Antibodies are molecules naturally made by the immune system to fight infection and disease. Every person is capable of making an immense variety of different antibodies, in response to different foreign agents and pathogens, including viruses and bacteria. Just as a key fits only one lock, the body selects each antibody for its ability to bind to a specific target molecule. It is this specificity, as well as their ability to signal a variety of immune responses, that allows antibodies to act precisely and effectively. It is these same properties that make antibodies highly effective when used as targeted therapies. However, a critical challenge in developing these “precision drugs” is finding the very best antibodies out of the many billions produced in any animal: the proverbial needle in the haystack. Current approaches to this problem require that the cells that produce antibodies be grown in culture. This is extremely inefficient, allowing for the sampling of less than 0.001% of all antibodies, as well as time-consuming and expensive.
Dr. Carl Hansen and his team at the University of British Columbia aims to develop and deliver a disruptive technology that allows for the measurement and isolation of antibodies directly from individual immune cells, with the ability to screen millions of cells in a single day. The team plans to use this technology to establish industry-leading capabilities for finding new antibodies that may be developed into therapeutics, increasing more than one hundred-fold the speed of conventional methods. In addition to antibody discovery, this platform may provide new capabilities in monitoring immune systems, with applications in diagnostics and the development of new vaccines. The outcomes of this work are expected to be commercialized in Canada, establishing a leading position in this high-growth industry.