Donald W. Straughan
Botulinum toxin type A (BTA) is being increasingly used for a range of therapeutic purposes and also for cosmetic reasons. For many years, the potency of BTA has been measured by using an LD50 assay in mice. This assay is a cause for concern due to its unpleasant nature and extreme severity, and the requirement for high numbers of mice to be used. Alternatives to this potency assay are presently reviewed with particular reference to the work at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), and to recent work by the UK manufacturer of the substance. An in vivo local paralysis assay with considerably less severity has been developed and is in use at the NIBSC. Alternative, ex vivo functional assays in use include the measurement of BTA-induced paralysis of neurally-stimulated rodent diaphragm or rat intercostal muscle. The latter method has the advantage of allowing more preparations to be derived from one animal. However, these ex vivo methods have not yet been fully validated and accepted by regulatory agencies as potency assays. Endopeptidase assays, although not measuring muscle paralysis directly, may provide a very useful consistency test for batch release and may replace the routine use of the LD50 test for that purpose. These assays measure the cleavage of the SNAP-25 protein (the final stage of BTA action), and have been validated for batch release by the National Control Laboratory (NIBSC), and are in regular use there. ELISA assays, used alongside the endopeptidase assay, also provide useful confirmatory information on the amounts of functional (and non-functional) BTA present. The UK manufacturer is further validating its endopeptidase assay, an ex vivo muscle assay and an ELISA. It is anticipated that their work will lead to a change in the product license, hopefully within the next two years, and will form a critical milestone towards the end of the LD50 potency test.
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