Monoclonal antibodies have proven their usefulness for treating various diseases in oncology. If they bind to cancer cells, signals are transmitted that ultimately lead to controlled cell death. Antibodies are also quite commonly used in diagnostics. Conventional immunization technologies sometimes fail to produce the right antibodies. Many therapeutically useable target structures, the antigens, are also still unknown. But this could all change soon.
New platform technology uses vesicles
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Zeidler, head of the „Prevention and Immunomodulation“ research group in the „Gene Vectors Research Unit“ at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, has namely found one solution for both challenges. Zeidler works with extracellular vesicles, which are small bubbles that automatically pinch themselves off from both healthy and cancerous cells. Found in the patient’s blood, they consist of a membrane and contain all immunologically important information.
To produce new antibodies, Zeidler is working with exactly these vesicles. His method has a number of advantages over classic production with soluble proteins. Vesicles contain almost all cellular proteins in a normal environment. They do not change their spatial structure and consequently they result in especially powerful antibodies. At the same time, it is possible to develop antibodies against previously unknown antigens.
Interesting partner for the pharmaceutical industry
Working with his colleagues, Zeidler has already succeeded in demonstrating the potential that his method offers. A first antibody targeted against malignant brain tumors (Glioblastoma multiforme) will soon be examined in a phase 1 trial on patients. Additional antibodies with diagnostic or therapeutic potential are already in the pipeline. „Our portfolio is a solid basis for a spin-off,“ Zeidler reports. „Taking center stage are two antibodies that target CD73 and CD276 as checkpoint molecules*.“ The objective is the pre-clinical validation of the antibodies and, in the best case, licensing to an industrial partner. Already-approved therapeutic antibodies are some of the most expensive drugs. „This is why we believe that a spin-off could become an attractive partner for pharmaceutical companies,“ the scientist adds.
The Helmholtz Association is now promoting the spin-off „Eximmium“ through its two programs, Helmholtz Enterprise and Helmholtz Enterprise Plus**. The team headed by Prof. Reinhard Zeidler and Dr. Kathrin Gärtner will receive a total of 115,000 euros over one year. An additional 115,000 euros is coming in the form of co-financing by the Helmholtz Zentrum München itself.
The name „Eximmium“ describes both extracellular vesicles and their immunological effect, and is partly derived from the Latin word eximius, which roughly means „extraordinary“.
* Checkpoint molecules are surface structures on cells in the immune system. In many tumors, these proteins are upregulated and the tumor cells are not attacked by the immune system. Antibodies target these checkpoints, allowing a more intense immune response to be directed at the tumor.
**Helmholtz Enterprise (HE) and Helmholtz Enterprise Plus (HE Plus) form the internal program for spin-offs from the Helmholtz Association. In the last ten years, more than 100 start-up ventures have profited from the initiative (as of the end of 2016). 70 of these projects were successfully set up, and more than 80 percent of these are still active on the market. Further information:
The Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich and has about 2,300 staff members. It is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.
The Research Unit Gene Vectors studies EBV’s molecular functions to understand how the virus contributes to different types of disease. The scientists analyse the immune system of virus carriers to find out how EBV and other herpes viruses are kept in check, and why immune control has failed in patients with disease. They also investigate the origins of cancers of the immune system – lymphoma and leukaemia. Their ultimate goal is to develop new drugs, vaccines and cell-based therapies in order to efficiently treat or – preferentially – prevent infectious diseases and cancer.
Contact for the media:
Department of Communication, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg – Tel. +49 89 3187 2238 – E-mail:
Scientific Contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München:
Prof. Dr. Reinhard Zeidler, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Research Unit Gene Vectors, Research Group Prevention and Immunomodulation, Marchioninistraße 25, 81377 München – Tel. +49 89 3187 1401 – E-mail:
Dr. Stanimira Rohmer-Strohbach, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Deputy Head of the Innovation Management Department, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg, Tel. +49 89 3187 4273 – E-mail: