Determining suitable surfactant concentration ranges to avoid protein unfolding in pharmaceutical formulations using UV analysis

Laura J. Waters, Joseph Whiteley, William Small, Steve Mellor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protein stability is fundamental to maintain pharmaceutical efficacy in the nascent field of biologics. One particular property that is essential for therapeutic effect is retention of the folded 3-dimensional conformation, i.e. once unfolding has occurred the biologic is often rendered inactive. In this work we propose a modified form of a recently published UV spectroscopic method that identifies protein unfolding. In this study we determine concentration limits to avoid protein unfolding of two model surfactants, namely polysorbate 20 and polysorbate 80, by correlating surfactant concentration with percentage ‘unfolded’ for three model proteins. For each scenario two distinct regions were observed, firstly surfactant concentrations at which no unfolding had occurred, followed by a second region whereby unfolding steadily increased with surfactant concentration. In general for the combinations analysed in this study, this second region began to appear around ten times below the critical micellar concentration of each surfactant, regardless of the protein or polysorbate chosen. It is therefore proposed that this adapted method could be used by researchers in the early stages of formulation development as a convenient and simple screening tool to confirm the ‘onset of unfolding’ concentration for protein-surfactant formulations, thus helping to optimise surfactant concentration selection in pharmaceutical formulations to maintain the benefits of surfactants yet avoid inadvertent unfolding.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21712
Number of pages9
Issue number11
Early online date29 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023

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