The covalent attachment of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) to therapeutic proteins is a commonly used approach for extending in vivo half-lives. A potential limitation of this PEGylation strategy is the adverse effect of PEG on conjugate viscosity. Interferon-alpha (IFN) was conjugated via its N-terminal amino group by reductive amination to α-aldehyde functional comb-shaped PolyPEG polymers (50 and 70 kDa) and to linear PEG (30 kDa). In vitro potencies of the purified PEGylated IFN conjugates were measured by reporter gene assay using a HEK293P/ISRE-SEAP cell line. IFN levels were measured in rats following intravenous injection. Viscosities of various linear PEG and PolyPEG polymers along with the polymer-IFN conjugates were determined using a rotational rheometer with cone-and-plate geometry. In vitro potencies and half-lives of the PEGylated IFN conjugates were compared with those of the marketed branched PEG-IFN conjugate PEGASYS. Both PolyPEG-IFN conjugates retained a similar potency as that of the marketed comparator, whereas the linear PEG-IFN conjugate potency was greater. All conjugates showed extended half-lives compared to that of naked IFN, with the PolyPEG conjugates exhibiting the longest half-lives and the linear PEG conjugate, the shortest. Viscosity analysis showed that the linear PEG-IFN conjugate was over twice as viscous as both PolyPEG conjugates. Taken together, this work demonstrates the potential of PolyPEG conjugation to therapeutic proteins as a novel tool for optimizing pharmacokinetic profiles in a way that potentially allows administration of high-dose formulations because of lower conjugate viscosity.
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