What is an antibody therapy?
Antibodies are protein molecules that are produced by the B cells of the human body. They play an important role in the immune system, as they can mark pathogens that have entered the body or damaged the body’s own structures, for example, and thus facilitate elimination by other defence cells. The specific recognition site to which the antibody binds is called antigen.
Each antibody usually recognizes only one antigen. However, antigens are not only carried by pathogens or damaged endogenous structures: some cancer cells also have tumour antigens on their surface and can therefore be marked by antibodies for degradation. Antibody therapy makes use of these characteristics of antibodies. In the laboratory, cells are cultivated that produce a certain type of antibody specific for an antigen. If, for example, an antibody is produced that binds to an antigen that is specific for a certain type of cancer, there is a good chance that the antibodies can be used to effectively treat the disease.
Against which diseases is antibody therapy used?
The two most important groups of diseases for which antibody therapy is used are cancer and autoimmune diseases. Antibody-based cancer therapy takes advantage of the fact that many cancer cells have specific molecules on their surface that healthy cells do not have. If patients are treated with an antibody that specifically recognises these antigens, this is a promising approach to improving the course of the disease without significant side effects (because the antibody “leaves the healthy cells alone”).
How can one determine whether one is suitable for antibody therapy?
In order to determine whether you are suitable for antibody therapy, you should of course first find out whether specific antibodies exist for the disease you have. If it is a cancer or autoimmune disease, the chances are high. Especially in the case of cancer, however, detailed medical and laboratory tests may be necessary to identify the exact type of cancer (the expert refers to a cancer entity) and thus find out whether a suitable antibody therapy exists.
Once this first step has been taken and it has been determined that specific antibodies are available that promise to improve the course of the disease or even cure it, it must be considered whether your body would allow the use of this antibody. After all, each antibody has its own side effect profile. For example, you have had kidney damage for a long time and have recently contracted cancer.
There is a specific antibody for your type of cancer, but it often causes side effects in the form of impaired kidney function. In such a case, a thorough risk-benefit analysis should be carried out with the treating physician before deciding on antibody therapy. The central question here is: Does antibody therapy offer such good prospects for an improvement in cancer that a further deterioration in kidney function can be accepted?
In addition, there are special staged schemes for the therapy of many diseases. This means that different therapeutic methods are used depending on the stage of the disease. These schemes are based on many years of experience and studies on the best possible individual treatment procedure. On the basis of these schemes, it is possible that a specific antibody therapy exists for your disease, but that it is not used in the stage of your disease. If this is the case, your physician has usually not forgotten about the antibody therapy, but has decided on a different form of treatment based on the schemata.