Andreas Hougaard Laustsen

Researchers develop new methods for designing therapeutic antibodies

Monday 02 Sep 19

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Andreas Hougaard Laustsen
Associate Professor
DTU Bioengineering
+4529 88 11 34

Therapeutic antibodies

Antibodies play a crucial role in the body’s defence against pathogens. They are a form of protein produced by the immune system, which bind to foreign molecules from, e.g., bacteria or viruses and prevent them from growing and spreading.

Therapeutic antibodies are created in laboratories and are designed to bind specific disease targets (such as proteins from foreign organisms or cancer cells). They are currently used in the treatment of various diseases such as cancer and arthritis. 

Andreas Hougaard Laustsen

Associate Professor Andreas Hougaard Laustsen spearheads the research group the Tropical Pharmacology Lab at DTU Bioengineering, where he works on developing new methods for the development of therapeutic antibodies and producing a new generation of antivenoms based on human antibodies with the help of BSc, MSc and PhD students, and postdocs.

In 2017-2019, Andreas Hougaard Laustsen was a member of WHO’s Working Group on Snakebite Envenoming.

Researchers at DTU are boosting the development of new methods for designing medicines based on human antibodies. These types of medicine can be used to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases, multiresistant bacteria, and snakebite envenoming.

Finding new methods for the development of antibodies became possible with an ERC Starting Grant of DKK 11.2 million from the European Research Council. Associate Professor Andreas Hougaard Laustsen from DTU Bioengineering is responsible for the research project MABSTER which will develop new methods for finding human antibodies with specific binding properties. Antibodies carrying these properties can, among other things, be used to develop a new generation of antivenoms designed in such a way that they are safe, inexpensive to produce, and can be given in ultra-low doses.

"The new type of therapeutic antibodies can be used to design medicines for treating rare cancers and chronic diseases or medicines with a broad-spectrum effect against various infections, and they can also be fine-tuned to work in a specific part of the body to avoid side effects in, for example, healthy organs.”"
Associate Professor Andreas Hougaard Laustsen

Andreas Laustsen explains how this new type of antivenom based on human antibodies will be produced in cell factories, and how each antibody will be designed to be work against for example several different snake toxins at the same time.

“We are working on developing and refining the biotechnological methods we use to find therapeutic antibodies. These improved methods will enable us to discover ‘intelligent’ antibodies that can be administered in very low doses while still being effective, or that have a more broad-spectrum effect, meaning that they will work against several types of venom. Among other things, this will enable us to develop the next generation of snakebite antivenoms. But it will also make it possible to develop antibody-based medicines for a variety of infectious and parasitic diseases.”

Andreas Hougaard Laustsen’s research group the Tropical Pharmacology Lab had their first major breakthrough in 2018, when they succeeded—in collaboration with researchers from Instituto Clodomiro Picado in Costa Rica and IONTAS from Cambridge in England—in using a biotechnological method to produce and propagate human antibodies against black mamba venom. The research group is now working on the continuation of that success.

The ability to develop new types of antibodies is not only relevant in battling diseases that affect societies in the poorer parts of the world, such as snakebite envenoming —the methods that the MABSTER project aims to develop can also be used to develop medicines for cancer, autoimmune diseases, and even multiresistant bacteria:

“The tools we develop have the potential to constitute a paradigm shift within antivenom research and within the design of biotherapeutic medicines for mutating diseases such as cancer, infections, and parasites.

The new type of therapeutic antibodies can be used to design medicines for treating rare cancers and chronic diseases or medicines with a broad-spectrum effect against various infections, and they can also be fine-tuned to work in a specific part of the body to avoid side effects in, for example, healthy organs,” says Andreas Hougaard Laustsen.

ERC Starting Grant

Grants of EUR 1.5 million each, corresponding to DKK 11.2 million, over up to five years, awarded every year by the European Research Council. The ERC Starting Grant is awarded to talented researchers with two to seven years of experience after their PhD for setting up a research group with an innovative research project. In this round, a total of EUR 621 million was awarded to 408 researchers, including three from DTU. Read more on the foundation website.

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14 NOVEMBER 2019