Wednesday, September 8, 2010

FDA to viral vaccine makers: it's time to update viral testing methods

By Dr. Ray Nims

If you have been following the recent (2010) unfolding of the discovery of porcine circovirus DNA contamination in rotavirus vaccines from GSK and Merck, you may not be surprised to hear that the FDA has asked viral vaccine manufacturers to outline, by October, their plans to update their testing methodologies to prevent future revelations of this type.
I had predicted earlier that biologics manufacturers would be asked to provide evidence, going forward, that their porcine raw materials (trypsin being the most common) are free of porcine circovirus. This testing has not been manditory in the past, but adding this to the porcine raw material virus screening battery moving forward is a prudent action in light of the recent rotavirus vaccine experience.

The FDA has appropriately gone a little farther in it's request to the viral vaccine manufacturers. The regulators would like to assure that the future will not bring additional discoveries of viral contaminants in licensed vaccines, and the best way to accomplish this at the moment appears to be to request implementation of updated viral screening methodologies. Does this mean that viral vaccine makers will need to employ deep sequencing on a lot-by-lot basis? Most likely not. It appears that reliance on the in vivo and in vitro virus screening methods which have been the gold standards since the 1980s will, however, no longer be sufficient. So what does this leave us with? What FDA appears to be asking for is a relatively sensitive universal viral screening method.

The in vivo and in vitro methods were, until now, the best option for this purpose. These methods detect infectious virus only and depend upon the ability of the virus to cause an endpoint response in the system (cytopathic effect, hemagglutination, hemadsorption, or pathology in the laboratory animal species used). So viral genomic material would not be detected, and the methods have had to be supplemented with specific nucleic acid-based tests for viruses which could not otherwise be detected (e.g., HIV, hepatitis B, human parvovirus B9, porcine circovirus).

Some options for sensitive and universal viral screening methods which might fit the requirements include DNA microarrays and universal sequencing methods performed on cell and viral stocks. The latter technology may be preferable, as microarrays are constructed to detect known viruses, while the desire is that the technology be universal in the sense that it detect both known and unknown viruses. Such a test will provide additional assurance that the virus and cell banks used to manufacture viral vaccines do not harbor a viral contaminant.

Other universal viral screening methods which are less labor intensive than the sequencing technologies may be developed in the near future and addition of one of these to the release testing battery for viral vaccine lots may need to be considered in satisfying the FDA's goals.

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