The role of antibody therapies for treating and preventing diseases

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are proteins produced by the immune system in response to infection. They are an important part of the body’s defence system as they work to destroy disease-causing organisms (such as viruses or bacteria) and block them from infecting human cells.1,2

What are antibody therapies?

Antibody therapies are man-made proteins that mimic or improve the body’s natural immune response, acting like human antibodies.3,4

Scientists can design antibodies to identify and attack a specific disease-causing organism and can make many copies (clones) of that antibody in a laboratory.3,4 These are called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).

Monoclonal antibodies are usually given as an intravenous (IV) infusion or in some cases an injection.

When are monoclonal antibody therapies used?

Monoclonal antibody therapies are used to treat or prevent an increasingly broad range of diseases, including various cancers, auto-immune and metabolic diseases.5 Some examples include Crohn’s disease, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and bladder cancer.5

They are also used to treat or prevent some infectious diseases, such as respiratory syncytial virus, anthrax and Clostridioides difficile.6 Two monoclonal antibody therapies have also been shown to be effective in reducing mortality from Ebola virus disease.6

Further monoclonal antibodies are currently under regulatory review or are being studied in clinical trials, assessing their potential to protect from or limit a range of diseases and viral infections.7

For infectious diseases, people with certain conditions such as cancers and autoimmune disease may be at greater risk of getting unwell because of these underlying health conditions, medications that weaken the immune system, or advanced age.4,6 In this instance, monoclonal antibody therapies may be used to prevent illness in people who are at risk of infection or more likely to experience disease, or to treat people who already have an underlying condition, and reduce their risk of severe illness, hospitalisation or mortality.

In addition to improved health outcomes for patients suffering from a range of illnesses, preventing disease progression and reducing severity may also alleviate healthcare utilisation and associated costs, which is a high priority for many societies.

Using monoclonal antibody therapies to reduce serious illness from viral infections

Monoclonal antibody therapies may also provide an additional option to reduce the likelihood of serious illness in unvaccinated people, for example in those with viral infections such as ebola or rabies.7 There is also potential to use monoclonal antibodies for those deemed at high risk, or people with compromised or suppressed immune systems who need extra protection. Monoclonal antibody therapies do not replace the need for other therapies, including vaccines.


You may also like


1. World Health Organization. How do vaccines work?. Last accessed October 2021.

2. Liverpool L. Antibodies – Proteins produced as part of the body’s immune response to infection. New Scientist. Last accessed October 2021.

3. American Cancer Society. Monoclonal antibodies and their side-effects. Last accessed October 2021.

4. Lloyd E, Gandhi T, Petty L. Monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19. JAMA. 2021; 325(10):1015.

5. Lu R, Hwang Y, Liu I, et al. Development of therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of diseases. Journal of Biomedical Science. 2020; 27:1.

6. Marovich M, Mascola J, Cohen M. Monoclonal antibodies for prevention and treatment of COVID-19. JAMA. 2020; 324(2):131-132.

7. Kaplon H, Muralidharan m, et al. Antibodies to watch in 2020. MABS. 2020;12:1.

Veeva ID: Z4-38303
Date of Preparation: October 2021