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Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) are a class of biopharmaceuticals that combine the specificity of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) with the cytotoxic potency of small molecule drugs. The use of ADCs in cancer therapy has gained significant attention due to their ability to selectively deliver cytotoxic agents to cancer cells, while sparing normal tissues. This targeted approach has the potential to improve therapeutic efficacy, reduce systemic toxicity, and enhance patient outcomes.

How ADCs Work

ADCs are composed of three main components: an antibody that binds to a specific cell surface antigen, a cytotoxic drug that kills the targeted cell, and a linker that connects the two components. The antibody component of ADCs binds to a specific antigen expressed on the surface of cancer cells, internalizing the entire complex into the cell. Once inside the cell, the linker is cleaved, releasing the cytotoxic drug, which kills the cancer cell. This targeted approach allows for the selective killing of cancer cells, sparing normal tissues from toxic effects.

Current Status of ADCs in Cancer Therapy

ADCs have shown promising results in preclinical and clinical studies for the treatment of various types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia. In 2011, the FDA approved the first ADC, Adcetris, for the treatment of Hodgkin's lymphoma and systemic anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Since then, several other ADCs have been approved, including Kadcyla for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer, and Polivy for the treatment of relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Challenges and Opportunities

Although ADCs offer many potential benefits for cancer therapy, there are still several challenges that need to be addressed. One of the main challenges is the selection of an appropriate antigen target that is highly expressed on cancer cells, but not on normal tissues. Additionally, optimizing the linker and cytotoxic drug components of ADCs is critical to ensuring their safety and efficacy.

Despite these challenges, the development of ADCs as a promising class of targeted therapeutics has opened up new opportunities for cancer therapy. ADCs have the potential to address unmet medical needs in the treatment of cancer and to improve patient outcomes.


Antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) represent a new era in targeted cancer therapy, offering a highly selective and potent approach to killing cancer cells. With several ADCs already approved and many more in clinical development, the future of ADCs in cancer therapy looks promising. By addressing the challenges associated with the development of ADCs, we can continue to advance this exciting field and provide new treatment options for patients with cancer.
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