that unexpectedly induce an inflammatory response still enter the clinic, even while meeting all regulatory requirements. Impurities (of microbial origin) in biopharmaceuticals are an often-overlooked cause of AI. This demonstrates that the current guidelines for quality control and safety pharmacology testing are not flawless. Based on two case examples, several shortcomings of the guidelines are discussed. The most important of these are lack of sensitivity for impurities, lack of testing for other pyrogens than endotoxin, and the use of insensitive animal species and biomarkers in preclinical investigations. Moreover, testing for immunotoxicity of biopharmaceuticals is explicitly not recommended by the international guidelines. Publication of cases of AI is pivotal, both to increase awareness and to facilitate scientific discussions on how to prevent AI in the future.