[ASC-media] Bottling precious shark blood

MediaWise mediawise at mediawise.net.au
Sun Mar 4 23:47:41 CET 2012

Monday 5 March 2012
Bottling precious shark blood
International collaboration evaluates new antibodies technology
Australian research into shark antibodies that holds out the potential for
new drugs and diagnostic agents is a step closer to realising its goal
following an agreement with international diagnostic and pharmaceutical
giant, Roche.
The pioneering work, which has attracted world-wide interest, is based on
research led by Associate Professor Michael Foley at the La Trobe Institute
of Molecular Science (LIMS).

It builds on discoveries over the last decade that shark antibodies could
offer a lot of advantages over existing therapies in the fight against
cancers and autoimmune diseases.
The research agreement between Roche and the Melbourne-based biotechnology
company AdAlta aims to identify and evaluate the way in which these small
antibodies isolated from shark blood are able to bind to a diagnostic
Dr Foley is founding scientist and Chief Scientific Officer of AdAlta. He
and his co-researchers have built the world's first test tube 'library' of
disease-targeting antibodies based on modified shark antibodies.
He says his company is pioneering a range of new technology that uses
modified shark antibodies for both treatment and diagnosis, offering
prospects for new and more effective approaches to a wide range of diseases.
Shark antibodies are very small and extremely stable protein molecules, says
Dr Foley, and are particularly good at seeking out and binding to target
ŒFurthermore, because they are extremely stable, they may overcome some of
the problems encountered with traditional human antibodies when stored and
used at high temperatures.
ŒBecause of their small size and stability, such new therapies can be
manufactured in bacterial systems rather than in animal cells, as is
presently the case for therapeutic antibodies, and it raises the possibility
that they may be taken orally instead of injected.
ŒSo the next generation of pharmaceuticals might make good use of these
small proteins, and sharks have them naturally in their blood.¹
For the global pharmaceutical industry antibody treatments represent a
multibillion-dollar market.
Dr Foley says as part of the collaboration with Roche, AdAlta will screen
his shark antibody library and provide relevant shark antibody Œbinders¹ to
Roche for further evaluation.
He explains his research involves taking genes from sharks and modifying
them in the laboratory by inserting random sequences ­ mimicking the way the
human immune system works ­ to develop antibodies capable of a defensive
In other parts of the world, Dr Foley say, shark antibody research is done
by injecting captive sharks, usually held in tanks or pools, and drawing
their blood.  
But the system invented by Dr Stewart Nuttall within the Cooperative
Research for Diagnostics and now developed by AdAlta, enables this work to
be done in test tubes at a bench ­ a far quicker, not to mention safer,
Dr Foley¹s discoveries on shark antibodies follow his earlier work on
He says one of the key features of shark antibodies is they have a
finger-like loop that can Œbind¹ into a cavity on a target protein,
something he first came across in his malaria studies where it was
Œirreverently tagged as ³giving malaria the finger²¹.
ŒThen, when we saw pictures of the shark antibody binding to a hole in the
protein, we immediately thought of a situation like the flu,¹ Dr Foley says.
ŒThat¹s because this sub-cellular sabotage was similar to that involved in
the development of the anti-influenza pharmaceutical Relenza.
'It's like covering up part of a keyhole. You don't have to cover the whole
keyhole; if you cover up part of it, you can't get the key in.'
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Meghan Lodwick
La Trobe University Communications Officer
T:  03 9479 5353 M:  0418 495 941 E: M.Lodwick at latrobe.edu.au
<mailto:M.Lodwick at latrobe.edu.au>

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