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The University of Southampton

Developing monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of leukaemia

Research by the University of Southampton has underpinned clinical development of a new class of anti-cancer monoclonal antibodies (mAb). The most progressed is a next generation drug to treat advanced chronic lymphocytic leukaemia approved following a significant response rate in patients. The now multi-million dollar drug is available in 26 countries and being used in 19 clinical trials worldwide for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Research Challenge

Globally, leukaemia accounts for some 300,000 new cases each year with 222,000 deaths. However the current ‘gold standard’ therapeutic treatment for B-cell lymphomas is not ideal for all patients who for some can become unresponsive due to drug resistance.


The University of Southampton has a distinguished history of research into underlying immunological causes of disease. Work in this field began in the 1970s when two professors identified the first antibodies to treat B-cell lymphomas. Our research teams have since continued exploring the structure and function of antibodies, developing new therapeutic treatments and translating them into practice.

Our Solution

In 2002 our researchers undertook investigations which discovered two types of anti-CD20 antibody and revealed how they influenced potency. We then developed a next generation fully human and more potent antibody capable of replacing the current ‘gold standard’ therapeutic treatment for B-cell lymphomas. This was tested by Southampton’s Cancer Research UK (CR UK) Centre and subsequently approved.

Further research has seen the development of immunostimulatory antibodies (eg, anti-CD40 antibody) which our team went on to demonstrate provided protection for a range of tumour types and boosted cancer vaccines, opening up the development of a new class of drugs.

What was the impact?

Monoclonal antibodies represent a multi-billion dollar industry with at least five attaining blockbuster drug status. Our researchers have played a leading role in bringing two of these drugs to clinic to treat resistant leukaemia.

Our work has inspired development of a new class of antibodies to protect against cancerous diseases, many of which have entered the clinic, including the most successful which has improved survival in a devastating skin cancer disease.

Additionally our collective research has underpinned development of two clinical drugs which together are protecting thousands of patients from B-cell disorders.

Globally, leukaemia accounts for some 300,000 new cases each year with 222,000 deaths
Monoclonal Antibody cancer treatmen

Key Publications

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