History and Practice: Antibodies in Infectious Diseases

Microbiol Spectr. 2015 Apr;3(2):AID-0026-2014. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.AID-0026-2014.


Antibodies and passive antibody therapy in the treatment of infectious diseases is the story of a treatment concept which dates back more than 120 years, to the 1890s, when the use of serum from immunized animals provided the first effective treatment options against infections with Clostridium tetani and Corynebacterium diphtheriae. However, after the discovery of penicillin by Fleming in 1928, and the subsequent introduction of the much cheaper and safer antibiotics in the 1930s, serum therapy was largely abandoned. However, the broad and general use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine has resulted in the development of multi-resistant strains of bacteria with limited to no response to existing treatments and the need for alternative treatment options. The combined specificity and flexibility of antibody-based treatments makes them very valuable tools for designing specific antibody treatments to infectious agents. These attributes have already caused a revolution in new antibody-based treatments in oncology and inflammatory diseases, with many approved products. However, only one monoclonal antibody, palivizumab, for the prevention and treatment of respiratory syncytial virus, is approved for infectious diseases. The high cost of monoclonal antibody therapies, the need for parallel development of diagnostics, and the relatively small markets are major barriers for their development in the presence of cheap antibiotics. It is time to take a new and revised look into the future to find appropriate niches in infectious diseases where new antibody-based treatments or combinations with existing antibiotics, could prove their value and serve as stepping stones for broader acceptance of the potential for and value of these treatments.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies / therapeutic use*
  • Communicable Diseases / therapy*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Immunization, Passive / history*
  • Immunization, Passive / methods*


  • Antibodies