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Ig Innovations Ltd, Cardiff University and University College Dublin (UCD)

DISEASE TARGETING TREATMENTS are being developed against all types of illnesses, including cancer, using antibodies from sheep.

While drugs have been developed to treat cancer, bacteria and viruses, they are not able to target specific sites in the body. Chemotherapy, for example, will target healthy cells as well as cancer cells, which can result in side-effects such as hair loss. But scientists believe they have found a way to solve this using antibodies that are part of our immune system.

“Finding an exact antibody that binds to a selective target is like looking for a needle in a gigantic haystack,” said Professor Arwyn Jones, from Cardiff University. “This can, however, be done by thought harbouring the antibody-making genetic knowledge inside B cells to make billions of different antibodies”. “We use molecular biology techniques and a harmless virus that is used to infect bacteria that then act as surrogate antibody producing factories.”

Llandysul-based IG Innovations, which produces antibodies in sheep, has teamed up with Cardiff University through the Celtic Advanced Life Science Innovation Network (CALIN) on the project.

Sheep are used because they produce a wide range of high-quality antibodies . Using their B cells, a genetic library is created containing billions of genes each making a specific type of antibody. Researchers then produce billions of different antibody types in bacteria. These can be used as hooks for binding to disease-causing baits such as those found on the surface of cancer cells or bacteria. As the genetic code for each antibody is known this will allow researchers to genetically identify the types that bind to a selective target. So, with cancer, the antibody would join with the chemotherapy drug and it will only target the specific cancer cells, not the other cells.

“We currently produce antibodies in sheep.” said Bethan Evans from IG Innovations. “This technique would allow us to use the antibody DNA code from the sheep and re-create the antibody in the laboratory, giving us greater control over antibody selection, minimising lot to lot variation and reducing animal use”.

It is hoped they will be able to manufacture them on a much larger scale and possibly be able to offer them as new therapeutic or diagnostic entities.

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