Antibodies shaping up for cancer fight

In collaboration with the Press Association

Harnessing the body’s immune system to treat cancer could be made more effective by getting antibodies into a particular shape, UK researchers have found.

“Immunotherapy is part of the future of cancer treatment, and it's important that we use our best weapons to fight the disease" - Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK

Experts at the University of Southampton discovered that the precise shape of antibodies can have a big impact in triggering the immune system to recognise cancer – perhaps paving the way for more effective treatments of the disease.

Antibodies are homing molecules that seek out proteins and help the body’s immune system recognise and neutralise ‘foreign invaders’.

The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in the journal Cancer Cell, follows on from a string of promising results for therapies – known as immunotherapies – which awaken the body’s own immune system to kill cancerous cells.

The experts in Southampton have found that a particular type of antibody, called IgG2B, is better at bolstering cancer immunity than others in laboratory experiments – and that this is due to its three dimensional shape.

The scientists say they can engineer antibodies that are locked into the distinctive shape of IgG2B, which they believe will make them much stronger immune stimulators than previous drugs.

The team now wants to look at why the IgG2B molecule works better.

Study leader Dr Ann White said: "We know that the immune system provides a natural protection against cancer, which can only grow by finding a way around our defences. Antibody treatments are now able to correct this problem for many types of cancer, but we still need them to work better.

"It is early days, but this important discovery could enable us to treat more cancers effectively. Our next task is to bring these novel IgG2B antibodies into trials for cancer patients and we are engineering ways to make them effective in the clinic."

Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist, said the finding showed the researchers were “zeroing in” on making immunotherapy treatments more effective against cancer.

“Immunotherapy is part of the future of cancer treatment, and it's important that we use our best weapons to fight the disease."


  • White, A., et al. (2014). Conformation of the Human Immunoglobulin G2 Hinge Imparts Superagonistic Properties to Immunostimulatory Anticancer Antibodies Cancer Cell DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2014.11.001