Immunomodulatory antibodies have been found to be successful in treating cancer when their grip is reduced

Published ahead of World Cancer Day (4 February), new research from the University of Southampton’s Center for Cancer Immunology shows that changing how tightly an antibody binds to a target could improve cancer treatment.

Antibodies detect and tag viruses and bacteria so that the body’s immune system can destroy them. To help prevent secondary infections our immune system fine-tunes these antibodies to have a strong grip on these targets, known as high affinity.

Immunotherapy treatments for cancer use the same concept – directly targeting antibodies designed to detect and bind tightly to cancer cells so the immune system can kill them. These antibody therapies have proven successful for some cancers in the past few years, but many cancer patients still do not respond or become resistant.

In a new study published in nature, Southampton researchers have shown that a different type of therapeutic antibodies called “immunomodulatory antibodies” are successful in treating cancer when their grip is reduced.

Changing the tightness of the binding is called affinity engineering, and the research team believes it could provide a more effective, more flexible, way to treat cancer.

Immunomodulatory antibodies bind to receptors on immune cells rather than tumor cells and work by altering the signals transmitted to immune cells to make them more active and better at killing cancer cells.

In the study, the team examined three different receptors (CD40, 4-1BB and PD-1), and there was better clustering of the receptors and improved signaling to immune cells when the binding was loosened. For one of these, CD40, it has been shown to kill tumor cells.

Professor Mark Cragg of the Center for Cancer Immunology said: “Although the number of approved antibody drugs continues to grow, with more than 100 now in the clinic, some patients remain unresponsive to treatment. Therefore, developing new strategies to supercharge our. Technologies such as affinity engineering Antibodies are the key to providing better treatment to patients.

“Our study suggests that by changing the affinity we can effectively fine-tune the antibody to the desired level and activity.

“Importantly, immunomodulatory antibodies target the same receptor on immune cells and therefore can in principle be used for many types of tumors, opening up more treatment opportunities for many people. The main applications are currently in oncology, but in principle the same approach. Antibodies to treat autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases can be used for”.

Dr Xiaoji Yu, first author of the study and now an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences at Westlake University, said: “High affinity binding has been the mantra of therapeutic antibody development for decades. It was found that low affinity was favorable for antibody-mediated cellular signaling by immunomodulatory antibodies in cancer and autoimmunity. presents a powerful tool for developing new and more effective antibodies for the treatment of immunity.”

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Cancer Immunology Fund, the university’s campaign to support the vital research being carried out at the centre, following a successful £25 million campaign to build the centre.

This exciting work is exactly what we were fundraising for to build the Center for Cancer Immunology. The many generous donors whose philanthropy contributed to the Centre, including those who provided funding for the key equipment used in these experiments, should take great pride in the progress being made by the Southampton team.”

Catherine De Riturto, Associate Director of Development, University of Southampton

Dr Ian Fowlkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer is the immune system’s master of evasion. We need to use many different strategies to help our bodies attack and eliminate tumours.

“Immunomodulatory antibodies are one of the cornerstones of immunotherapy, which is quickly becoming a mainstay treatment in the clinic. But immunotherapy does not always work for everyone, and we must continue to refine it to ensure that it gives patients the best chance of recovery. Outcomes.”

“This research provides an exciting new approach to making antibody therapy work better and we hope to see it reach its full potential in the clinic in the future.”


University of Southampton

Journal Reference:

u, x, et al. (2023) Reducing affinity as a strategy to promote immunomodulatory antibody agonism. Nature.

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