The Future of Therapeutic Antibodies

Research to find a cure for HIV/Stage 3 (AIDS) never stops. Current treatments with promising outcomes continue to improve, and new research out of the University of Pennsylvania demonstrates how antibody therapy may be improved for human application and lower cost.

Antibody Therapy at Present

Antibodies are proteins produced by the body in response to a disease-causing agent. They are an essential part of a healthy immune system. Antibody therapy involves isolating antibodies produced to fight a particular pathogen—virus, bacteria, etc.—for delivery into an immunocompromised system, like that of a person with HIV/Stage 3 (AIDS).

The problem with antibody therapy at present is twofold:

  1. Antibodies are difficult to engineer. Antibody proteins are long chains of amino acids. Any “kink” in the chain or substitution of a link anywhere along the away renders it ineffective. Unfortunately, that’s often what happens to lab-engineered proteins.
  1. Engineered antibodies are needed in large quantities to get results. Consequently, antibody therapy is cost-prohibitive to most people.

Despite the challenges, antibody therapy is promising, so researchers continue to look for ways to improve the engineering and/or delivery of antibodies.

How Antibody Therapy May Change

Research led by University of Pennsylvania’s Drew Weissman, MD, PhD indicates that messenger RNA (mRNA) can be used to program your cells to produce therapeutic antibodies, and that antibodies produced by your body are significantly more effective than those externally engineered and delivered.

Weissman’s team found a way to modify mRNA so that upon injection the body did not treat it like an invading pathogen. Thus, they overcame the first obstacle previous researchers have experienced when trying to use mRNA to incite protein production in the body.

With mRNA carrying instructions for antibody protein production, cells began to produce the desired protein chains. With cells doing the actual antibody engineering, the proteins remain intact and highly effective. Plus, with thousands of cells producing antibody proteins, antibody levels in the test subjects (mice, in this case) remained high without subsequent injections of the mRNA. In fact, one 15-microgram injection of mRNA resulted in the production of enough antibodies to protect the test subjects. It took 600 micrograms of engineered antibodies directly injected to achieve the same effect.

This new research has promise to lower the cost of therapeutic antibodies as well as simplify the delivery process and increase effectiveness of treatment.