Monoclonal antibody therapy is a promising avenue of treatment for a range of illnesses that affect EU citizens, from cancer to COVID-19. However, manufacturing antibodies is an expensive and time-consuming process.
Monoclonal antibodies are proteins that bind to molecules on the surface of pathogens, helping the immune system to recognise and attack these cells. But identifying the length of DNA coding for an antibody is just one part of a successful treatment. To work, it must be paired with compatible strands that serve other functions, and all of this encapsulated into a carrier such as a virus or a bacterium. “It comes down to bottlenecks in the development, screening and production of antibodies,” explains Harold de Vladar, project coordinator of the EU-funded MiChomAbs project. “Even if you have the sequence for the antibody, you still have to go through many alternatives, different backbones, different promoters,” notes de Vladar. “And that becomes very limiting. It’s a very tedious process to stitch together these pieces.” Manufacturing antibody treatments with lengths of DNA in the 10 000 to 100 000 base pair range can take up to several months and requires intense use of human resources. “What we’re envisioning is to do this within hours or days, with no human resources involved apart from the people operating the equipment,” says de Vladar.
Ribbon Biolabs, host of the MiChomAbs project, has patented unique technology that can quickly and effectively synthesise long chromosome-like lengths of DNA. This could significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing these treatments, making them more widely available to patients. The project was supported through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. “As good scientists, we are rather idealistic about things. This funding helped us think about the money,” remarks de Vladar. “It allowed us to meet with people from the pharmaceutical industry and try to sell our idea – not for them to buy the product, but to buy into our vision.” The business development support helped to identify which challenges facing the company should be prioritised and which could be rescheduled to a later date, adds de Vladar. “It’s more than just money, it was a lot of contextualising our product for the right market sector, fine-tuning our goals and identifying the required personnel to hire and when.”
Next, Ribbon Biolabs intends to apply for an EIC Accelerator grant and begin a second round of fundraising. “Technologically we are advancing as planned, regulations-wise we have to figure out the necessary timeline and the steps we need to get started with certification.” The project also helped to shape their vision for the business. “We don’t want to just sell DNA by the kilo,” says de Vladar. As well as bringing a lot of benefits to biopharma, the technology may have a role to play across a wide range of synthetic biology applications, such as biofuel, agriculture and the food industry. “The whole DNA synthesis industry is changing by the year, people are not keeping pace with what is possible,” concludes de Vladar. “That is very exciting, it’s what really motivates us.”
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