Scientists Develop New Antibody Technology for Precise Medicine


The concept of precision medicine is not new. In 2015, US President Barack Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, hoping to include it in routine patient care. However, more extensive access to precision medicine requires cost-effective molecular profiling tests. One example is Oncotype DX, a genomic test that predicts breast cancer recurrence and treatment response.

In some parts of the world, the exploration of precision medicine is using artificial intelligence and bioinformatics tools. These are computer software programs that analyze biochemical and biological information from growing patient databases. Its purpose is to prevent harmful drug interactions, assess the effectiveness of treatment and reduce health care costs.

This trend has also promoted research in the field of antibody technology in South Africa. A group of researchers from the University of Cape Town’s Medical Biotechnology and Immunotherapy Research Unit published a paper explaining how certain proteins based on antibodies, called SNAP-tag fusion proteins, may help reduce cost and time it takes for the development of new personalized therapies.

In order to understand this research, it is necessary to know something about antibodies.

Antibody-guided precision medicine

Precision medicine is turning to the antibody technology to help identify important proteins (or biomarkers) that play an important role in disease. Antibodies are a type of proteins normally produced by the body to protect against foreign substances such as pathogenic bacteria and viruses. They have unique characteristics, such as the ability to recognize and bind specific molecules, called antigens. Antibodies have so many potential uses in medicine, and by 2023, global sales revenue in this market is expected to reach $ 218.97 billion.

The fact that antibodies have these specific targets is important in the development of targeted therapies, or called immunotherapies. Antibodies can distinguish between normal cells and diseased (cancer) cells of the body based on the biomarkers expressed by the cells. Biomarkers are biomolecules whose detection determines the risk or progression of a particular disease.

By rearranging genetic material such as antibody genes, scientists can now generate new protein combinations for a variety of applications. An example of precision medicine is the use of antibody technologies to identify breast cancer patients treated with trastuzumab.

SNAP-tag technology

In recent years, with the development of tag technology, antibody engineering has undergone a revolutionary change. The SNAP-tag is a protein that can be fused to any molecule. It can form a link between antibodies that recognize tumor cells and molecules that diagnose or treat tumors. The SNAP-tag works like a part of the key to which a tag is attached. Locks are biomarkers of tumor cells, keys are antibodies, and tags are molecules used for diagnosis or treatment.

As a tool for precision medicine, antibody-based SNAP-tag proteins can identify patients who may respond positively to a specific course of treatment. They can also reduce side effects and improve outcomes.

The future of antibody-based personalized medicine

The sooner an oncologist diagnoses the type and stage of cancer, the sooner the patient can begin the most appropriate treatment. The development of rapid diagnostic tests could greatly improve patient survival. It can also limit the side effects associated with non-cancer cell damage.

Personalized cancer treatments such as immunotherapy are currently being used in combination with conventional methods such as chemotherapy and surgery. However, even if reports show improved survival and quality of life for patients who respond to such treatments, these treatments are expensive and not everyone has access to them. Despite this, precision medicine is still evolving and people will continue to look for ways to make it cheaper, more accessible and more effective.


Nelson B. Cole et al. Site-Specific Protein Labeling with SNAP-Tags. Curr Protoc Protein Sci. 2013 DOI:10.1002/0471140864.ps3001s73

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