Monoclonal antibodies

All cells have receptors on their surface. Receptors help cells send or receive signals. A receptor is a bit like a lock. Only the right key fits the lock. Another cell or substance can only connect to the receptor if it is the right fit.

Monoclonal antibodies are made so they can only connect to one type of receptor. Most monoclonal antibodies target receptors that are mainly found on cancer cells. Some target receptors that are found on other cells in the body.

By connecting to the cell’s receptor, a monoclonal antibody could:

  • block signals that tell cancer cells to grow and divide (also called a cancer growth inhibitor)
  • block signals that help cancer cells develop a blood supply (also called an angiogenesis inhibitor)
  • block signals that stop white blood cells attacking cancer cells (also called a checkpoint inhibitor)
  • help the immune system recognise cancer cells (also called an immunotherapy)
  • block signals to protect the bones from damage causes by some types of cancer or cancer treatments – for example, denosumab (Xgeva®, Prolia®)
  • carry a chemotherapy drug straight to the cancer cell.

A monoclonal antibody may also carry radiation directly to the cancer cell. This treatment is not widely used and may only be available as part of a research trial (clinical trial).

If you know the name of the monoclonal antibody you are looking for, you can use our alphabetical list of targeted and immunotherapy drugs to find it. You can find more information about:

  • what the treatment is
  • how it is given
  • possible side effects.

Back to Targeted therapy explained

Angiogenesis inhibitors

Angiogenesis inhibitors are drugs that make it difficult for a tumour to develop a blood supply.

Cancer growth inhibitors

Cancer growth inhibitors are drugs that block signals that tell cancer cells to develop or divide.

Cancer vaccines

Cancer vaccines are a type of cancer treatment that are still in the very early stages of development.