Development and fit-for-purpose verification of an LC-MS method for quantitation of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase proteins in influenza virus-like particle vaccine candidates

Recombinant influenza Virus-Like Particle (VLP) vaccines are promising vaccine candidates to prevent influenza, contain two major viral antigenic glycoproteins, Hemagglutinin (HA) and Neuraminidase (NA), on the surface of recombinant VLPs. Accurate quantitation of the mass of these antigenic proteins is important to ensure the product quality and proper dosing. Currently, Single Radial Immunodiffusion (SRID) is a recognized assay for determination of the HA immuno-reactive concentration (potency) in vaccine products, based on immuno-reactivity of HA with strain-specific antisera. The SRID assay, however, requires availability of strain-specific and properly calibrated reagents, which can be time-consuming to generate and calibrate. In addition, the assay is not suitable for quantitation of low abundant proteins, such as NA. In order to accelerate the overall production cycle, we have developed and optimized a high-resolution (HR) LC-MS method for absolute quantitation of both HA and NA protein concentrations in influenza VLP vaccine candidates. In this work, we present the method development, optimization and verification of its suitability for the intended purpose, as a prerequisite for its potential application in Quality Control, by assessing specificity, precision and accuracy, detection characteristics, and dynamic linear range. The method can be also used for other HA/NA containing preparations including in-process samples, purified proteins, whole virus preparations, nano-particle and egg-based vaccine preparations, or for calibration of SRID reference antigens.