Introduction: There is a great unmet need for effective new treatments in cancer, which continues to be a major cause of death. Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) are emerging, after a long gestation, as a class of biopharmaceuticals with the potential to address this need by directing highly potent cytotoxic drugs to their point of action. There is increasing interest in ADCs by major pharmaceutical companies and a growing pipeline of candidates for clinical use. This review summarises progress with development of this new class of drugs.
Areas covered: The authors describe separately the antibody and drug elements of ADCs and then examine the technology and consequences of linkage. The work is presented in the light of recent developments in the design, using clinical examples where possible.
Expert opinion: Since their emergence as independent drugs, antibodies and chemotherapy are being brought together in effective synergy. The conjunction is timely: many of the technical challenges in preparing antibodies have been addressed; potent new drugs are available and linker technology is advancing apace. ADCs however are not just a sum of their individual parts. The current challenge is in understanding the holistic nature of this exciting class of drugs that promise a new avenue for cancer treatment. Target selection, the interaction of ADC with tumour and off-tumour targets and the internalisation of ADCs, are critical to the effective maturation of ADC technology. Ongoing recent developments in attachment sites and linker chemistry can provide fine-tuning of drug loading, elements of ADC PK and off-target ADC toxicity.