A paper published last year showcasing the functionality of Affimer proteins in a range of applications has received recognition in a prestigious award from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, in association with GlaxoSmithKline (link is external). The 3Rs prize is awarded annually for an outstanding original research contribution to scientific and technological advances in the 3Rs, that was published in the last 3 years.
Dr Christian Tiede of the University of Leeds was first author of the eLife paper ‘Affimer proteins are versatile and renewable affinity reagents’ that was highly commended in the competition. Researchers from across the globe entered the competition in which published peer-reviewed work all offered improvements in terms of replacing, refining and reducing animal usage in research.
As part of this study Affimer proteins were generated to twelve different targets across seven different case studies, illustrating the function of Affimer proteins within a variety of applications. These range from binding to specific members of a homologous protein family to tracking tumour antigens within mouse models to accessing hidden epitopes by super-resolution microscopy. The paper offers a number of examples of ways in which Affimer reagents, due to their specificity, intracellular activity, small size and target range, can perform as well as or better than antibodies.
The Affimer reagents showed consistent performance between applications, such as immunohistochemistry and in vivo labelling. The range of techniques and highly specific targets included in this study identify Affimer technology as a high-quality antibody alternative, with the potential to reach previously unmet needs across the research, diagnostics and therapeutic areas.
The issues with the supply of validated and renewable antibodies have been discussed at length (link is external). One commonly accepted strategy to overcome these problems is to develop new affinity tools, engineered for purpose and offering a reliable assured supply of any specific binder. Affimer binders were developed in response to this need. In addition, Affimer technology offers advantages in their rapid animal-free selection that addresses the 3R agenda of reducing scientific animal use and leading to recombinant reagents that surpass antibodies in terms of performance for many applications.
Alternative binding reagents can be selected from entirely synthetic phage display libraries, rather than using an animal’s B cell repertoire. The phage selection process is typically faster than standard antibody selection, whilst also allowing for toxic and non-immunogenic molecules to be targeted using these affinity binders. Furthermore, as Affimer proteins do not require complex mammalian systems for their production, moving towards next generation affinity binders like Affimer proteins, may offer a solution to the expensive bottleneck of reagent protein production.
This paper was recognised by the NC3R panel for the contribution of removing the requirement for animals in the generation of effective affinity reagents that can be used across many applications. Beyond the potential to create sustainable reagents without the use of animals and address the reproducibility crisis within the field of molecular and cellular biology, highlighted here, is also the opportunity to perform new and more specialised experiments using Affimer proteins.