Antibody–drug conjugates (ADCs), a new weapon of 21st Century for fighting Cancer

Traditional cancer chemotherapy was having harsh side effects and also leads to systemic toxicity. The approach was also referred to as the carpet-bombing strategy for fighting cancer. Traditional chemotherapy does not discriminate between cancer cells and other fast dividing cells which are common in the body. In the recent years, new technology has emerged to fight cancer; Antibody–drug conjugates (ADCs). ADCs use antibodies to deliver a potent cytotoxic compound selectively to tumor cells, thus improving the therapeutic index of chemotherapeutic agents. The type of antibody used to create the drug is selected based upon unique biomarkers found on the cancer cells to be targeted. This approach has lesser side effects.


Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) is an emerging concept in cancer therapy with the goal of reducing the effects of chemotherapy on healthy cells.

ADCs combine three components to target cancer in a new way:

  1. The antibody which targets and binds to specific receptors on the surface of cells.
  2. The chemotherapy/cytotoxic drugis delivered directly to cancer cells and destroy them once absorbed.
  3. The linker binds the antibody to chemotherapy so that the chemotherapy is not released until it reaches cancer cells.

ADCs are designed to be stable in circulation and to effect intracellular drug release following antigen-specific binding and internalization of the ADC.

Recent efforts in oncology have focused on identifying drugs with improved selectivity for malignant versus normal cell as a means to improve both the efficacy and tolerability of cancer treatment. There are 180+ ADCs undergoing development and 80+ ADCs in clinical evaluations for oncology.


ADCs are being developed to target Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, Prostate Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Multiple Myeloma, B-cell malignancies, and Acute myeloid Leukemia (AML).

The recent approval of two ADCs, brentuximab vedotin and ado-trastuzumab emtansine, for cancer treatment has spurred tremendous research interest in this field.

ADCs are part of a specialized subset of highly potent APIs. Although challenges remain, recent clinical success has generated intense interest in this therapeutic class. Ongoing efforts to address the challenges will continue to broaden the impact of ADCs as targeted therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and potentially other diseases.

This technically challenging type of therapy combines innovations from biotechnology and chemistry to form a new class of highly potent biopharmaceutical drugs.

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Written by Rashi Agarwal, Associate Analyst, DelveInsight