AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Byline: Luke Timmerman
Oct. 14--Georgia Hough didn't hear about monoclonal antibodies until she got breast cancer a second time. By then, chemotherapy had knocked out her tumors but had caused nerve damage that left her paralyzed.
Months of physical therapy helped her walk with a cane, but doctors said she needed more chemo to prevent a relapse. She was terrified.
Hough proposed something else. A friend in research told her about Herceptin, a new biotech drug. It is a monoclonal antibody, a genetically engineered protein that zeroes in on specific sick cells and blocks their growth without hurting healthy cells.
Hough, 52, took Herceptin for seven months, until February 2000. She doesn't know if it's a wonder drug, but her nerves didn't flare up and the cancer hasn't returned.
Nobody hypes monoclonal antibodies as "magic bullets" to cure cancer anymore. But the idea that energized researchers in the 1980s, before hopes were crushed a decade later, is quietly making a comeback.
Antibodies are proving they can prolong lives for months -- in some cases, years -- with few side effects. They aren't miracle cures, but their growing success has given biotech companies a reason to chase the next discovery.
The phenomenon isn't getting as much attention as the early 1980s hype, but 10 antibodies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are making a difference for patients with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and infectious diseases.
More than 300,000 patients have taken the top two antibody drugs against cancer, Herceptin and Rituxan.
Those two drugs have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for their creators and spawned hundreds of clinical studies to look at long-term safety and effectiveness.
The success has emboldened others: About 370 biotech drugs are in clinical trials, and about one in five is an antibody drug.