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How monoclonal antibodies can fight emerging infectious diseases?

Ebola virus particles (red) on a larger cell. ZMAPP, a potential treatment for Ebola, includes a cocktail of monoclonal antibodies.

Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) — preparations of a specific type of antibody designed to bind to a single target — have shown promise in the fight against cancer and autoimmune diseases, a new article by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases suggest, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health.

They also may play a critical role in future battles against emerging infectious disease outbreaks, according to the NIAID’s article.

More recent findings about mAbs have allowed for improved safety and efficacy, and substantial efficiencies in identifying promising candidates. As briefed in the introduction to the article on the NIH’s website, the example says that mAbs now can be identified directly from individuals previously infected by or vaccinated against a specific pathogen, and also certain modifications can be made to extend the life of a mAb and further improve its safety.

Because mAbs with optimized targeting and other characteristics can be developed, their activity can be precisely tailored to serve specific treatment and prevention purposes, the introduction to the article points out. It gives an example that during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, a small clinical trial of the drug ZMapp, which contains three different mAbs, appeared to show a drop in mortality among infected volunteers who received the experimental therapeutic. Additionally, research in laboratory animals suggests that mAbs may play a role in protecting pregnant women in Zika-endemic areas and their fetuses from infection. Further, promising preclinical studies suggest that mAbs aimed at specific targets on the influenza virus could treat influenza disease and interrupt influenza transmission when used prophylactically in uninfected individuals.

The introduction to the article pointed out that the authors caution that mAb-based therapies may be costly to develop and deploy at first and should be used judiciously. However, prices will likely fall in the future, as target optimization may offer effectiveness with smaller amounts of antibody, or novel approaches such as delivering antibodies through DNA or mRNA constructs, may be further developed, it said. By prioritizing research for mAbs against infectious diseases, the authors assert, global health leaders can improve preparedness for treating and preventing emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

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