‘Magic Bullet’ antibodies beef up to meet today’s need

‘Magic Bullet’ antibodies beef up to meet today’s need

In the early 1900s, German scientist and Nobel Laureate Paul Ehrlich pioneered an antiserum to help combat diphtheria. His anti-serum saved many lives in the pre-antibiotic era. He also popularized the concept in medicine of a “Magische Kugel” (Magic Bullet).

His idea was to find treatments that were so specific that they only worked on their specific targets without any collateral effect or damage to the body. In 1975 Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler (also Nobel Laureates) invented hybridoma technology which allows the production of large quantities of antibodies specific for a single target also known as monoclonal antibodies.

Roughly 10 years later the first therapeutic antibody was made: monoclonal antibodies (muromonals), with a target of the CD-3 receptor on T -lymphocytes. You see, by inactivating CD-3, it prevents rejection of organ transplants, and it revolutionized transplant medicine by allowing better survival with less need for high-dose steroids.

Since 1985 the floodgates have opened up with more than 35 monoclonal antibodies that have been approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for use in medicine. Hundreds more are being researched. These antibodies are used to treat a variety of diseases. Some examples which include the antibody, the target and the disease follow.







Rheumatoid arthritis



Crohn’s disease








Gp11b/111a on platelets

Prevent clots

after coronary stenting



Breast cancer


Two other strategies being worked on are using monoclonal antibodies as vaccines and making an antibody-drug conjugate. The idea is to couple an antibiotic or an anti-cancer drug to the “magic bullet” so only the target receives the medicine. This would allow high concentrations of the drug to be used.

As far as vaccine therapy goes, there actually is one already in use: palivizumab, which targets the F protein found on RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). It is given once a month to high-risk infants to prevent their catching RSV.

Similar efforts are underway to develop a vaccine for HIV, and also one for influenza.

Comments are closed.