The collaboration between VIB and AlgoNomics has yielded a biological test that supplements the current computer simulations. The additional data enable a more precise determination of the immune response. This knowledge is important for the development of new medicines, because it indicates that a new therapeutic substance is ready to be tested on humans.
T-cells, essential agents of our immune system
The immune system is our defense against foreign intruders, such as viruses and bacteria. It reacts against everything that it recognizes as ‘foreign to the body’ - but, therefore, it might also react against certain substances that researchers want to develop into therapeutic drugs. An important trigger of the immune system’s response is the activation of T-cells, a particular type of white blood cell. The T-cells produce cytokines, substances that signal the other cells of the immune system to take action.
Developing therapeutic proteins
In the development of new therapeutic proteins, it is extremely important to know whether or not the proteins induce an immune response. When you suspect that a certain substance has a therapeutic effect, it must not be destroyed by your immune system, or induce other immune responses, because you want the substance to be able to do its beneficial work.
On the other hand, when developing a vaccine, you do want it to induce an immune response - that is, a reaction that does not make you sick but that protects you against future contact with the disease that the vaccine combats.
Epibase, an ‘in silico’ test
For quite some time now, AlgoNomics has been offering Epibase to companies that are developing therapeutic proteins and that want to know whether their product induces an immune response. On the basis of a sophisticated computer program, Epibase can predict whether or not a particular protein will trigger the activation of T-cells. The technology can do this for all proteins, whether they originate from humans or from another biological source, such as a virus or a cancer cell. The marvelous thing about Epibase is that it can also do this for proteins for which little or no experimental data are available. Other technologies require at least a minimum of data to predict whether a substance induces an immune response or not. Epibase has already been used for the development of a variety of therapeutic proteins and is currently the biotech industry standard. In contrast to other ‘in silico’ platforms, Epibase provides greater precision and can predict immune response in Asian and South American populations as well.
A more complete test
Upon the request of AlgoNomics, VIB scientists connected with Ghent University, under the direction of Johan Grooten, have designed a biological test that supplements the Epibase assessments with certain experimental data. The test exposes blood cells - which include T-cells - to the proteins under study. If the proteins being investigated induce an immune response, the T-cells will become active and produce cytokines. In this new test, the activity of the T-cells is measured by determining the quantity of cytokines that are produced.
The new test allows scientists to examine a biological system to see whether a substance induces an immune response. For the step to a clinical phase (and thus tests on humans), the experimental and ‘in silico’ data are both needed to assess the risk of inducing an immune response. Thanks to the collaboration between VIB and AlgoNomics, it is now possible to generate all the data by means of a single test - an artful combination of ‘in silico’ and ‘in vitro’ work.
Sooike Stoops | alfa
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