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Today marks International Biodiversity Day (IBD), a day dedicated to examining our relationship with the natural world and increasing our awareness of ongoing threats to biodiversity. As a digital cell biology company, we view IBD as an opportunity to reflect on how this diversity is integral not only to our work but also to the success of our customers and human health.
Biodiversity can be defined in lots of ways. It is the diversity of species, both plant and animal. But it is also the genetic diversity within one species and at an even more granular level – the difference between one cell and the next in just one individual. This diversity is critical for many important reasons; at Berkeley Lights and for our customers, it holds the key to finding the cure to diseases such as COVID-19 and cancer.
One important and highly effective class of drugs are antibodies – the FDA just approved the 100th monoclonal antibody and this drug class now makes up one fifth of new drug approvals each year. Discovering and developing these therapeutics – which requires finding one B cell in a sea of millions that makes a safe and effective antibody – has been likened to finding a needle in a haystack. To do this we need to gain access to the sea of millions by taking advantage of biodiversity at every level.
To develop antibody therapeutics scientists sift through millions of B cells, often from one individual. Each B cell makes a slightly different antibody, and this B cell repertoire represents massive biodiversity even within a single individual that is critical to developing an effective therapeutic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of how diversity in the immune response between individuals of one species can be critical to fighting disease. The pandemic resulted in a massive number of patients that had generated antibodies in response to SARS-CoV-2 infection creating a vast pool of antibodies against a single target. Studying these antibodies lets us not only take advantage of those that are most efficacious to develop therapies but can also lead to the right combination of treatments faster.
But there is another layer of biodiversity to consider. Until today, most antibody discovery has been focused on humans and mice because we are evolutionarily similar. But all vertebrates on the planet use antibodies to fight disease, and it’s possible that other animals have developed different (and potentially more optimal) immune system strategies for disease-fighting. Why not tap into those learnings? By considering broader species diversity in antibody discovery, we increase our chances of finding unique and more efficacious ways to fight diseases.
To learn more about how our customers are accessing this diversity to develop cutting-edge therapeutics, visit our Customer Spotlights page.