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European Medicines Agency

July 1996


ICH Topic Q 5 C
Quality of Biotechnological Products:

Stability Testing of Biotechnological/Biological Products

Step 5







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EMEA 2006 Reproduction and/or distribution of this document is authorised for non commercial purposes only provided the EMEA is acknowledged



Annex to the ICH Harmonised Tripartite Guideline for the Stability Testing of New Drug

Substances and Products


The guidance stated in the ICH Harmonised Tripartite Guideline ‘Stability Testing of New
Drug Substances and Products’ (27 October 1993) applies in general to
biotechnological/biological products. However, biotechnological/biological products do have
distinguishing characteristics to which consideration should be given in any well-defined
testing program designed to confirm their stability during the intended storage period. For
such products, in which the active components are typically proteins and/or polypeptides,
maintenance of molecular conformation and, hence of biological activity, is dependent on
noncovalent as well as covalent forces. The products are particularly sensitive to
environmental factors such as temperature changes, oxidation, light, ionic content, and shear.
In order to ensure maintenance of biological activity and to avoid degradation, stringent
conditions for their storage are usually necessary.

The evaluation of stability may necessitate complex analytical methodologies. Assays for
biological activity, where applicable, should be part of the pivotal stability studies.
Appropriate physicochemical, biochemical and immunochemical methods for the analysis of
the molecular entity and the quantitative detection of degradation products should also be part
of the stability program whenever purity and molecular characteristics of the product permit
use of these methodologies.

With the above concerns in mind, the applicant should develop the proper supporting stability
data for a biotechnological/biological product and consider many external conditions which
can affect the product’s potency, purity and quality. Primary data to support a requested
storage period for either drug substance or drug product should always be based on long-term,
real-time, real-condition stability studies. Thus, the development of a proper long-term
stability program becomes critical to the successful development of a commercial product.
The purpose of this document is to give guidance to applicants regarding the type of stability
studies that should be provided in support of marketing applications. It is understood that
during the review and evaluation process, continuing updates of initial stability data may

The guidance stated in this annex applies to well-characterised proteins and polypeptides,
their derivatives and products of which they are components, and which are isolated from
tissues, body fluids, cell cultures, or produced using rDNA technology. Thus, the document
covers the generation and submission of stability data for products such as cytokines
(interferons, interleukins, colony-stimulating factors, tumour necrosis factors),
erythropoietins, plasminogen activators, blood plasma factors, growth hormones and growth
factors, insulins, monoclonal antibodies, and vaccines consisting of well-characterised
proteins or polypeptides. In addition, the guidance outlined in the following sections may
apply to other types of products, such as conventional vaccines, after consultation with the
appropriate regulatory authorities. The document does not cover antibiotics, allergenic
extracts, heparins, vitamins or whole blood.

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For the basic terms used in this annex the reader is referred to the “Glossary” in the ICH
Harmonised Tripartite Guideline ‘Stability Testing of New Drug Substances and Products’
(27 October 1993). However, since manufacturers of biotechnological/biological products
sometimes use traditional terminology, traditional terms are specified in parentheses to assist
the reader. A supplemental glossary is also included that explains certain terms used in the
production of biotechnological/biological products.


4.1 Drug Substance (Bulk Material)
Where bulk material is to be stored after manufacture but prior to formulation and final
manufacturing, stability data should be provided on at least three batches for which
manufacture and storage are representative of the manufacturing scale of production. A
minimum of six months stability data at the time of submission should be submitted in cases
where storage periods greater than six months are requested. For drug substances with storage
periods of less than six months, the minimum amount of stability data in the initial submission
should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Data from pilot-plant-scale batches of drug
substance produced at a reduced scale of fermentation and purification may be provided at the
time the dossier is submitted to the regulatory agencies with a commitment to place the first
three manufacturing scale batches into the long-term stability program after approval.

The quality of the batches of drug substance placed into the stability program should be
representative of the quality of the material used in pre-clinical and clinical studies and of the
quality of the material to be made at manufacturing scale. In addition, the drug substance
(bulk material) made at pilot-plant scale should be produced by a process and stored under
conditions representative of that used for the manufacturing scale. The drug substance entered
into the stability program should be stored in containers which properly represent the actual
holding containers used during manufacture. Containers of reduced size may be acceptable for
drug substance stability testing provided that they are constructed of the same material and
use the same type of container/closure system that is intended to be used during manufacture.

4.2 Intermediates
During manufacture of biotechnological/biological products, the quality and control of certain
intermediates may be critical to the production of the final product. In general, the
manufacturer should identify intermediates and generate in-house data and process limits that
assure their stability within the bounds of the developed process. While the use of pilot-plant-
scale data is permissible, the manufacturer should establish the suitability of such data using
the manufacturing-scale process.

4.3 Drug Product (Final Container Product)
Stability information should be provided on at least three batches of final container product
representative of that which will be used at manufacturing scale. Where possible, batches of
final container product included in stability testing should be derived from different batches of
bulk material. A minimum of six months data at the time of submission should be submitted
in cases where storage periods greater than six months are requested. For drug products with
storage periods of less than six months, the minimum amount of stability data in the initial
submission should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Product expiration dating will be
based upon the actual data submitted in support of the application. Since dating is based upon
the real-time/real-temperature data submitted for review, continuing updates of initial stability
data should occur during the review and evaluation process. The quality of the final container
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product placed on stability studies should be representative of the quality of the material used
in the preclinical and clinical studies. Data from pilot-plant scale batches of drug product may
be provided at the time the dossier is submitted to the regulatory agencies with a commitment
to place the first three manufacturing scale batches into the long-term stability program after
approval. Where pilot-plant scale batches were submitted to establish the dating for a product
and, in the event that product produced at manufacturing scale does not meet those long-term
stability specifications throughout the dating period or is not representative of the material
used in pre-clinical and clinical studies, the applicant should notify the appropriate regulatory
authorities to determine a suitable course of action.

4.4 Sample selection criteria
Where one product is distributed in batches differing in fill volume (e.g., 1 milliliter (ml), 2
ml, or 10 ml), unitage (e.g., 10 units, 20 units, or 50 units), or mass (e.g., 1 milligram (mg), 2
mg, or 5 mg) samples to be entered into the stability program may be selected on the basis of
a matrix system and/or by bracketing.

Matrixing, i.e., the statistical design of a stability study in which different fractions of samples
are tested at different sampling points, should only be applied when appropriate
documentation is provided that confirms that the stability of the samples tested represents the
stability of all samples. The differences in the samples for the same drug product should be
identified as, for example, covering different batches, different strengths, different sizes of the
same closure and possibly, in some cases, different container/closure systems. Matrixing
should not be applied to samples with differences that may affect stability, such as different
strengths and different containers/closures, where it cannot be confirmed that the products
respond similarly under storage conditions.

Where the same strength and exact container/closure system is used for three or more fill
contents, the manufacturer may elect to place only the smallest and largest container size into
the stability program, i.e., bracketing. The design of a protocol that incorporates bracketing
assumes that the stability of the intermediate condition samples are represented by those at the
extremes. In certain cases, data may be needed to demonstrate that all samples are properly
represented by data collected for the extremes.

On the whole, there is no single stability-indicating assay or parameter that profiles the
stability characteristics of a biotechnological/biological product. Consequently, the
manufacturer should propose a stability-indicating profile that provides assurance that
changes in the identity, purity and potency of the product will be detected.

At the time of submission, applicants should have validated the methods that comprise the
stability-indicating profile and the data should be available for review. The determination of
which tests should be included will be product-specific. The items emphasised in the
following subsections are not intended to be all-inclusive, but represent product
characteristics that should typically be documented to adequately demonstrate product

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5.1 Protocol
The dossier accompanying the application for marketing authorisation should include a
detailed protocol for the assessment of the stability of both drug substance and drug product
in support of the proposed storage conditions and expiration dating periods. The protocol
should include all necessary information which demonstrates the stability of the
biotechnological/biological product throughout the proposed expiration dating period
including, for example, well-defined specifications and test intervals. The statistical methods
that should be used are described in the Tripartite Guideline on stability.

5.2 Potency
When the intended use of a product is linked to a definable and measurable biological
activity, testing for potency should be part of the stability studies. For the purpose of stability
testing of the products described in this guideline, potency is the specific ability or capacity of
a product to achieve its intended effect. It is based on the measurement of some attribute of
the product and is determined by a suitable quantitative method. In general, potencies of
biotechnological/biological products tested by different laboratories can be compared in a
meaningful way only if expressed in relation to that of an appropriate reference material. For
that purpose, a reference material calibrated directly or indirectly against the corresponding
national or international reference material should be included in the assay.

Potency studies should be performed at appropriate intervals as defined in the stability
protocol and the results should be reported in units of biological activity calibrated, whenever
possible, against nationally or internationally recognised standard. Where no national or
international standards exists, the assay results may be reported in in-house derived units
using a characterised reference material.

In some biotechnological/biological products, potency is dependent upon the conjugation of
the active ingredient(s) to a second moiety or binding to an adjuvant. Dissociation of the
active ingredient(s) from the carrier used in conjugates or adjuvants should be examined in
real-time/real-temperature studies (including conditions encountered during shipment). The
assessment of the stability of such products may be difficult since, in some cases, in vitro tests
for biological activity and physicochemical characterisation are impractical or provide
inaccurate results. Appropriate strategies (e.g., testing the product prior to
conjugation/binding, assessing the release of the active compound from the second moiety, in
vivo assays) or the use of an appropriate surrogate test should be considered to overcome the
inadequacies of in vitro testing.

5.3 Purity and Molecular Characterisation
For the purpose of stability testing of the products described in this guideline, purity is a
relative term. Due to the effect of glycosylation, deamidation, or other heterogeneities, the
absolute purity of a biotechnological/biological product is extremely difficult to determine.
Thus, the purity of a biotechnological/biological product should be typically assessed by more
than one method and the purity value derived is method-dependent. For the purpose of
stability testing, tests for purity should focus on methods for determination of degradation

The degree of purity, as well as individual and total amounts of degradation products of the
biotechnological/biological product entered into the stability studies, should be reported and
documented whenever possible. Limits of acceptable degradation should be derived from the
analytical profiles of batches of the drug substance and drug product used in the pre-clinical
and clinical studies.

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The use of relevant physicochemical, biochemical and immunochemical analytical
methodologies should permit a comprehensive characterisation of the drug substance and/or
drug product (e.g., molecular size, charge, hydrophobicity) and the accurate detection of
degradation changes that may result from deamidation, oxidation, sulfoxidation, aggregation
or fragmentation during storage. As examples, methods that may contribute to this include
electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE, immunoelectrophoresis, Western blot, isoelectrofocusing), high-
resolution chromatography (e.g., reversed-phase chromatography, gel filtration, ion exchange,
affinity chromatography), and peptide mapping.

Wherever significant qualitative or quantitative changes indicative of degradation product
formation are detected during long-term, accelerated and/or stress stability studies,
consideration should be given to potential hazards and to the need for characterisation and
quantification of degradation products within the long-term stability program. Acceptable
limits should be proposed and justified, taking into account the levels observed in material
used in pre-clinical and clinical studies.

For substances that can not be properly characterised or products for which an exact analysis
of the purity cannot be meaningfully determined through routine analytical methods, the
applicant should propose and justify alternative testing procedures.

5.4 Other Product Characteristics
The following product characteristics, though not specifically relating to
biotechnological/biological products, should be monitored and reported for the drug product
in its final container:

• Visual appearance of the product (colour and opacity for solutions/suspensions; colour,
texture and dissolution time for powders), visible particulates in solutions or after the
reconstitution of powders or lyophilised cakes, pH, and moisture level of powders and
lyophilised products.

• Sterility testing or alternatives (e.g., container/closure integrity testing) should be
performed at a minimum initially and at the end of the proposed shelf-life.

• Additives (e.g., stabilisers, preservatives) or excipients may degrade during the dating
period of the drug product. If there is any indication during preliminary stability studies
that reaction or degradation of such materials adversely affect the quality of the drug
product, these items may need to be monitored during the stability program.

• The container/closure has the potential to adversely affect the product and should be
carefully evaluated (see below).


6.1 Temperature
Since most finished biotechnological/biological products need precisely defined storage
temperatures, the storage conditions for the real-time/real-temperature stability studies may be
confined to the proposed storage temperature.

6.2 Humidity
Biotechnological/biological products are generally distributed in containers protecting them
against humidity. Therefore, where it can be demonstrated that the proposed containers (and

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conditions of storage) afford sufficient protection against high and low humidity, stability
tests at different relative humidities can usually be omitted. Where humidity-protecting
containers are not used, appropriate stability data should be provided.

6.3 Accelerated and stress conditions
As previously noted, the expiration dating should be based on real-time/real-temperature data.
However, it is strongly suggested that studies be conducted on the drug substance and drug
product under accelerated and stress conditions. Studies under accelerated conditions may
provide useful support data for establishing the expiration date, provide product stability
information for future product development (e.g., preliminary assessment of proposed
manufacturing changes such as change in formulation, scale-up), assist in validation of
analytical methods for the stability program, or generate information which may help
elucidate the degradation profile of the drug substance or drug product. Studies under stress
conditions may be useful in determining whether accidental exposures to conditions other
than those proposed (e.g., during transportation) are deleterious to the product and also for
evaluating which specific test parameters may be the best indicators of product stability.
Studies of the exposure of the drug substance or drug product to extreme conditions may help
to reveal patterns of degradation; if so, such changes should be monitored under proposed
storage conditions. While the Tripartite Guideline on stability describes the conditions of the
accelerated and stress study, the applicant should note that those conditions may not be
appropriate for biotechnological/biological products. Conditions should be carefully selected
on a case-by-case basis.

6.4 Light
Applicants should consult the appropriate regulatory authorities on a case-by-case basis to
determine guidance for testing.

6.5 Container/Closure
Changes in the quality of the product may occur due to the interactions between the
formulated biotechnological/biological product and container/closure. Where the lack of
interactions cannot be excluded in liquid products (other than sealed ampoules), stability
studies should include samples maintained in the inverted or horizontal position (i.e., in
contact with the closure), as well as in the upright position, to determine the effects of the
closure on product quality. Data should be supplied for all different container/closure
combinations that will be marketed.

In addition to the standard data necessary for a conventional single-use vial, the applicant
should demonstrate that the closure used with a multiple-dose vial is capable of withstanding
the conditions of repeated insertions and withdrawals so that the product retains its full
potency, purity, and quality for the maximum period specified in the instructions-for-use on
containers, packages, and/or package inserts. Such labelling should be in accordance with
relevant national/regional requirements.

6.6 Stability after Reconstitution of Freeze-Dried Product
The stability of freeze-dried products after their reconstitution should be demonstrated for the
conditions and the maximum storage period specified on containers, packages, and/or package
inserts. Such labelling should be in accordance with relevant national/regional requirements.


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The shelf-lives of biotechnological/biological products may vary from days to several years.
Thus, it is difficult to draft uniform guidelines regarding the stability study duration and
testing frequency that would be applicable to all types of biotechnological/biological
products. With only a few exceptions, however, the shelf-lives for existing products and
potential future products will be within the range of 0.5 to five years. Therefore, the guidance
is based upon expected shelf-lives in that range. This takes into account the fact that
degradation of biotechnological/biological products may not be governed by the same factors
during different intervals of a long storage period.

When shelf-lives of one year or less are proposed, the real-time stability studies should be
conducted monthly for the first three months and at three-month intervals thereafter.

For products with proposed shelf-lives of greater than one year, the studies should be
conducted every three months during the first year of storage, every six months during the
second year, and annually thereafter.

While the testing intervals listed above may be appropriate in the pre-approval or pre-license
stage, reduced testing may be appropriate after approval or licensure where data are available
that demonstrate adequate stability. Where data exist that indicate the stability of a product is
not compromised, the applicant is encouraged to submit a protocol which supports
elimination of specific test intervals (e.g., nine-month testing) for post-approval/post-
licensure, long-term studies.

Although biotechnological/biological products may be subject to significant losses of activity,
physicochemical changes, or degradation during storage, international and national
regulations have provided little guidance with respect to distinct release and end of shelf-life
specifications. Recommendations for maximum acceptable losses of activity, limits for
physicochemical changes, or degradation during the proposed shelf-life have not been
developed for individual types or groups of biotechnological/biological products but are
considered on a case-by-case basis. Each product should retain its specifications within
established limits for safety, purity, and potency throughout its proposed shelf-life. These
specifications and limits should be derived from all available information using the
appropriate statistical methods. The use of different specifications for release and expiration
should be supported by sufficient data to demonstrate that clinical performance is not affected
as discussed in the Tripartite Guideline on stability.

For most biotechnological/biological drug substances and drug products, precisely defined
storage temperatures are recommended. Specific recommendations should be stated,
particularly for drug substances and drug products that cannot tolerate freezing. These
conditions, and where appropriate, recommendations for protection against light and/or
humidity, should appear on containers, packages, and/or package inserts. Such labelling
should be in accordance with relevant national regional requirements.

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Conjugated Product
A conjugated product is made up of an active ingredient (for example, peptide, carbohydrate)
bound covalently or noncovalently to a carrier (for example, protein, peptide, inorganic
mineral) with the objective of improving the efficacy or stability of the product.

Degradation Product
A molecule resulting from a change in the drug substance (bulk material) brought about over
time. For the purpose of stability testing of the products described in this guideline, such
changes could occur as a result of processing or storage (e.g., by deamidation, oxidation,
aggregation, proteolysis). For biotechnological/biological products some degradation products
may be active.

Any component of the drug substance (bulk material) or drug product (final container
product) which is not the chemical entity defined as the drug substance, an excipient, or other
additives to the drug product.

For biotechnological/biological products, a material produced during a manufacturing process
which is not the drug substance or the drug product but whose manufacture is critical to the
successful production of the drug substance or the drug product. Generally, an intermediate
will be quantifiable and specifications will be established to determine the successful
completion of the manufacturing step prior to continuation of the manufacturing process. This
includes material which may undergo further molecular modification or be held for an
extended period of time prior to further processing.

Manufacturing-Scale Production
Manufacture at the scale typically encountered in a facility intended for product production
for marketing.

Pilot-Plant Scale
The production of the drug substance or drug product by a procedure fully representative of
and simulating that to be applied at manufacturing scale. The methods of cell expansion,
harvest, and product purification should be identical except for the scale of production.

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