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Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies either work by ‘taking the brakes off’ the immune system, allowing tumour cells to be destroyed, or by preventing tumour cells from continuing to divide.

There are currently no monoclonal antibody treatments approved for treating brain tumours within the NHS, but clinical trials for brain tumours and other cancer types are ongoing.

What are monoclonal antibodies?

Our bodies make proteins called antibodies to fight infection and disease. Monoclonal antibodies are versions of these natural immune system proteins (antibodies), but are made in a laboratory.

As can be seen by the fact that their names end in ‘–mab’, many checkpoint inhibitor drugs are, in fact, monoclonal antibodies.

What do monoclonal antibodies do?

Other monoclonal antibodies include drugs that target receptors (molecules) on cell surfaces involved in ‘signalling pathways’ within cells.

Signalling pathways are groups of proteins/molecules that work together to control particular cell functions, such as cell division, cell migration (movement) or cell death. If something goes wrong with a pathway, cells can multiply and spread, leading to the formation and growth of a tumour.

Making Cancer a Target

By binding to cancer antigens, monoclonal antibodies mark the cells for destruction by the immune system. Clinical trials of more monoclonal antibodies for additional cancer types are ongoing.


Research is beginning to identify receptors (molecules) which can lead to brain tumour formation when their structure is changed for some reason (mutated) and the signalling pathways they control act abnormally. An example of such a receptor is called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor).

Monoclonal antibodies are used to block mutated receptors to stop tumour cells from continuing to divide.

Make the right choices for you

Our Step by Step interactive guide outlines what happens following a diagnosis, to answer your questions and help you to understand what to expect.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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