Illustration of auto-tuning antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) for cancer treatmentIntroduction

Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) represent a significant advancement in targeted cancer therapy. By coupling potent cytotoxic drugs with monoclonal antibodies that specifically bind to tumor-associated antigens, ADCs aim to deliver their lethal payload directly to cancer cells, thereby maximizing therapeutic efficacy while minimizing off-target effects. However, a major challenge in the use of ADCs, especially for solid tumors, is achieving sufficient tumor penetration to ensure that all cancer cells receive an adequate dose of the drug. A research team led by Peter Tessier and Greg M. Thurber at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) has developed High-Avidity Low-Affinity (HALA) antibodies that can automatically adjust cellular ADC delivery according to local expression levels Read more.

What are HALA Antibodies?

High-Avidity Low-Affinity (HALA) antibodies are engineered antibodies designed to improve the efficacy of Antibody-Drug Conjugates (ADCs) in treating solid tumors. HALA antibodies possess high avidity, allowing them to bind strongly to targets with high expression, while maintaining a low monovalent binding affinity to ensure they do not overly compete with ADCs in low expression environments. This unique property allows HALA antibodies to adjust ADC delivery dynamically based on local target expression levels, enhancing tissue penetration and maintaining efficacy across different expression profiles. HALA antibodies optimize ADC distribution by competing for binding sites in high expression cells, thereby enabling deeper tissue penetration while allowing ADCs to bind more effectively in low expression cells. This automatic adjustment helps tailor ADC therapy to individual patients and various metastases, potentially improving therapeutic outcomes.

Experimental Validation of HALA Antibodies

In Vitro Studies

In 3D tumor spheroid models, the addition of HALA antibodies resulted in deeper penetration of ADCs into high HER2-expressing spheroids compared to ADCs alone. This was evidenced by enhanced distribution of fluorescently labeled trastuzumab (a surrogate for the ADC) within the spheroids.

In Vivo Studies

In mouse models bearing high HER2-expressing tumors, co-administration of HALA antibodies with ADCs led to improved tissue penetration and greater therapeutic efficacy. The HALA antibodies facilitated better distribution of the ADCs throughout the tumor, translating to more effective tumor growth inhibition. Importantly, this approach did not compromise ADC efficacy in low-expression tumors, confirming the auto-tuning capability of HALA antibodies.

Enhanced Immune Response

Beyond improving ADC distribution, HALA antibodies also enhanced immune-mediated tumor cell killing. By engineering the Fc region of HALA antibodies to increase binding affinity to Fcγ receptors, researchers observed an increase in antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). This dual mechanism of enhanced ADC delivery and improved immune response further augments the therapeutic potential of ADCs.


The case study of HALA antibodies illustrates a transformative approach to enhancing the efficacy of ADCs in solid tumors. By dynamically adjusting ADC delivery based on local antigen expression levels, HALA antibodies address a critical limitation of current ADC therapies. This innovative strategy holds promise for broadening the applicability and improving the outcomes of ADC-based cancer treatments.

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