To target and destroy sick cells, but without harming healthy cells: this has always been the goal of pharmaceutical companies, as they exhaustively research any and all drugs and/or therapies in its pursuit. Now, biologics have shot an arrow in the right direction, getting us closer and closer to that elusive curative bull’s-eye.
Is Reprogramming Antibodies Science Fiction? No Longer!
The antibodies in our bloodstream are basically bodyguard hitmen. They identify the foreign proteins found in viruses and bacteria, then bind to them and block their activity – protecting us against infection from all sorts of outside organism. Biopharmaceuticals were conceived based on this principle: in actuality, they are complex proteins, derived first from antibodies, and then reprogrammed to recognise specific diseased structures – but to leave healthy ones alone. Still, the protein-based nature of biologics also comes with its caveats: the body can sometimes mistake the biologic itself for a dangerous foreign entity, inducing an immune reaction that neutralises its effectiveness. Current research is focusing on just this problem, in hopes of reducing such collateral risk.
Undesirable Side Effects, a Necessary Evil, or Not?
When we read the information leaflet accompanying any drug, our eye inevitably falls on the list of “unwanted side effects” – unnerving but unavoidable if we want to receive the medicine’s benefits. Biologics, however, in acting exclusively on a highly specific objective, both increase the effectiveness of the therapy and decrease its unwanted side effects – something not always possible with conventional pharmaceuticals.
At the same time, of course, biologics may also trigger undesirable secondary responses – although considerably fewer. The most frequent adverse reaction is the development of infections due to a compromised immune system, which the drugs can sometimes provoke. Fortunately, in most cases such infections are minor and easily dealt with.
Biologics = Natural? Dispelling Mistaken Beliefs.
It’s true that biologics are created starting with proteins naturally present in our bodies, or in any case with proteins of an organic nature – but then they undergo significant transformation in the laboratory. To make the difference crystal clear, we cite the AIFA, the Italian Agency for Medical Products: “…biopharmaceuticals are industrial products subject to the laws which also regulate medical products of chemical origin, as well as a range of special rules and specific obligations deriving from the complexity of their production and control process.” So, biologics must not be confused with naturopathic or homeopathic remedies, which may instead be considered complimentary therapy.
No Miracles or Shortcuts.
“Medicine does not perform miracles,” runs an old saying. Naturally, that also includes biologics. Although they can certainly provide more precise therapy, biologics, like all medications, may, in cases of serious illness, require prolonged periods of administration – and, as we have seen, they can also give rise to unwelcome physiological repercussions.
Meanwhile – although we can expect to see greater and greater accuracy in having the arrow hit the mark – some very effective biologics are already available: in treating autoimmune disease (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis), chronic inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and certain types of cancer (in particular, of the breast, liver, kidney, and colon).
© Domedica s.r.l.