What's Next in Antibody Therapy Research - An Interview with John Morrow - BioPharm International


What's Next in Antibody Therapy Research
An Interview with John Morrow

BioPharm International
Volume 19, Issue 1

I'm encouraged that they're looking at these alternate strategies, so hopefully, the naked antibodies that produce maybe a six-month extension of life will be a juncture, a chapter on the road to more successful treatments.

BioPharm: Are scientists using this technology to develop cancer vaccines?

JM: The idea behind cancer vaccinations goes back into the 1970s. This was the focus of the Nixon administration's war on cancer. Nixon's scientific advisors thought we could take on this terrible disease, so what they did was focus on cancer vaccines because at that time many cancer researchers thought cancer was caused by a virus, as there was a lot of evidence that supported this theory. These cancers, however, were in experimental animals, mammals, and birds. They did not have any evidence at the time that there was a single cancer that was caused by a virus in humans. Since that time, they have identified examples such as Epstein-Barr virus, but we're still a long distance away from a comprehensive understanding of the role of viruses in human cancers.

The picture that emerged in this thirty-year hiatus was that cancers are due to a variety of causes. They could be due to oncogenes — normal genes in the cellular repertoire that get out of hand. They could be oncogenes brought in by viruses. They can be normal genes, over-expressed in cells. So what happened was that a simple model of just working on a vaccine wasn't valid. Now we have arrived at a much better understanding of the basis of cancer. Investigators are looking at proteins on cancer cells that might be proteins that you don't see in normal cells. What they're finding is that there are some strong candidates for possible therapeutics.

BioPharm: What other approaches are researchers using in antibody therapy?

JM: There's another approach, DNA immunization, in which the genes, rather than the protein antigens themselves, are used for immunization. The host is immunized by direct administration of viral genes, composed of DNA that encodes for the antigen that would normally be produced by the cells infected with the virus. Then they secrete this protein into the circulation and the host's body generates antibodies against this protein. This is an area of great interest because it represents an effective short cut. There are good models from animal systems, so this is a strong possibility for the development of new viral vaccines.

BioPharm: Based on the areas of concentration you've discussed, do you think that there is going to be a great influx of new instrumentation and techniques developed?

JM: Yes. I am interested in the history of science, particularly genetics. In the 1950s there were technical advances in chromosome visualization, which opened up a whole field. And it wasn't because in the 1950s people got smarter; it was because they figured out how to stain and visualize chromosomes better. Then researchers started computerizing the chromosome technology, so instead of having to use scissors and glue, to cut chromosomes out from photographs, you could do it all on the computer. All this technology revolutionized the field of human genetics, but it was a technical advance. It wasn't really any great intellectual breakthrough. Much of science proceeds that way. That's why I feel that technical developments and advances in instrumentation are so critical for the progress of science.

Computers are constantly improving and driving all our instrumentation. Take PCR machines. They used to cost $20,000, but now you can get a PCR machine for a couple of thousand dollars, and in a few years, you'll have thermocyclers that will cost a few hundred. What it means is these machines are better; they're faster; they're more economical. You can adapt them for a lot more purposes. There is a huge instrumentation establishment working day and night to come up with new scientific devices. So progress is driven by improvements in the electronics, which keep getting better and better. I think a lot of health issues that we are grappling with will be addressed by implantable instrumentation that will monitor patients. Small computers, inserted inside the patient, will release therapeutic antibodies at a controlled level. So patients will be administered antibodies while maintaining a normal lifestyle.

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