Antibody-drug conjugates: an emerging concept in cancer therapy

Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2014 Apr 7;53(15):3796-827. doi: 10.1002/anie.201307628. Epub 2014 Feb 20.


Traditional cancer chemotherapy is often accompanied by systemic toxicity to the patient. Monoclonal antibodies against antigens on cancer cells offer an alternative tumor-selective treatment approach. However, most monoclonal antibodies are not sufficiently potent to be therapeutically active on their own. Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) use antibodies to deliver a potent cytotoxic compound selectively to tumor cells, thus improving the therapeutic index of chemotherapeutic agents. The recent approval of two ADCs, brentuximab vedotin and ado-trastuzumab emtansine, for cancer treatment has spurred tremendous research interest in this field. This Review touches upon the early efforts in the field, and describes how the lessons learned from the first-generation ADCs have led to improvements in every aspect of this technology, i.e., the antibody, the cytotoxic compound, and the linker connecting them, leading to the current successes. The design of ADCs currently in clinical development, and results from mechanistic studies and preclinical and clinical evaluation are discussed. Emerging technologies that seek to further advance this exciting area of research are also discussed.

Keywords: ADC; antibodies; anticancer drugs; drug conjugates; targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents