How Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies Can Make Effective Malaria Treatment Possible

Biologics

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Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which infects red blood cells like this one. New research indicates that broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) may provide effective treatments for malaria and other infectious diseases.
Image Source: Flickr Commons

Malaria is one of the most widespread and debilitating diseases in the world today. More than three billion people—nearly half of the global population—are at risk of contracting the disease. For those of us observing this public health crisis from the relative comfort of the western world, malaria seems like one of those diseases that we can’t do much about—it’s simply too prevalent. Existing treatments haven’t been able to put a significant dent in the suffering, which makes the situation seem even more hopeless. What we have to remember is that the field of infectious disease research is on the rise and as technology improves, our chances of finding effective treatments for diseases like malaria have improved enormously. With the right tools, we can find new treatments that help the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from malaria and other infectious diseases.

Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies: A New Way to Treat Malaria?

One of the most promising fields in infectious disease research is the development of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs). Neutralizing antibodies work to prevent viral infection by specifically binding to a feature on the surface of a virus. This can prevent cellular uptake, stop the virus from releasing its genetic information into a cell or cause viral particles to aggregate.1 However, most neutralizing antibodies only target one strain of a virus, so as a viral strain acquires different surface features that allow it to evade a neutralizing antibody, antibiotic treatment becomes less effective. Unlike typical neutralizing antibodies, bNAbs can target multiple strains of a virus. The “loop” region of a bNAb, which is the part of the antibody that recognizes a viral epitope, is longer than that of a typical neutralizing antibody, so it can bind to a wider variety of epitopes. bNAbs can also accumulate mutations that further expand their targeting potential and increase their potency. For researchers struggling to find ways to combat infectious diseases using antibodies, bNAbs could provide a more effective treatment option.

After the successful identification and development of a bNAb for treating HIV-1 in 2006, scientists began to look for bNAbs that could be used to treat other infectious diseases. Today, the search is on for bNAbs that target ebola2, influenza, hepatitis C, dengue and West Nile Virus. Even more exciting is the potential for bNAbs to treat diseases caused by parasites, like malaria. Plasmodium has a high level of antigenic variability, so a bNAb would be a particularly effective treatment.3 A bNAb that could target multiple antigens in several different stages of the parasite’s life cycle would make it much more difficult for the parasite to survive and thrive.

So far, no bNAbs have been developed to treat malaria, but preliminary studies have identified several possible protein targets. Three conserved proteins in the blood-stage of Plasmodium’s life cycle are considered potential targets because of their antigenic variability. Another protein in the erythrocyte stage is a possible candidate. Studies for finding more candidate proteins—in all stages of the parasite’s life cycle—are ongoing.4

Using New Technology to Identify and Develop Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies to Treat Malaria

Because several Plasmodium proteins have been identified as possible targets for bNAbs, and because even more protein targets are likely to be identified in the near future, scientists can start searching for bNAbs that effectively treat malaria. That’s where new technology comes in. Revolutionary software innovations have made it possible for scientists to conduct massive screens that generate large volumes of antibody sequence data and efficiently sort through the data to find antibodies that can target multiple proteins. In the past, identifying candidate antibody sequences had to be done manually, so the process was slow and errors were common. Today’s software makes it much easier for scientists to figure out whether or not an antibody is a good candidate for development.

Once a bNAb has been identified, software can significantly speed the development process. For years, scientific progress has been hindered by the lack of collaboration between scientists doing similar research. Now, scientists can use data-sharing platforms to share their ideas and communicate in real-time, which guarantees that everyone involved is always up-to-date on the development process. New technology also makes it easier to manage data and reduce errors in the later stages of development.

Because of the therapeutic potential of bNAbs and the rise of new technology to support their identification and development, there is reason to be optimistic about future treatments for malaria and other infectious diseases. We have the knowledge and the tools to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The situation is far from hopeless.

The BIOVIA Biologics Solution is software that supports the identification and development of biologic antibodies. It provides tools to process and analyze large amounts of antibody sequence data in the early identification stage, and its data management and analysis capabilities help to streamline the development process in the later stages. The software also supports a platform for collaboration, which facilitates idea-sharing and ensures that the whole team always has access to current data and experimental results. Contact us today to learn more about how this software can help streamline your infectious disease research and development processes.

  1. “Virus Neutralization by Antibodies,” July 24, 2009, http://www.virology.ws/2009/07/24/virus-neutralization-by-antibodies/
  2. “Host-Primed Ebola Virus GP Exposes a Hydrophobic NPC1 Receptor-Binding Pocket, Revealing a Target for Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies,” February 23, 2016, http://mbio.asm.org/content/7/1/e02154-15.full
  3. “Bound for Glory,” September 13, 2013, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6151/1168.long
  4. “SnapShot: Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies,” October 24, 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4070420/