Edible antibodies to treat gastrointestinal disorders
Belgian scientists have developed a new antibody technology that combines the advantages of antibody-based therapies with the convenience of oral drug administration. These antibodies are manufactured using yeast in a process as straightforward as food manufacturing.
Conventional therapeutic antibodies are injected into the bloodstream for treatment or prevention of a multitude of diseases, including infectious diseases, cancer and inflammation. But these antibody-based therapies are not designed for oral ingestion for targets in the gut, as the digestive environment of gastrointestinal tract may break it down.
Now, oral-to-gut delivery of antibodies has been made possible thanks to a research collaboration between Ghent University’s Vikram Virdi, Nico Callewaert (VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology), Ann Depicker (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology), Henri De Greve (VIB-VUB Center for Structural Biology) and Eric Cox (UGent Faculty of Veterinary Medicine). Their work has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The scientists engineered an antibody format that is simple but robust enough to survive the harsh environment in the gut. The team also developed a manufacturing process that uses either soybean seeds or yeast cells to produce these antibodies. By using existing food-processing technology, they could eliminate the need for expensive purification processes. The result is an easily manufactured powder with antibodies that can be added to food and ingested orally, requiring no encapsulation.
The scientists obtained proof of concept for the technology in young piglets susceptible to post-weaning diarrhoea caused by enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC) — an economically important disease in pig production worldwide. At the moment the only thing that helps against this infection is the use of antibiotics, which is a risk factor for antibiotic resistance and potential transmission of resistant bacteria between animals and humans. This is a huge conundrum for pig producers, so the new antibody-based approach appeared an effective and safe alternative.
“The piglets, which were provided food supplemented with the new antibodies, were protected against infection by ETEC in a pilot study,” Virdi said.
Given these results, the team is looking to further develop the antibodies as veterinary product. Yet according to Callewaert, who led the yeast work, the applications go much further.
“Since the human and pig gut is strikingly similar, the lab is already exploring this technology for preventing and treating human gut infections and reducing symptoms in gastric diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis,” he said. “One of the key contributions may be in humanitarian projects, for example, during post-disaster situations to combat outbreaks of gut diseases such as cholera caused diarrhoea.”
The versatility of this new technology thus creates novel product opportunities for use in sectors such as food and feed additives, nutraceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and microbiome optimisation.
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