Understanding of monoclonal antibodies

Understanding of monoclonal antibodies

Gretchen Klee Musa, 50, is a special education teacher in Wheaton, Illinois. She is also a transplant recipient that she has taken immunosuppressants – medicines that weaken the immune system – to stop your body from refusing the transplant for more than seven years.

“They make it harder to fight infections like Covid,” Musa said, adding that while immunosuppressants are important for certain functions, they can also reduce the amount of protection offered by vaccines.

Knowing her body may need help fighting Covid-19, Musa used a monoclonal antibody therapy as prevention in March 2022 to reduce the risk of infection. When he finally contracted Covid in October 2022, Musa was given a different monoclonal antibody for treatment.

“I am very lucky to have contracted Covid so late, after so many rounds of vaccines, boosters and (preventive) antibodies,” Musa said. She was able to overcome the infection without any serious problems.

Much emphasis has been placed on vaccines to prevent Covid, and rightly so; getting vaccinated is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself and others from getting sick. But for people like Musa, vaccines may not be enough.

Fortunately, monoclonal antibody therapies can be a powerful weapon in the battle against Covid, and some of them can also be used to prevent and treat other health conditions.

Understanding monoclonal antibodies can help you decide if they might be an option to protect you from the disease or help you recover from it.

What are monoclonal antibodies?

Monoclonal antibodies they are proteins made by scientists in a laboratory that are supposed to act like human antibodies. Antibodies are immune system proteins designed to recognize certain targets, which can be located on viruses or even cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies attach to these targets and work to help your body’s immune system fight the infection. They are called “monoclonal” because these lab-made antibodies are clones (exact copies) of an antibody.

How are monoclonal antibodies used and who can they help?

Monoclonal antibodies are used to treat or prevent a wide variety of health problemsincluding some types of cancer, asthma, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Monoclonal antibodies have also been used to treat or prevent infections such as Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV usually causes mild cold-like symptoms in older children and healthy adults, but can be very serious in young children and the elderly. Up to 80,000 children under 5 are hospitalized with RSV in the United States every year.

Christine McKenna’s son Matthew was born with a birth defect that damaged his lungs, making diseases that can affect breathing, such as RSV, especially dangerous for him. He started monoclonal antibodies to prevent RSV at 4 months on his pediatrician’s recommendation.

McKenna said she works in healthcare, but didn’t yet know monoclonal antibodies could be used to prevent RSV before Matthew’s pediatrician told her. “It was like a gift to us because we were very concerned about RSV given his condition,” she said.

Now 5 months old, Matthew has just received his second round of treatment and McKenna is grateful for the protection he provides.

Monoclonal antibodies can be useful for strengthening the immune system of sick people. For example, some types of cancer they can be treated with monoclonal antibodies because they target and help destroy cancer cells.

They can also be used to treat Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. Monoclonal antibodies target proteins that play a role in this destruction.

Recently, a large study conducted in 11 countries found that monoclonal antibodies can protect people from HIV infection.

For some, monoclonal antibodies may be the only option to prevent the disease. This includes people who are allergic to vaccines and people whose immune systems do not react strongly enough after being vaccinated.

How do monoclonal antibodies help with Covid-19?

Because monoclonal antibodies are used to target areas of the virus that causes Covid-19 (called SARS-Co-V-2) that changes over time, monoclonal antibody treatments also need to evolve to work well.

As of now, no monoclonal antibodies are cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a cure or prevent covid because they do not offer sufficient protection against current variants. However, research into future monoclonal antibodies is ongoing as there are such a large number of people who could benefit from them.

This resource was created with support from Invivyd, Inc.