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Antibody backgrounder

Antibodies are essential to life: between one and two billion of these molecules are continuously flowing throughout our bloodstream, fighting infections and diseases in the body. Today, antibodies are used as therapeutic agents for the treatment of severe diseases. Important advances have been made over the past decades to improve the engineering technologies, safety and efficacy of therapeutic antibodies. These developments, along with a greater understanding of the molecule properties, have paved the way for the next generation of novel and improved antibody-based drugs for the treatment of human diseases.

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins with a special shape that recognize and bind to foreign substances, such as bacteria or viruses, surrounding them so that scavenger cells can destroy them and flush them out of the body.

Antibody Backgrounder

Immunoglobulins are usually “Y”-shaped and consist of two light chains and two heavy chains. The two arms of the “Y” contain the variable region, responsible for the recognition of the antigen (e.g. bacteria or virus). The stem can take one of only a limited number of forms and is known as the constant region.

The antibody molecule itself has two separable functions. First, antibodies have the unique ability to recognize and attach themselves to substances that cause disease. Second, in recognizing and attaching themselves to these pathogenic molecules, they act as markers, sending signals to other parts of the immune system to attack and eliminate the disease-associated substances. A foreign substance that invades the body is called an antigen. When an antigen is detected, several types of cells work together to recognize and respond to it. These cells trigger the B lymphocytes to produce antibodies. Antibodies and the antigens they are responding to fit together like a key and a lock. Although antibodies can recognize an antigen and lock onto it, they are not capable of destroying it without help. That is the job of the specific T cells, also called “killer cells”. The T cells are part of the system that destroys antigens that have been tagged by antibodies or cells that have been infected or somehow changed. T cells are also involved in helping signal other cells of the immune system to do their jobs.

Therapeutic antibodies

35 years ago, the first methods for producing specific antibodies in order to use them as therapeutics were developed. Initially, those antibodies were derived from mice. However, antibodies derived from mice are of limited use as therapeutic agents since the human immune system recognizes such antibodies as foreign molecules and may trigger a defense reaction against them.

Technological advances have introduced fully human antibodies. With HuCAL (Human Combinatorial Antibody Library), MorphoSys has developed a concept for the in vitro generation of highly specific and fully human antibodies and established one of the most successful antibody technologies so far. Ylanthia, MorphoSys’s latest antibody library, is the logical outcome of the development and sets new standards for therapeutic antibody generation.

Today, unique approaches with therapeutic antibodies that aim to help patients with conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, infectious diseases, cardiovascular dysfunction and inflammation are being evaluated. With more than 90 distinct drugs currently in research and development and about 20 thereof in clinical trials, MorphoSys has one of the broadest antibody pipelines in the biotechnology industry. Several MorphoSys antibodies are in late-stage clinical testing and could enter the market in the coming years.