Thermal stabilization of biologics with photoresponsive hydrogels

Modern medicine, biological research, and clinical diagnostics depend on the reli- able supply and storage of complex biomolecules. However, biomolecules are inherently susceptible to thermal stress and the global distribution of value-added biologics, including vaccines, biotherapeutics, and Research Use Only (RUO) proteins, requires an integrated cold chain from point of manufacture to point of use. To mitigate reliance on the cold chain, formulations have been engineered to protect biologics from thermal stress, including materials-based strategies that impart thermal stability via direct encapsulation of the molecule. While direct encapsulation has demonstrated pronounced stabilization of proteins and complex biological fluids, no solution offers thermal stability while enabling facile and on-demand release from the encapsulating material, a critical feature for broad use. Here we show that direct encapsulation within synthetic, photoresponsive hydrogels protected biologics from thermal stress and afforded user-defined release at the point of use. The poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) based hydrogel was formed via a bioorthogonal, click reaction in the presence of biologics without impact on biologic activity. Cleavage of the installed photolabile moiety enabled subsequent dissolution of the network with light and release of the encapsulated biologic. Hydrogel encapsulation improved stability for encapsulated enzymes commonly used in molecular biology (β-galactosidase, alkaline phosphatase, and T4 DNA ligase) following thermal stress. β-galactosidase and alkaline phosphatase were stabilized for 4 weeks at temperatures up to 60 ºC, and for 60 min at 85 ºC for alkaline phosphatase. T4 DNA ligase, which loses activity rapidly at moderately elevated temperatures, was protected during thermal stress of 40 ºC for 24 h and 60 ºC for 30 min. These data demonstrate a general method to employ reversible polymer networks as robust excipients for thermal stability of complex biologics during storage and shipment that additionally enable on-demand release of active molecules at the point of use.