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Australian cancer patients test the world’s first ‘nanorobot’ antibodies, made in Israel

Cancer patients are testing a drug made from antibodies designed from the ground up on a computer in Israel and “programmed” by the inventor to “decide” whether cells surrounding tumors are good or bad.

If the study underway in Australia goes according to plan, these antibodies will target cells that help the tumor while boosting the abilities of cells that inhibit cancer growth.

Their inventor, Prof. Yanay Ofran, said that antibody treatments have traditionally been based on human or animal antibodies. They are then developed in labs and mass-produced, but the final product retains limitations over the original antibodies.

He said that making antibodies from scratch on a computer and then making them from amino acids in a process similar to 3D printing removes those limitations.

“Antibodies are very successful, but the way they are used in medicine today uses only a fraction of their potential,” he told the Times of Israel. “Our mission is to take antibodies and capitalize on the fact that they are safe, stable, easy to use and can stay on the shelf for years to unleash their full potential.”

Ofran, a professor at Bar Ilan University, has published numerous peer-reviewed studies on his method for designing antibodies on a computer. They emphasize the “intelligent” quality of the new antibodies.

This means that instead of performing a single function, such as fighting a single virus, they can see their environment and respond to different types of cells. Ofran refers to them as “nano-robots”.

The new AU-007 antibody treatment is the first computer-designed antibody to enter a human trial, he said. It was designed by artificial intelligence software at the Rehovot offices of its startup Biolojic Design and is being tested by its spin-out Aulos Bioscience. Biolojic is now working on several other treatments.

Ofran’s breakthrough results from a painstaking research process that involves making many millions of antibodies and monitoring their behavior in the laboratory.

His team’s artificial intelligence software analyzes the data on how the antibodies are behaving. “We’re learning from the observations we’re collecting how to make a new antibody that does exactly what we want,” Ofran said.

AU-007 uses antibodies that “sense” or “sense” their environment and can distinguish between cells likely to help or hinder a tumor based on features on the outside of the cell, such as cilia, which are protruding antennae-like structures.

“What we do is use the antibody to identify the cells they hit and activate cells that can attack the tumor while stopping cells that help the tumor,” Ofran explained.

Ofran is a descendant of one of Israel’s most prominent scientists. His grandfather, Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, best known for his religious and political writings, was a professor of organic chemistry and neurology and a leader in these fields in Israel’s early decades.

Ofran hopes his work will change how scientists understand the potential of antibodies. Today they are typically used for a single task – for example, to neutralize the coronavirus. As he puts it, they are “one trick ponies”.

Computer designing antibodies opens up the possibility of making them multifunctional, as demonstrated by AU-007’s ability to boost cancer-fighting cells, but with cells that help cancer do the opposite.

“Instead of just looking for one environment and always reacting with the same reaction, we produce antibodies that can act conditionally, meaning if the cells look like this they do ‘x’ and if they look different they do ‘y’ , ‘” Ofran said.

“This opens the door to smarter therapeutics that can execute sophisticated plans to cure diseases.”

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