30. November 2016 | Press releases:

Fighting Diphtheria: replacing horse sera with human antibodies Antibody engineers from TU Braunschweig will make better drugs

Braunschweig antibody researchers developed a technology to generate antibodies in vitro. Compared to other technologies, this in vitro technology avoids the use of animals for antibody generation. Now, the researchers will use this technology to fight diphtheria. The partner in this project is the animal rights organization PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.

The first Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Emil von Behring for the development of antisera to diphtheria, which has saved countless children’s lives ever since. In Europe, these sera became obsolete due to robust vaccination programmes. However, worldwide, about a billion people still are without protection. Hence, there is still need for this antiserum, which since the times of von Behring has been made in horses.

The downside is that the use of horse sera can cause severe side effects (serum sickness), so it would be highly preferrable to use entirely human antibodies instead. In addition to benefits for the treated patients, the use of human antibodies would completely avoid animal experiments for antiserum production.

An international consortium now aims to combine both advantages. The Technische Universität Braunschweig plays a key role in this consortium by generating human antibodies using in vitro technologies to neutralize the diphtheria toxin. Funding of 134,000 € for three years is provided by the UK-based organization, the PETA International Science Consortium Ltd.

Prof. Michael Hust, who initiated this project, comments: “The project directly builts on our success in generating monoclonal antibodies against other bacterial toxins, like botulinum neurotoxin in the EU project AntibotABE or toxins of Clostridium difficile, which we achieved with funding by the Land Niedersachsen in the CDiff consortium.“

Prof. Stefan Dübel, Head of the Biotechnology Department and co-inventor of antibody phage display, adds “We are not only happy that we can help to tackle a serious health problem, but also that our long-standing commitment to develop a method which makes animal experiments obsolete for antibody generation is now rewarded by international recognition.”

The human antibodies generated in Braunschweig can be produced in bioreactors and are intended for further clinical development. This would avoid any further horse experiments for the production of the antisera in the future.