Antibodies are being created to fight disease in new ways

Antibodies are being created to fight disease in new ways

About half way through 2022, we will have seen a number of important developments in ways in which we can innovate the body's immune system to fight disease. The pandemic has already led to the development of new types of vaccines, such as mRNA - based ones, the use of which will be expanded next year to protect us against other pathogens. But we will also see other ways to use the immune system to fight disease.

One of these is new forms of antibody-based therapy. Antibodies are made by the body in response to infection and we have discovered ways to use artificially made antibodies to identify cancer cells for destruction. We can also stimulate the reactivation of the body's immune cells against cancer or damage the immune activity that causes complications in rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, antibodies are already the basis of seven out of ten of the most profitable drugs in the world.

These antibodies are used in a way that takes advantage of their natural ability to block specific targets. The design of antibodies themselves is left largely untouched. In 2022, that will all change.

Now, by using genetic engineering or by chemically separating and recycling parts of the protein, we have tools that can change the basic structure of an antibody. These allow us to produce all types of antibody-based drugs. For example, we will be able to make antibodies that recognize and bind to three separate targets simultaneously - perhaps a cancer cell, a receptor protein that activates immune cells, and other immune cell proteins that strengthen the response. Already in development is an antibody that can lock in three different parts of an external virus cover, such as HIV. This should make it harder for the virus to get around and avoid targeting.

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Another type of immune-based therapy that is proven to gain prominence in 2022 is CAR T-cell therapy. Here, T-cells are extracted from a patient's blood and treated genetically to give them new receptors that target the patient's own cancer. The engineered T cells are then restored, hoping to now be able to kill the patient's cancer cells. To some extent this type of treatment is already in use: some children or young adults with acute B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia have been given CAR T-cell therapy with some amazing results, but also side effects and relapses. undesirable in some patients. Next year, this type of treatment will expand with the use of different types of immune cells, or different versions of receptors, and so on. CAR T-cell engines, for example, can be engineered to kill a complex subset of the body's own immune cells that cause autoimmune disease.

Our ongoing understanding of the immune system will allow us to develop new surveillance tools. Artificial intelligence already gives us unprecedented depth of study around immune cells. It also helps us to link their parameters to, for example, the severity of the symptoms a person has seen with coronavirus infection. Next year, we will be able to look for protective signatures that link to severe cases of Covid-19 and other diseases, and be able to predict disease prognosis and change treatment accordingly. In 2022 and beyond, our growing knowledge of the immune system will lead to new medicines and new approaches to treatment.

Get a more familiar forecast for the year ahead. The World of WIRED in 2022 reveals information and insights that must be obtained from the smartest minds in the WIRED network. Now available on newsstands, as a digital download, or you can order your copy online.

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