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Antibody Drug Conjugates

Updated: Apr 6

By Emily Valerio Edited By Ivy Lo

Our bodies are made out of many tiny parts, called cells. These cells all have different jobs based on where they are in your body. For example, the cells in your brain help you think, and the cells in your stomach help you digest food! Since cells are so important in order to keep us healthy, our bodies have tons of ways to check in on cells to make sure that they are doing their job correctly. However, sometimes cells that are functioning incorrectly can sneak past these controls. These cells are called cancer, and they grow uncontrollably, taking important nutrients away from healthy cells and hurting the body. 

When treating cancer, scientists have to find a way to get rid of these bad cells without harming all of the healthy cells in our body. While tons of methods have already been developed, some cancers are very hard to treat. This could be because of where it is in the body, or what kind of cells the cancer is made of. To treat these cancers, scientists are constantly exploring new types of medicine. One of these new medicines is Antibody Drug Conjugates, or ADCs. That's a pretty long name, so let's go through it one step at a time!

An antibody is a molecule that connects to a specific type of cell. Think of it like a key: although there may be many keys and many key holes, only a perfect combination will be able to fit together! We have tons of antibodies in our body already, and many of them help to kill sicknesses in our bodies. They do this by connecting to bacteria or viruses, and then sending out a signal to the body to bring in reinforcements to help get rid of the illness. In ADCs, scientists use this same mechanism to fight cancer cells. They create a key out of chemicals that fits exactly with certain cancer cells.

However, this key isn't helpful without a medicine attached to it. That's where the "drug conjugate" part comes in! After the antibody connects with the cancer cells, the drug conjugate attacks the cancer cell. Over time, this medicine will kill all of the cancer cells without harming our healthy cells.

Since the first ADC was developed, fourteen ADC medicines have been approved for use in patients. In addition, hundreds of new ADCs are currently in trial to determine whether they are safe and effective for patients. Even better, scientists can use the building blocks of ADCs to create even more types of cancer medicine. It's like Legos — once scientists create a block that can find cancer cells in the body, they can experiment with tons of different medicines to get rid of that cancer, helping everyone get healthy faster!


Pettinato, M.C. (2021) Introduction to antibody-drug conjugates, Antibodies (Basel, Switzerland). Available at: (Accessed: 09 November 2023).

How does chemo work?: Types of chemotherapy (no date) How Does Chemo Work? | Types of Chemotherapy | American Cancer Society. Available at: (Accessed: 09 November 2023).

Fu, Z., Li, S., Han, S. et al. Antibody drug conjugate: the “biological missile” for targeted cancer therapy. Sig Transduct Target Ther 7, 93 (2022).

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